It’s been a long time since I came around
Been a long time but I’m back in town
This time I’m not leaving without you
You taste like whiskey when you kiss me, oh
I’d give anything again to be your baby doll
This time I’m not leaving without you
— Lady Gaga, “Yoü and I”
Fandom is about periodization, history, just as life is. So, the tenth anniversary of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way marks a moment in her development as an artist, to be sure, but it is likewise a moment in the fan’s development, whose life is lived in proximity and relation to the object of fandom. On this anniversary of an album that defines so much, I offer not notes but memories; and in the spirit of a certain time, sins not tragedies.
He lived in a rather large apartment for a struggling musical theater actor-director in Brooklyn, but then again, he did go to Princeton and probably had some generational wealth. His roommate, who was never home, was a Brony, which I accepted without question, as one should accept without question glitter and cuteness and anthropomorphism. What I lacked in sexual experience I made up for with faith, and I think that he knew that. Indeed, I think everyone knew that; every man knew that, for every man tested my faith, not in God but in Marilyn, Judy, and Sylvia (and Stefani). I had yet, however, to tell them, these women or these men, how I feel.
His name was Sean and he looked like his name: calm, even docile, trustworthy, on-the-edge-of-cool-on-the-edge-of-dorky, bespectacled at oddly meaningful times, douchey at oddly meaningful times, handsome, rather like a thumb, with an air of questionable, but nevertheless compelling, purity, someone who you could really believe loved you or at least found you interesting enough to fuck. He studied theater and it was always his goal to direct his own productions and make his way to the American Repertory Theater, where I had seen many productions in college thinking nothing of its professional import to others. He had written a number of plays, a handful of which had found very small forms of realization akin to an indie singer starting out in a coffee shop. At the moment, though, he was working, as many Ivy League graduates did, in SAT consulting for wealthy kids who wanted to go to Harvard but would settle for Dartmouth.
Lest any of this sound like a condemnation before-or-after-the-fact, I should admit that I was, genuinely and youthfully, in awe of him. He really was, and I use this word advisedly and with love and I will tell you why, a huge faggot. He loved musical theater and Lady Gaga and his body and sex — more so than you would expect of someone named, drably, Sean. Most of those loves had been beaten out of me. For instance, my father told me that I could not read Anne of Green Gables because it was for girls. He was onto something and perhaps predicted that I was, to modify a gay code of a bygone era, a “friend of Anne.” I do not know if Sean loved Anne Shirley as much as I did, but I know that he would understand the impulse to love her, or, the impulse to love everyone other than yourself.
We listened to music from Spring Awakening and The Last Five Years, and we fucked, and we got breakfast at McDonald’s in gentrifying Brooklyn, and we loved it. I think that in our hearts we were both bottoms, but Sean made it work and he consented to fucking me, and I was so grateful to him for that. Who knows? Maybe he was a rare top who loves musicals. I’ve boned a few, but only a few, and I think they learned, as I did, from musicals that love and violence might become an amalgam, a chorus. I and he wanted to be that chorus of Real Housewives in the “Artpop” music video, absentmindedly patting their tambourines, on their way to the planet Venus. And Sean saw me wanting it, and he saw me walk by his roommate’s My Little Pony collection with neither interest nor disinterest. Strange loves just are. Fandom just is, and so is regret. Gaga made that clear. At the time, relatedly, I could not stand Jeff Koons’s work. Looking back some five years later I understand how shortsighted that was. Koons and Gaga wanted to love and be obsessed and that is what I wanted too.
And so, I was obsessed with Sean, because that is what I wanted to be and do. I went over to his place every weekend, oftentimes one or two weeknights too. We had probably gone on two dates before I made myself a major fixture in his life, alongside the shelf of My Little Ponies. I always remember first dates and lyrics, but with Sean I do not, and I think that is centrally important. I remember Artpop but I do not remember what was so charming about Sean other than his faggotry. I think he was a good kisser, but who’s to say? A kiss is interchangeable until, finally, it is not. Like pop music or a cliché, a kiss flees and returns and oftentimes only becomes devastatingly poignant in retrospect. Think of the poor von Trapps and poor Natalie Wood and poor Amy Winehouse. I wanted to spare them pain, so I took it on myself, though I did not and do not understand the difference between fictional pain and real pain.
It was not pain that I felt when I was convinced that I had not washed my crotch well enough earlier in the day and I told him no, I do not want you to give me head. It was not pain I felt when he rammed his face into me and took charge of my cock. It was not guilty joy either. It was boredom. I laid back and considered what it meant to garner attention. Now, when I need my boyfriend to attempt to divine with no assistance what I am feeling, I ask him for attention. Can I have attention? And attention is not far from applause, and living for it. Of course, rape is not applause or attention, or it might be. There is an interspace between dancing in the dark and living for the applause. At that moment, with myself inside of Sean, I was in that interspace, I think, between The Fame Monster and Artpop, since I felt my heart stop, and my mind was freed and connected to generations of people of all genders (though the discourse is dominated by cisgender women) who had been thusly violated. Yet I remained in the dark, afraid to tell this story and others like it, for fear that it was not bloody or horrific enough, nothing at all like Laura Palmer. I love it. I love you. And I came in his mouth and I am sure that it must have felt like gazing balls and cabaret.
We did not see each other for a week or so, and I asked him what was up. He told me he had been busy planning a series of orgies that had taken up a great deal of his time. It is easy to be sex positive when one has high self-esteem, and at the time I certainly did not, so the existence of the orgies and my not being invited to them were both unbearable. Sexual assault was, I hoped, an open invitation that would always be taken. In my case, it was an open invitation to the body and a psyche in search of desire-as-rest, desire-as-good-enough, this-world-as-good-enough, someone-else-as-good-enough, but certainly not me-as-good-enough. Hurt, I suggested he would be a more successful actor if he spent less time staging orgies and more time staging productions. He told me to fuck off, and I was surprised, since I had taken abusive lust to mean enduring lust, though of course that is not always a binary. It could be that my subsequent attempts to get in contact with him via any possible medium were themselves abusive, but he needed to know that I would do anything again to be his baby doll. I could forgive a forgotten, but unwanted, advance. Then, ultimately, there were no mediums left in which to be blocked. With his silence, a queer utopia fell to earth, arrow in its side, like a salt-sprinkled angel, but I could not reject that utopia, because there I was, in New York, in a building with glamorous fire escapes like those in the “Edge of Glory” music video, and I too was bathed in that light, and I had found something, anything, with a handsome enough boy in a landscape narrated to me by long-gone queer forebears. And so, the queer utopian cherub has ascended again, content with living through a dream but not necessarily in it.