"[Gaga Stigmata has] very modern, edgy photography to free flowing, urban narratives without censure to analytical essays, et cetera—like Gaga, imagination without ... limits. And the beauty is that anyone can submit work to the site, so artists and writers from all over the [world] have joined this experiment." -The Declaration.org

"Since March 2010, [Gaga Stigmata] has churned out the most intense ongoing critical conversation on [Lady Gaga]."
-Yale's The American Scholar

Monday, June 25, 2012

::++Stigmata Dreams++:: Bled Threads – Addie Tinnell


Gaga Stigmata: What is the relationship between anarchy and fashion? 

Addie Tinnell: Anarchism as a philosophy and practice is entirely dependent on fashion- nothing about it is outside of fashion. Anarchism differs from Marxism in that it emphasizes the process by which change will happen. Therefore, each anarchist act is an expression of the politic versus Marxism which is programmatic in its approach to change, and emphasizes the ends over the means. So the big question is, how do you as an anarchist share your ideas about an egalitarian world with another person? You can try to argue with them, but they probably won’t listen, or you can demonstrate it for yourself, on your body and in your actions, and try to create resonance.


Anarchists have always been concerned with fashion. You can go back to the days following the Paris Commune and see that the anarchists running the cabarets in the Montmartre region were impeccably dressed. I’m thinking of Maxime Lisbonne in particular – he was an exquisite dresser and an amazing anarchist organizer. Or the French illegalists, like the Bonnot gang. Jules Bonnot was known to obsess over stealing/wearing expensive suits and fancy cars. Or other anarchic type groups like the Os Cangacieros in Brazil – a group of Robin Hood-esque rebels that would bedazzle their outfits with various metals and wear gobs of fancy French cologne.

The connection between living outside of state domination and beautiful fashion is I think a fairly obvious one. If you do not trust the state to mediate your relationships, then you are totally dependent on the people around you for your health, welfare and safety. I often ask how you can build community with someone that has such little respect for you that they’re constantly shoving ill-fitting t-shirts and cargo shorts down your throat.


Gaga Stigmata: What are some style phases you’ve gone through?

Addie Tinnell: So so many! I try to switch my fashion directions every couple of months. I generally wear more or less the same outfit every day for a season until I get tired of it and gently transition to a new look. I find that this gives me the chance to fully contemplate the garments I’m wearing and try to aesthetically listen to what they want and what they want to say. I used to live with a bunch of crust punks and was inspired by their approach to clothes, which would organically grow and change throughout the garment’s life, adding layers of dirt that grows shiny and hard from being baked in the sun as well as the constant patching and repairs that comes with it. This isn’t even talking about the tattoos and jewelry, which are haute couture at it’s finest.

Right now I’m personally in a femme crust theme, which is basically about taking these crust strategies and femme-ing them. I’m taking a lot of classic crust patches and bleaching them and re-dying them light pink or various pastels so the original white ink sits atop a bed of light pink clouds. As well, I’m looking at the crust vest and replacing the silver studs with gold, chains for pearls, adding rhinestones and lace as well. My partner Kate Kershenstein, who I work with under the name Cake and Eat It, are thinking of setting up a distro with a few other anarchists as an extension of our art practice along these same lines and calling it Femme Strike (incidentally, Femme Strike encompasses a much larger project Kate and I are working on, that I won’t go into here, but the distro/fashion component would be its newest incarnation). An earlier fashion theme I had was called Pastel Paradise and was sort of a Miami Vice thing, with white blazers and pastels with plunging necklines. Another I called aaantwerp and was all about layers on layers of neutrals, beiges, eggshells and what not. I still love that theme quite a lot- I’m actually transitioning from femme crust to a sort of femme crust aaantwerp hybrid (name tbd). We did a fashion shoot with the aaantwerp theme on a glacier called Absence and Whispers that you can check out on our website.


Gaga Stigmata: What political potential does fashion have? Why should the political far left care about fashion?

Addie Tinnell: I think that anarchists already do care about fashion, truly madly deeply, but they are rightly uncomfortable with the consumerist tendencies of the fashion industry so they are afraid to openly talk about fashion and aesthetics. This is actually a big problem in the anarchist scene, something going back to the divide between what I call wet and messy anarchism and the anarchist movement itself. Wet and messy anarchism is kind of a universal tendency to resist all authority, you see this all over the place, people just doing little things like not talking with cops, to using humor to undermine a talking head, to outright riots. It’s wet and messy because people just do it, all the time, they play tricks on the authorities whether it’s the boss at work, the cops, or an activist-manager.

