Sunday, August 16, 2009

Not So Gaga Over Lady Gaga Sensationalism...

Hi, everyone. I am currently in hiding for the next few weeks, preparing for horrid exams I have to take by the summer’s end. (Ah, the joys of graduate school…) I already had topics planned out for the next two posts, but I had to derail my plans for a moment and write a quick blog in consideration of all of the Lady Gaga brouhaha going on. [Ssh! Just don’t tell my advisor! I should be studying… ;) ]

Apparently, a tape of a recent Lady Gaga performance shows her, at 1:10, dismounting from the bright red motorcycle she was sitting on while singing. At about 1:14, Gaga pulls her skirt down, as it’s ridden up too high. (Don’tcha just hate that?) So what, right? While uncomfortable, this isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) news. The brouhaha comes about because Lady Gaga’s genitals are partially exposed for a brief moment since she wasn’t wearing underwear, and some viewers have asserted her genitals appear penile in form. The Queers United blog explains the footage by proclaiming that Lady Gaga is actually intersex, and lists a quote from her, stating that she’s not ashamed to be intersex, having both female and male genitalia.

Um. WHAT?! Does this honestly make any sense to anyone? (Sadly, the answer is yes.)

I call bullshit on the Queers United post for several reasons. First of all, Lady Gaga’s quote can’t possibly be true, because intersex-aware people know that “intersex” does NOT equal “hermaphrodite.” The quote, specifically cites Gaga possessing both female and male external genitalia, and the language leads one to assume this means a penis and a vagina, each of normal form. (“I have both a poon and a peener. Big [fucking] deal.”) However, the penis and clitoris, and the scrotum and the labia, respectively, are derived from the same developmental tissue, so it’s impossible for humans to possess both sets of “male” and “female” external genitals. That being said, there is a highly variable range of external genitalia an intersexed individual may possess, from ambiguous genitals, to a micropenis, an enlarged clitoris, to not having a vagina at all, or even to having genitals we’d immediately register as “normal” male or female varieties. Which leads us to remember that external genital form isn’t the sole diagnostic characteristic of intersex individuals. Intersex individuals may have one or a combination of external genitals, internal sex organs, hormone levels, collection of chromosomes (or karyotype), musculature, bone structure, secondary sexual traits (e.g., breasts, body hair distribution) that are atypical according to “male” and “female” standards. A person is considered intersex when they possess at least one such atypical trait (e.g., an individual has a line down the back of their penis, with no other atypical characteristics) or a suite of traits that, when paired together, are considered atypical (e.g., a person with seemingly large, penis-like clitoris, scrotum-like labia, XX chromosomes, and a deep voice, as might be exhibited in some individuals with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia). For a website that is supposedly an activist blog discussing, in part, “intersexual” issues, the poster(s) seem(s) to be largely unaware of what may or may not constitute an intersex individual.

Second of all, why would one immediately grab their megaphones and yell, “INTERSEX!” when viewing Lady Gaga’s genitals? The brief moment of footage doesn’t allow one to see much. Even if some viewers are comfortable stating Gaga’s genitals appeared penile, how does translate into an intersex classification? Can one supposedly see both full sets of external genitals, as Gaga’s questionable quote claims she possesses? If one takes on a biologically accurate view of intersex, can one see any atypical genital forms discussed above? Can one use their X-ray vision and assess Lady Gaga’s hormone levels or karyotype? Or her muscle and bone structure? Even if we (inaccurately) decide to go just on external genitalia, I don’t think even carrot addicts with 20-20 vision could positively ID Gaga as intersex in that footage.

Finally, if Lady Gaga has decided to announce that she’s intersex in mainstream media, why do we see no other statements in other news and literature sources? As Lisa astutely points out, there isn’t even any mention of her announcing herself as intersex on her official blog – one place you’d surely think she’d address the video and her quote. It’s hard to believe anyone opening with “It’s not something I’m ashamed of…” would remain zip-lipped to anyone but apparently Queers United. I take the stance of Incredible Shrinking Phallus and Lisa from Questioning Transphobia: whether or not Lady Gaga is intersex, transgender, a flying pink elephant, or anything else, it is none of our business unless Gaga chooses to share that with us. And from where we’re sitting right now, it’s highly dubious she’s choosing to do just that. And more importantly, it’s HER RIGHT to do or not do so.

Overall, I’m appalled that Queers United would create posts containing highly questionable quotes and fundamental biologically inaccuracies. But most of all, I’m angry that the post served to sensationalize Lady Gaga herself and intersex individuals by presenting it as a juicy tidbit of gossip, and not addressing her experiences as a person who is intersex, trans, etc. It's absolutely horrid to think that this experience may force Lady Gaga to address such a personal issue that doesn't concern anyone else. How can activist sites generate awareness about issues of interest to effect positive change by spreading misinformation and dramatizing the reality of many individuals’ lives? This entire thing is just a shame.

Thanks to Feministing for first alerting me to this issue!


  1. I did say it was uncomfirmed and that the quote was rumor until we could find a source. I put a question mark on the post because until Lady Gaga announces it we are all speculating. It would be great for the intersex community if she were a visible spokesperson. I suspect she isn't intersex because she used twitter to say "suck my hermy dick" which she is probably just capitalizing on the fame on not actually IS. I hope to do more intersex coverage that is positive, this article wasn't a good one, please look to my numerous others. Do you have any suggestions on how I can be a better advocate for intersex?

  2. Hello, Queers United. I published a separate post to respond to your comment since there were multiple issues I wished to address. Please read ahead to the following post.

    Thank you!