Jo Calderone: Another publicity stunt or public aknowledgment of gender fluidity?
Lady Gaga is clearly known for her theatrics and pushing the boundaries of femininity. Whether you’re a fan or not, it cannot be denied that she thinks outside the box. I am shamelessly a huge fan of hers, not only for her music, but also for the unabashed pleasure she takes from stirring the pot.
This weekend, Lady Gaga appeared at the MTV Video Music Awards as her alter ego, Jo Calderone. Calderone identifies as male and reads as Italian-American, possibly in honor of Gaga’s own Italian heritage. In one of his acceptance speeches, he explains that Gaga is not present and he would be accepting the award Best Female Video in her place. Calderone embodies so many great contradictions: A masculine person accepting a female’s award, a biological female dressed as a man who preaches acceptance for being “born this way,” and even enacted racial attributes in his stereotypical adherence to Italian-American representations of masculinity.
What I find compelling about this story is the way Calderone has been received and read. Obviously, popular news outlets have reported on this. Many refer to Calderone as Gaga in drag and refuse to use male pronouns. While some do refer to Calderone as “he”, other articles avoid pronouns completely and refer to Calderone as his name or simply, “the pop star.”
Further indicating general unease with this gender play, Calderone introduced a tribute to Britney Spears at one point in the night and greeted Spears with a friendly kiss. However, when it was clear he wanted more than a friendly peck, Spears backed away and said, “I’ve done that before,” obviously in reference to the much talked about kiss with Madonna several years ago. Did she read Calderone’s gender as female?
We can see how conflicted the news media and Spears are with Lady Gaga’s gender bending. The media is inconsistent in how to treat Calderone’s gender. Is it Gaga in drag? Is Jo Calderone transgendered? Is Lady Gaga ultimately androgynous? Is Britney Spears uncomfortable with kissing Calderone because she assumes his sex is biologically female? Our culture is often uncomfortable with representations of gender that is difficult to place in the male/female dichotomy. Regardless of how you feel about Lady Gaga’s shenanigans, I think this incredibly public display of the fluidity of gender highlights how important it is to have such public representations.
Some popular press articles covering this story:
- Lady Gaga’s Jo Calderone Alter Ego Accepts Best Female Video VMA (MTV)
- Jo Calderone attends MTV VMAs for Lady Gaga, and tries to snog Britney Spears (The Mirror)
- Lady Gaga as Jo Calderone: ‘Britney Spears is Hot’ (Rolling Stone)
This essay was submitted to fulfill an assignment in my WOMS620: Feminist Theory course.