But the anarchist movement is different because it was originally an attempt by a certain group of European anarchists to translate this wet and messy anarchism into a political movement that could take down the state, which is actually a really interesting idea if you think about it. It would be like taking the act of having an orgasm and trying to make a political movement out of it... I guess you could say the queer movement does that, but yeah, I digress! The problem with the anarchist movement though is that it continues to be Eurocentric, because of this history and because I think that the origin of this idea is bound up with other Modernist tendencies like colonialism, eugenics and fantasies of returning to a pure natural state. So flash forward 100 years and the anarchist movement is in a major fashion crisis! The triumph of black bloc fashion has effectively crushed all organic forms of anarchist fashion innovation and replaced a multifaceted explosion of personal expression with an obligatory uniform of all black clothes that only reflects the German anarchist culture, which is where it originated. I’ve said a lot about the Black Bloc on my blog The Boulevardier so I don’t want to go into that other than that the Black Bloc is more in line with the logic behind a military uniform rather than anarchist ideals, which would emphasize a fluid anonymity.

Gaga Stigmata: Responses your style’s gotten in public?

Addie Tinnell: People love gold studs, absolutely love them. Here in LA, everyone loves my fashion, it makes me feel really happy to live in such a supportive place. Being trans, I tend to feel nervous in public a lot, but people here have been really positive and helped me to feel more confident. Also Los Angeles is the capital of femme in the US, and possibly the world, so in this way I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. People here really love a femme- hard femme, high femme whatever- LA loves the femmes. I was recently in rural Tennessee for my yearly queer punx retreat at Ida and people there were really excited about the femme crust theme too. I hope more queer punx step up with the fashion and just suffocate all the manarchist shit I’ve been forced to look at for the last 10 years. I have talked with some t-girls who feel really in the crosshairs with their gender presentation and society, and I just tell them to put some gold studs on your shit, people love gold, it’s like a protective amulet, that and black leather.


Gaga Stigmata: Who are influences?

Addie Tinnell: I’m influenced obviously by all the anarchist fashion plates from back in the day for one, but in reality I think people in LA are totally creative with how they dress and really turn it out every day, so they are a big influence. Probably the biggest influence for me has got to be Tumblr. The radical stoner femme community is really kicking ass there right now and I could name a thousand blogs of people posting amazing images all the time and having a really radical conversation around fashion and politics, I try to do my part with femmestrike.tumblr.com but really there are so many talented bloggers on there it’s disgusting.

Gaga Stigmata: You styled your friend Ariel Attack for court, and documented Ariel’s court outfits as an art project. What were some concerns or goals in this styling project?

Addie Tinnell: Kate and I were concerned with the image of the anarchist and the transwoman in the media, so our outfits, and the very fact we were dressing her, were totally about shifting perceptions. On the one hand anarchists are always depicted as scary foreigners who have strange fetishes, like not eating meat, and who shout a lot. And then with transwomen, we are all depicted as sadistic, pathetic prostitutes. So our outfits were about the assertion of a defiant transwoman anarchist, one that doesn’t need to answer to anyone. A beautiful transwoman who has rage and expresses it through destruction, and who will not apologize or explain why, because the act speaks for itself, and who then can show up for court looking very glamorous and seductive.


We of course were concerned with presenting her as innocent as well, so we looked at a lot of Winona Ryder court fashions, but at the same time we needed an element of femme defiance, so we were thinking about the women of the Red Army Faction, Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof. Ariel’s gender presentation is a sort of transwoman soft butch with hard femme tendencies, so the styling itself was very much an act of innovating garments to match this identity, so I was and am hard pressed to think of many fashion precedents. I would also say that I personally learned a lot from styling Ariel, in particular. Kate and I had done many stylings before Ariel but with her, because her physical identity was under attack from the media and from the anarchist community as well, it had much more gravity and we really felt the intimacy of dressing another person. The intimacy that is created from advocating for another’s body, and fitting their clothes, and picking colors and textures to portray the body that they see themselves as, and the gender that they perceive themselves as, and how this complicated act is like using fashion to embrace another person and almost travel through the world together in a sort of embrace. 


