Yesterday, Madonna joined Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Mary Lambert and Queen Latifah on stage at the Grammys for a live performance of “Same Love” (and a hint of “Open Your Heart”!), during which nearly three dozen couples — gay, straight, whatever — got married on live television. (Personally, I wouldn’t want Beyoncé upstaging me at my own wedding, but to each their own.)
I also saw a lot of shade being thrown on Twitter by fellow gay people yesterday. That always happens during an award show — we’ve got to suffer through the night somehow, after all. And had it solely been about Madonna’s crypt-keeper red carpet look and that fucking grill, I would understand.
But it wasn’t about that at all — it was about gay people being “used” as a trendy accessory, and ageist attacks at Madonna’s alleged bid for relevancy by appearing on the show.
Madonna keeps trying to weasel her way back into relevancy. She just needs to accept that she's old.
— Audrey Moxley (@audrey_moxley) January 27, 2014
Madonna does not care about gay people. She just uses us to keep herself relevant because we don't have enough damn sense to know better.
— Calvin (@aurosan) January 26, 2014
So glad Mary Lambert is actually getting to shine, however briefly. Queer people can tell our own stories, thank you very much. #Grammys
— Saeed Jones (@theferocity) January 27, 2014
And that’s when I realized how urgently a history lesson is needed.
Back in 1986, Madonna’s best friend Martin Burgoyne died of AIDS. It was a time before AIDS was really even AIDS — back when it was still being referred to as Gay Related Immune Deficiency, and a time when people were still afraid to even be in the same room as a person with the disease.
Regardless of the unknown danger at hand, Madonna remained wholly committed to paying for his medical expenses and attending fundraisers to support her friend. (In fact, Burgoyne’s personal items — including fundraiser flyers and personal Polaroid photos of Madonna were to be auctioned off this week by his estate.)
Let’s remember: This wasn’t at a time when Looking was premiering on HBO. This was a time where gay men were genuinely considered a threat to public health, and when people’s friends and family were dying for no explicable reason. The fact is, it was at the risk of her career to remain committed to the LGBT community.
Ever since, Madonna has continued to be an outspoken champion of gay rights.
“It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more outspoken people on gay rights in powerful positions, and it’s unfortunate that saying somebody’s gay is such a frightening thing in the world today,” she explained to Kurt Loder in a 1991 interview called Dinner With Madonna — 20 years prior to a pro-LGBT rant in concert in 2012 in St. Petersburg, after which she was sued for $10 million by Russian anti-LGBT organizations.
Luckily, western society has moved ahead in leaps and bounds regarding LGBT rights. #ItGetsBetter, pro-LGBT anthems have since become the trend du jour on the radio these days. At one point around 2011, nearly every pop artist had one out at the same time — from Lady Gaga‘s “Born This Way” to P!nk‘s “Fuckin’ Perfect” to Katy Perry‘s “Firework” to Selena Gomez‘s “Who Says?” to Ke$ha‘s “We R Who We R.”
But to say that Madonna’s appearance onstage last night was merely advantageous and relevancy-baiting is to choose to ignore over 30 years of advocacy and outspoken support of the gay community. Frankly, she helped pave the way.
It’s not as though she hasn’t continuously been fighting the fight, regardless of where she’s at in her career: Look at the #secretproject #revolutionoflove she’s been touting for well over a year now. She’s not doing that to sell an album or a tour — she’s spent her own money with Steven Klein to put together a thought-provoking PSA about freedom of speech and equality. (In fact, she’s been drilling it into our heads so much, I just want her to stop and get back to the music already.)
But of course, she’s always finding 4 more minutes to try and save the world.
So, then there was Macklemore.
I don’t particularly enjoy “Same Love,” to be honest. It’s just not a song I’d ever listen to. There’s no room for choreography, so why bother? (Mary Lambert’s part is beautiful, though.)
I also have some concerns about the song’s meaning. As Ronan Farrow rightly tweeted last night: “For a pro gay song, this sure does feature a lot of Macklemore clarifying that he’s straight.” And he’s right: There’s a certain “Gay’s okay, but #nohomo!” sentiment to the whole thing.
The reason I do like “Same Love,” however, is its overall impact. It didn’t really hit me that the song was even becoming a hit until my little sister told me that she heard the song playing one day on the radio last year, and that she was touched by the song. And that’s sort of when it clicked.
I started to recognize the meaning behind “Same Love,” a song explicitly about being gay in America, about hateful YouTube comment section name-calling and marriage equality — being played on heavy rotation on hip-hop and Top 40 radio last year.
The mass-marriage last night was strange, frenzied and incredibly emotional all at once — but what it wasn’t, to me at least, was offensive.
I would encourage writers, YouTubers and Twitter personalities to step outside their reactionary bubble and recognize the greater good: Stop tearing down the people who are waging the same battle, whatever you suppose their true intentions actually are. Madonna? Macklemore? Please. These aren’t our real enemies.
The real enemies are the homophobic politicians and world leaders committed to outlawing LGBT “propaganda.” There are real, horrifying events happening every single day in the world — and if you truly believe the biggest problem is that a straight white man “using us” for record sales by publicly supporting LGBT equality on a nationally televised awards show in front of a tearstained audience, then you’re not genuinely fighting the same fight.
Understand the greater meaning of what happened last night. Realize that not everyone lives in a place where being gay is a complete and utter non-event. Recognize that the performance last night — while hokey, and sort of cringeworthy in places — might have meant a whole lot more to a closeted LGBT teen in rural Arkansas than an out, successful twentysomething living in New York City or Los Angeles.
Equality is a right, and unfortunately, we’ve still got a long way to go to get there. But my biggest fear about my own generation is our willingness to remain blissfully ignorant of our past and shrug away the progress that’s led us to where we are now in favor of a snarky, dismissive 140-character one-liner in the hopes of a quick retweet.
That’s not to say that there aren’t completely valid reasons to be critical of Macklemore’s success — I too am not without hesitation. “As long as the voices of straight, cisgender supporters get more attention than the voices of queer people, we are not equal,” Madison Carlson wrote on Feminspire. It’s a legitimate concern to raise, considering Macklemore is a straight white guy, after all. But he’s also not hurting the cause.
Mary Lambert was still on that stage. Gay men and women were still getting married. Those words were still being spoken. The performance might not have been “enough,” but it certainly wasn’t a step backward.
For once, let’s make an attempt to be a little less cynical and a little more thankful for everyone who has something positive to say about the LGBT community. Every pop star fighting with us on a larger platform — from Lady Gaga to Legendtina to Brit Brit (“I love all my gay boys!”) to Madonna to Macklemore — they’re all still allies helping in their own ways — and every word, song and donation helps us put another foot forward.
Madonna’s grill on the other hand? Now, that’s something we should all be upset about.