I still remember the first time I ever heard Lady Gaga’s music. I was still in primary school when her breakout hit Just Dance was released and since that iconic record I have been completely transfixed by her music, art and presence.
As a young LGBTQ+ person, I’ve often felt isolated and unsure in myself – I couldn’t see anyone around me who appeared to be going through the same personal precarities as me. Yet there was something about Gaga’s elaborate style and unapologetic essence that drew me in and made me feel like one day I could be as expressive and fearless as she was.
As news travelled to my hometown that Gaga was coming to Belfast to perform, my heart skipped a beat. I was absolutely enthralled with her art and I was convinced that going to see her in concert would be the best thing that could ever and would ever happen to me.
Prior to the news I had dressed up as her for my English speaking and listening assessment where the teacher tasked us with embodying a public figure and writing a speech in their style to perform for the class. In music class Lady Gaga was the subject of my musician’s profile project and my trusty iPod nano played her songs on repeat as I shuffled between classes, daydreaming of what it would be like to see her live.
Coming from a small town, I saw very little LGBTQ+ representation and had never met an openly LGBTQ+ person. As I progressed to high school I struggled to connect to those around me and gravitated towards Lady Gaga as she truly was a queer icon and someone I could look up to when I had no one else. Gaga was and remains a fierce champion for LGBTQ+ rights. I truly believe that seeing a strong woman like her speak out and support LGBTQ+ issues and queer culture in general was a lifeline for me as I grappled with my own identity.
After pleading, my parents were sweet enough to get me tickets to see her. I felt a mixture of nervous excitement knowing I was going to be in the same building as someone who had been a pivotal figure and role model for me.
As a young teenager, I remember stepping tentatively into a vast arena with bright lights and booming speakers and feeling like I was home. The crowd at this concert was unlike anything I had ever seen. I rubbed shoulders with openly LGBTQ+ people for the first time as the vibrant Pride flags, glitter and flamboyance of unapologetic queer expression was in full flow.
My younger self shed a tear that night as Gaga screamed out in support of LGBTQ+ people and exclaimed that love is love!
That experience was fundamental in cementing the idea that it was possible to live as an openly LGBTQ+ person and not only survive but thrive, and live whatever life I wanted to.
Ten years on, I get to be the representation that I didn’t see growing up by volunteering as a LGBTQ+ ambassador with Just Like Us.
This charity enables young people like me to give talks in schools about what it’s like being LGBTQ+ and how to be an ally. I know that if the little me had had the opportunity to see representation like LGBTQ+ ambassadors while in school I would have felt a lot less isolated growing up.
Looking back to 10 years ago, it was incredible to be surrounded by out, happy LGBTQ+ people for the first time. Seeing Gaga again – this time in London for the Chromatica Ball – was the most cathartic and beautiful moment.
If tiny me could see how far I have come and the fact that I went to see Gaga a decade later, openly LGBTQ+ and finally content living as my authentic lesbian self she wouldn’t have believed you.
As I walked into the standing pit to see my hero once more, platform boots and smiles galore, Gaga’s indistinguishable voice filled the stadium with the same electric light and love that had given me hope at a time when I just didn’t know if I could ever be who I knew I was meant to be.
The crowd sang along and as Gaga sat at her piano, she looked out and said, “I see a lot of you who know exactly who you are and to those of you who don’t know who you are, I know you’re gonna find out.” She was certainly right about that!
Here’s hoping that the Chromatica Ball speaks to a new generation of LGBTQ+ people on their own journey to self-acceptance. Thank you Gaga for being the queer icon I needed growing up!