Gaga Stigmata: I admire the work you’re doing with and for femme visibility/femme organizing. Why is femme visibility important? How would you define “femme”?

Addie Tinnell: Kate and I are discussing femme constantly right now. We just got done with a show where we wrote a zine about femme tactics for organizing and created a femme-ed union hall to expand on those ideas. We are not so much interested in femme as an identity, even though both Kate and I are total femmes, like totally, but we’re interested in femme as a verb, to femme something. In this way, femme at its core seems to be the creation of resonance between people, whether you call that affective labor or intimate solidarity, but it is the production of these deep bonds that are at the root of all decolonial organizing which is our primary interest. 

How can we take femme strategies and re-organize ourselves in healthy autonomous communities as we transition out of capitalism? This is really where fashion comes in, because fashion is such a major piece to being and doing femme, and this is because it’s a conversation about the desire between bodies and the bonds that are created between bodies in public and in private spaces. This conversation isn’t enough though, it needs to be taken a step further, which is why Kate and I are members of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), which surprisingly enough has a very similar approach in terms of femme organizing except applied to labor unions. So right now we’re working with this intersection between radical unionism and femme, and have a bunch of projects in this vein that are about to explode, but I’ll just leave it there to make you squirm!


Bio:
Addie Tinnell is an artist and anarchist organizer living in Los Angeles. She is half of the collaborative Cake and Eat It which creates operas, fashion shows, performances, installations, salons, books and generally gives away a lot of free clothes. She is from Denver, Colorado.

+ + +

Gaga Stigmata is currently sleeping, preparing for her cultural rebirth in print form. Submissions are currently closed. Watch for news about our book's release in Fall 2012. :: +Stigmata Love+ ::

Click here to follow Gaga Stigmata on Twitter.
Click here to “like” Gaga Stigmata on Facebook.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

::++Stigmata Dreams++:: Bled Threads – Tommy DiVita


Gaga Stigmata: How has your personal style evolved? What style phases have you gone through?

Tommy DiVita: It starts with idealized images. How my style really started was that there was, and still is, a forced structure concerning male and female that is present in our society. My style evolved from not fitting into socially normative constructions of gender identity. I felt like I did not fit into the standardized male role.

The idealized image of being male has been forced on me. Then, because I did not fit the mold, I started identifying with characters that I saw on TV shows and movies who also did not fit some particular standard that they were being held to. My style stems from these characters that did not fit – like Edward Scissorhands. What is Edward Scissorhands? He is an outsider brought into this constructed normative community. He is not accepted for the way that he is and looks. Anyone who is a minority of any sort can watch Edward Scissorhands and identify with that character and find parallels with the things that Edward goes through.


Gaga Stigmata: You’ve talked a bit about the pressure to conform – to gender roles, to conventional ideas of beauty, etc. How much are you influenced by either the pressure to conform or the desire to rebel?

Tommy DiVita: Even though I was doing things that I felt rejected conventional ideas of beauty, I still felt the pressure to be thin and have clear skin. 





Gaga Stigmata: Who are your fashion icons or influences?



Tommy DiVita: There are so many that I don’t know where to begin. I feel funny because I may leave a lot out. The sources of my inspiration for fashion are not typical. I am inspired by costumes that I see in films, for example many sci fi films, like the character Pris from Blade Runner, and characters from TV series like The Tribe. I always really liked many characters from Tim Burton films, and also classic horror movies. I like looking at Ancient Egyptian symbols, and art. Particularly the way the faces were decorated. I love masks like the masks from the Punu tribe in Africa. 
I saw the club kids from the 1990s and was inspired by many of them, especially Walt Paper and performance artists like Leigh Bowery, and drag queens like RuPaul. There are many musicians I’ve enjoyed listening to over the years whose styles I’ve liked, from Marilyn Manson to Lil’ Kim to David Bowie. Comics, cartoons, and Japanese anime characters also inspire me. 
I cannot tell if these things really inspire me, or if I just really like them a lot. I think there is a very thin line between liking something and being inspired by it.

