Diva Face-Off at Q & Gay: Madonna vs. Gaga
Guest post by Joshua Borja
Photo: Shawn Mac Photography
In honor of Madonna’s 54th birthday, the Center conducted the third installment of its live talk show Q & Gay. Dating columnist Allison Davis moderated the exchange, which pitted Madonna against Lady Gaga to determine which woman is the superior icon.
To kick things off, the Center’s Director of Cultural Programs, Paul Menard, shared that he was not allowed to listen to Madonna in his youth and that he resorted to hiding records in his basement. He explained that he identified with Madonna’s stabs at reinvention: “The idea of being rebellious and being able to reinvent yourself is why Madonna always spoke to me, because that’s something LGBT kids have to do to survive.” He described Madonna’s presence in his life as important and transformative, and he added that Lady Gaga has that same sort of power.
The evening’s panelists—Gawker editor Rich Juzwiak, club promoter Joe Fiore, drag Lady Gaga impersonator Lady Havokk and drag Madonna impersonator Detoxx Busti-ae—opened with an exploration of the big question: Why all the comparisons? Lady Havokk argued that the comparisons sprouted from fan-based antagonism, but Juzwiak pointed out that even Lady Gaga has compared herself to Madonna. Fiore stressed that Madonna’s career has spanned more than 30 years in the industry, whereas Gaga is just starting out. Juzwiak readily agreed that Madonna has had much time to reinvent herself. To deliver a more substantial comparison, we will all just have to wait and see how Gaga settles into her artistry in the long run!
When asked to speculate about Gaga’s next move, Fiore laughed, “Something naked. I don’t know what, but something naked.” Underscoring that she’s a businesswoman, he seemed confident in her continued success. Juzwiak explained that whether “she strips down literally or musically, it will be difficult to find a way to top herself,” as she has set an exhausting pace to maintain.
Davis ultimately oriented the discussion toward the following question: Why do these two artists speak so deeply to the gay community? Alluding to Gaga’s history as a bullied outcast, Lady Havokk expressed admiration for her commitment to safe spaces and for her steadfast celebration of individuality. Detoxx explained, “Every gay person wants to express themselves,” and attributed Madonna’s appeal to her “fame, glamour and her badassness.”
The audience then asked the panel for their favorite LGBTQ activist aside from Gaga and Madonna. For the first time during the program, Lady Havokk and Detoxx saw eye to eye as they cited Ellen DeGeneres. They both spoke enthusiastically about her activism in being embraced by mainstream television and about her conscientious discussions against bullying. Juzwiak expressed esteem for playwright and public health advocate Larry Kramer, and Fiore said that author, journalist and It Gets Better Project co-founder Dan Savage “does a lot of good.”
Implicit amid the panel’s attempt to identify the superior gay icon is the question: Can one individual represent the entire LGBTQ community? This, I think, is a question that begs to burst out of itself and into a grander context: Can any individual represent the face of an entire community, which is itself an assemblage of individuals with unique histories and inevitably multivariable aesthetics? I would have to say no. Though I side with Team Monstrosity, I’ll probably never express it quite as Lady Havokk does—that is, crossing her black lace-up stiletto-heel knee boots, and sipping from her bejeweled teacup. I can’t say that dance pop and eccentric costumes characterize me or my hopes for more prevalent discourse on gender and sexuality. Nevertheless, by broadening LGBTQ visibility through their artistry, popular cultural icons like Gaga and Madonna open the door for such discourse. Their mandates for self-empowerment nurture the courage that leads to inquiry, the courage to examine the terminology by which we construct gender and sexuality, and the courage to sculpt responsible dialogue.
The program closed with a fantastic Madonna mashup performance by New Agenda, the Center’s Youth Enrichment Services (YES) dance group, mentored by YES Arts & Media Specialist, Raul Rivera. It was an ideal way to remind the audience that no matter how you chose to do it, the idea is to express yourself!
Josh Borja is a physics major at NYU, where he works in the Undergraduate Writing Tutors Program and is editor-in-chief of the Minetta Review.