Gender Bending’s Nothing New

by Margaret Meehan August 29, 2011

If you missed Lady Gaga’s male drag performance at the MTV Video Music Awards last night then you also missed the shock on the faces of many celebrity audience members. The truth is there was nothing so new here or at least it shouldn’t be by now. Maybe the notable concern stemmed more for her safety as she slipped off her beer soaked piano than shock, but I digress…

As Jo Calderone, she is a Jersey boy’s James Dean, a male alter-ego that is already part of our collective cultural history. For some, especially “main stream” and younger audiences her gender bending performance may be a departure from the norm and if this is true then I consider her delivery worth while. Others are accusing her of an ‘Annie Lennox ripoff…

but I’ll remind you to look into the distant and not so distant past for a long lineage of individuals who have lived wholly in their bodies, embraced untraditional definitions of gender (be it male, female or androgynous) and pushed the boundaries of preconceived notions long before Lady Gaga, each courageously giving a deeply rooted history for her to build upon.

Here are just a few:

Billy Tipton:

Boy George and Grace Jones:

Madonna in her power suit phase:

Marlene Dietrich long before Madonna:

The iconic Quintin Crisp below.

French novelist and memoirist George Sand, born Amantine Lucile Dupin, in the 1800’s:

Above is a detail of Frida Kahlo in a family photo taken by her father in 1926. Cross-dressing at an early age she deliberately projects power and independence.

Below Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego Rrose Selay.

One of Andy Warhol’s many drag moments.

Antony Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons

 Above Vaginal Davis original homo-core punker and gender-queer art-music icon.

English artist Grayson Perry  who won the Turner Prize in 2003 and is known for his ornate ceramic vases and cross-dressing alter ego Claire.

In film:

and finally and tragically film describing real life:



Lindsay Palmer August 30, 2011 - 09:16

I say nothing new, but always appreciated. It will be interesting to see what my students might think about this, since I work with the young ones and they are always talking about lady gaga this and that.

Daisy Varela October 19, 2011 - 11:18

What I know is the life is really hard for us the musicians or artists,because even if we are not in the closet,we have to deal with a lot of ignorant people that are still homofobics!The religion fanatics are the worst enemy for us,because they’re still leaving in the past!


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