Pris, from Bladerunner
Gaga Stigmata: You’ve also talked about Lady Gaga’s mainstreaming of outsider fashion. How do you feel about "The Little Monsters" as a group of "outsiders" who follow one of the most famous pop stars there is? What effects does the mainstreaming of radical fashion have?

Tommy DiVita: It is a part of a cycle. What was once radical slowly becomes the norm. It will be replaced with something that will be the new radical. The Little Monsters help to move that process along. What is radical today becomes cliché tomorrow. The followers who adopt radical fashion do not make the new radical. The followers make the radical commonplace. The new radical is created by someone else. The positive outcome of making the radical the norm is that it diffuses the tension between the radical new and the old norm.

Gaga Stigmata: What have been some public reactions to your fashion?


Tommy DiVita: There are aesthetic ideals of male and female that are completely constructed by society. And it seems our society likes to keep those ideals very separate and apart. One aspect of my style is to bring those ideals together. In some situations I have been appreciated for doing that, and in other situations not so much. I have definitely experienced people being very phobic toward my fashion choices, and these experiences have led to some threatening situations.


Gaga Stigmata: Any sort of general personal philosophy?

Tommy DiVita: Everything starts with gender. I cannot think of a decision that somebody makes that is not informed by their gender. As soon as someone gets up in the morning, people are making choices of what they want to wear. I believe the way a person puts themselves together and the way they are perceived is an act of performance, whether they are aware of it or not.


Bio:
Tommy DiVita was born September 22, 1988. In 2003 Tommy began painting wall clocks, sculpting, drawing, creating clothing, and making dolls. In 2007, Tommy graduated San Dieguito Academy High School in Encinitas, CA. In 2012 Tommy received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Valencia CA. Tommy experiments with many different mediums.

+ + +

Gaga Stigmata is currently sleeping, preparing for her cultural rebirth in print form. Submissions are currently closed. Watch for news about our book's release in Fall 2012. :: +Stigmata Love+ ::

Click here to follow Gaga Stigmata on Twitter.
Click here to “like” Gaga Stigmata on Facebook.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

:: +Stigmata Dreams+:: The Realness of Jo Calderone


By Jennie Gruber

“To be able to blend – that’s what realness is.”
– Dorian Corey, in Paris is Burning

 “Drag... describes discontinuities between gender and sex or appearance and reality but refuses to allow this discontinuity to represent dysfunction. In a drag performance, rather, incongruence becomes the site of gender creativity.”
– Judith Halberstam, Female Masculinities

“On a stage, the laws of fantasy are meant to be broken, but I have always found it difficult to bring my real pussy out there with me.”
– Lady Gaga, from her November 2011 “Memorandum” in V Magazine

+ + +


HEY!

The 2011 Music Television Video Music Awards[i] open with this antagonizing roar, which emanates from an unfamiliar silhouette cloaked in smoke and spotlight.

Emerging onto the stage with an almost limping gait, the figure’s features become clear. A greasy pompadour and sideburns frame a small pretty face and sunken eyes.

The figure introduces and explains itself:

“My name is Jo Calderone. And I was an asshole.”

The live audience and those of us watching on televisions and streaming video are rushing to understand. Wasn’t the opening act of this show hyped as Lady...

“Gaga?”

As if he read our minds, Calderone spits out the nonsense words that have been imbued with so much new cultural significance in the past few years.

“Yeah, her!”

The audience starts to put two and two together, realizing that the Guido-accented Calderone is, actually, Gaga herself in very understated drag.

At this point in history, Lady Gaga is known for many things, and understatement is not one of them. Though her outfit is shockingly minimalist, her presentation is bold and dynamic. She has the audacity to filter drag as a performance concept into a mainstream idiom without ever pandering to the inevitable discomfort this elicits from the MTV cameras.

“She left me!”

Calderone, it would seem from his ranting, is not just another Gaga costume, but a fully developed persona. His presence is one of exaggerated and deliberately staged masculinity. His body language has a method. Elbows cocked, he holds a cigarette between thumb and forefinger, the other three fingers fanned out. He gesticulates like a man who has been using a cigarette to make a point since he was 14 years old. His posture is slouched forward into his black, loosely fitting Brooks Brothers suit, shoulders shaking his jacket with the muscle memory of someone who wears it everyday.

“But she’s fuckin’ crazy too right?”

Egging on the live crowd by variably charging downstage at them, he reiterates:

“I mean, she’s ... fuckin’ ... crazy!”

Describing a bedroom scene in which Gaga flaunts the ultimate femme refusal to take off her stilettos (even in the shower), Calderone himself is wearing boots with three some odd inches subtly wedged into the heels. This is perhaps the only clue in his entire ensemble that his costume is an androgynously stylized one; and his acknowledgement of Gaga’s usual hyper-feminine presentation subtly reveals that she knows exactly what she’s doing.

The MTV house cameras (who also know exactly what they’re doing) cut to the cartoonishly girlie pop starlet of the hour Katy Perry doing her best with raised eyebrows and open-mouth smile to convincingly look shocked yet delighted at what she’s witnessing.

Calderone continues to rail against Gaga – on the subject of her wild hair, her love of the spotlight, and perhaps in anticipation of the public’s reaction to this performance: “At first it was sexy but now I’m just confused.”

Britney Spears is revealed by the probing cameras, mouth agape, indeed looking predictably dumbfounded.

“And I think it’s great, you know, I think it’s really fucking great that she’s such a stah. A big, beautiful stah in the sky.”

The crowd starts to cheer intermittently, drowning some of Calderone’s punch lines. It’s almost as if they’re attempting to throw off his timing. More likely MTV’s teleprompts are begging them to act as if they understand and approve of what’s happening.

“But how am I supposed to shine?”

The powers-at-be at MTV understand that they have to fabricate reactions, like a nervous hostess frantically keeping drinks filled and hors d’oeuvres circulating. Their audience is getting awkward. This, as it turns out, ain’t no female pop star in a fashionable suit. This is a drag king show; easily the highest concept drag king show ever to be performed by a high-femme-identified pop star on mainstream television. It’s undoubtedly the first time such a pop star has asked her audience, with very little warning, to accept her as not only an unfamiliar character but as another gender for the duration of an entire media spectacle.

“I’m startin’ to think that’s who she is. I mean maybe that’s just who. she. is.”

Tomorrow and for the next few months, distressed online media reportage will sneer headlines along the lines of: “Was it too much?” and, “Brilliant or creepy?” and, “Did Lady Gaga just end her career with this embarrassing Jo Calderone?” It seems that even artists with reputations for defying expectations will be called to task for attempting something, well, unexpected- in this case, something that not only revels in its queerness but spits its high concept pretensions in its audience’s face. Though his speech is haunted by the audience’s thwarted expectations of Gaga’s femininity, Calderone is unfaltering in the face of the their unease.

“I gotta get in thea.”

A pregnant pause with cigarette outstretched, palm turned up and shaking.

“When she cums,[ii] she covers her face, like she can’t stand to have one honest moment whea nobody’s watching!”

The audience has come to expect Gaga in particular and MTV in general to be both entertainment and provocation, but they are also desensitized to contrived shocks well within their comfort zone. This digestible outrageousness has become the bread and butter of the mainstream music industry. Gaga bursts through these boundaries, playing deliberately with discomfort. Her artistic agency is all too rare in the pantheon of female pop star into which she has launched herself; almost as rare as, say, talking about their orgasms onstage.

“I want her to be real. But she says, ‘Jo...’”

A suck of the cigarette for dramatic effect.

“I’m not real. I’m theatah. And ‘you and I’...”

As these last three words are the name of Gaga’s most recent single, the crowd’s enthusiasm sounds significantly more genuine. A bone has been thrown. This is a joke they get, one they can participate in.

Their encouraging cheer all but drowns the speech’s deliberate conclusion:

You and I (meaning Gaga and Calderone, meaning Stephanie Germanotta[iii] and her audience)...

“...This is just rehearsal. I gotta get in theah.”
+ + +

If you take an elevator ride in the Imperial Palace on the Las Vegas strip, you will hardly be able to ignore the television advertising the hotel’s main attraction: Frank Marino’s Divas, a celebrity female impersonation extravaganza. Following a rapid-fire series of clips showcasing an assortment of drag queens doing Britney, Madonna, and other glamour standards, the leering mug of the blonde bejeweled queen persona of Marino materializes. The voice-over blares: “You won’t believe your eyes...” and the queen morphs into a head-shot of an out-of-drag, decidedly masculine Frank, accompanied by the assurance that: “...these gals are really guys!”

This “revelation” will be jarring to anyone who has ever frequented drag shows in dingy dives, where kings and queens immerse themselves in the attire, body language, and pronoun of a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. The purpose of this facade is to be at once exaggerated and convincing in the chosen gender, as is the case with the dramatically campy but believably macho Calderone. The joy of being on a drag stage is weaving a collective fantasy, regardless of the degree to which the gender being depicted is a part of the performer’s identity when they peel off the spirit gum mustache or unhook their girdle.

When the Imperial Palace marketers literalize the “impersonation” aspect of Marino’s act, they undermine the central mystique of drag. In Vegas, a heterocentric territory of comfortable sensationalism not unlike the aforementioned digestible shock value of MTV, drag can profit so long as it panders to anticipated queer anxiety of its audience. “These girls are really guys” is a reassurance that the queerness inherent in drag doesn’t carry over into “real life.” Gender inversion is marketable entertainment provided it is clearly delineated within the confines of theatricality, and doesn’t spill over into identity, desire, or what the performer wears on their day off.

Gaga, in contrast, revels in the gender ambiguity implied by a drag act that never lets on that an offstage life exists. She may even achieve what the voguing queens of Jennie Livington’s 1990 documentary of underground Harlem drag balls Paris is Burning call “realness”: complete embodiment of an archetype in a performance.
+ + +

Jo Calderone’s significance is even more notable when considered alongside other instances of female pop stars in some semblance of drag.


Eleven VMAs ago Britney Spears appeared onstage in a baggy suit to sing possibly the most neutered-ever rendition of the covered-to-death Stones classic “Satisfaction”[iv]. One minute into the song the suit was ripped off to reveal a body stocking, transparent except for glittering sequins, and Spears proceeded through the motions of her standard routine of stiffly suggestive dancing. Her allure is more stripper kitsch than personal sexual expression.

R&B Singers Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Ciara, and Mya have all appeared in their own music videos[v] wearing masculine costumes, either to highlight sexist double standards or parody their male celebrity counterparts. In each case, the masculine incarnation dances alongside or otherwise transforms into her typical public imagine, writhing in stunningly feminine glamour. Though they might slip into baggy pants or fashionable blazers, any butch identification is quickly glossed over with mini-dresses and enormous diamonds.

Annie Lennox pulled her own drag stunt at the 1984 Grammys. Like Calderone, the Eurythmics frontwoman sported sideburns, pompadour and simple black suit. Lennox’s signature androgyny made this a convincing fashion statement, but she was less embodying a fully realized character than doing a superficial, if convincing, Elvis impression. In the Eurythmics’ “Who’s that Girl” video, Lennox plays the double role of “Elvis” and a blonde-bombshell in pink lipstick. Dated CGI allows the male and female Lennox to make out at the clip’s conclusion, unifying Lennox’s dual personas in androgynous lust.


Each of these flirtations with masculinity are accompanied by a “these guys are really gals” reveal, distinguishing them from drag kings as what Judith Halberstam calls “femme pretenders.” With the same queer-anxiety soothing disclaimer as the Vegas show, each of these artists shows “how thoroughly her femininity saturates her performance – she performs the failure of her masculinity as a spectacle.” (Halberstam 250) Any exploration of masculinity only serves to reinforce the feminine, a disclaimer that renders it commercially comfortable. Calderone, in contrast, never tears off his suit, or even acknowledges that he is being personified by Gaga, eliciting discomfort that is in and of itself revealing. He remains firmly committed to his character, and gender, even when he sings Gaga’s song...

+ + +

His well-rehearsed speech completed, Calderone dashes to an upright piano to launch into a barroom version of the foreshadowed “You and I.” A hidden band kicks in, and the camera cuts to cartoonishly boyish pop star of the hour Justin Bieber looking more hostile than confused, like no one told him rocknroll was gonna be gay.

The singer tears off his jacket, does another verse with Calderone-clone back-up dancers,[vi] announces the onstage arrival of Brian May[vii] on lead guitar and closes the act by hurling himself atop and off the piano, spraying beer into the bewildered crowd, and posing next to May with the enthusiasm of a very confident and clearly wasted karaoke contestant.


The relative banality of this song’s lyrics (“taste like whiskey/when you kiss me” etc) and chord progression (which it must be noted May could wail on with his hands tied behind his back) is drowned by the display of utter showmanship from Gaga, for whom the margin between inventiveness in image and originality in music has always been so suspiciously wide as to almost seem intentional.

The performance doesn’t stop with the song. When he joins the audience to watch the rest of the show, returns to the stage as an award presenter, and schmoozes backstage, Calderone remains in character with an Andy Kauffman-like commitment. Hardly a mention of the event will neglect to make particular note of him using the men’s bathroom. He has a back-story, corroborated in the Autumn/Winter 2010 Vogue Homme Japan: origin (Palermo by way of Jersey) occupation (Mechanic), and identity in relation to Gaga herself (erstwhile lover). At the post-show press conference, Calderone responds to a reporter’s query, “What can you express as Calderone that you can’t express as Gaga?” with a blank look and mumbled; “I don’t undahstand the question.”[viii]

Extraordinarily, Gaga plays the whole thing straight. She never gives an ironic wink, never points to the Lady behind the curtain. She allows her audience to squirm, and revels in the blurred boundaries of man/woman, costumed character/authentic person, fantasy/reality. Calderone’s speech, with its exploration of on-and-off-stage existence, and the 4th wall-breaking execution of the character himself, illustrates Gaga’s comfort in ambiguity. The entire stunt is a daring critique of cultural strictness, not only with regards to gender, but to the authenticity of fame culture as well.

+ + +

At the center of this frenzy of theatrics is Germanotta herself, a multiplicity of “threats”: singer, dancer, writer, entrepreneur, media manipulator, sexual provocateur. The audience wants, like Calderone wants of the woman he embodies and desires, to get in thea, inside that frenzy to understand what Gaga is really all about and why she does the sensational things she does. Is this guy really a gal? What kind of glittering underwear has he got on? Gaga resistance to a reveal not only preserves the integrity of her invented character, but also transmits the message that onstage or off, every person performs their gender and persona. Uncompromising, she offers herself as an example. The roles she plays are as real as the person creating them; her streamlined masculine persona is as real as her hyper-feminine fashion statements or abject alter-egos. Maybe the “real” Lady Gaga is the monstrous, the theatrical, the outsized, her characters, her dopplegangers.

Maybe that’s just who she is.




[i] hereafter MTV VMAs, an event whose name, once charmingly redundant, is by now just short of being a total contradiction in terms
[ii] “cums” is bleeped out by the MTV cameras along with the numerous “fuckin’”s
[iii] Gaga’s given name
[iv] rock’s most shameless expression of heterosexual male lust and frustration, containing a significant consciousness of attire which the Spears version changes from “how white my shirts can be” to “how short my skirts can be”
[v] “Upgrade U” (‘07), “Obsessed” (‘09), “Like a Boy” (‘07) and “My Love is Like..Wo” (‘03), respectively
[vi] None of whom appear to be women in drag, but who can be sure?
[vii] of the incomparable 70’s rock band Queen, and thus no stranger to shredding alongside a flamboyant frontman
[viii] along with untoward soundbites such as; “Didn’t you jerk off to Britney when you were a kid?” and, “It’s fuckin’ bright in heah!” and, in a response to an accusation of Guido-ness, “You got a problem with Italians? Wassamatter wichyoo?” – all departures from Gaga’s typically demure attitude with the press


Author Bio:
Jennie Gruber is a Creative Non-Fiction Writing MFA student at Sarah Lawrence College.  She is also an award-winning documentary filmmaker, zine-maker, and face-melting rocknroller. Her work has been published in Whore! magazine, AORTA magazine, Mcsweeney’s The Believer, and numerous Cleis Press anthologies. She has performed at San Francisco’s Litquake along with a multitude of other reading series, academic panels, and community educational events. Her preoccupations include shameless expressions of transgressive sexual identities, the para-literary, and punk communities. She lives in Brooklyn.  imnotayoungmananymore.tumblr.com

+ + +

Gaga Stigmata is currently sleeping, preparing for her cultural rebirth in print form. Submissions are currently closed. Watch for news about our book's release in Fall 2012. :: +Stigmata Love+ ::

Click here to follow Gaga Stigmata on Twitter.
Click here to “like” Gaga Stigmata on Facebook.