What I’m about to say may upset my gay brethren: For the past few years, I’ve sort of been over Madonna. When she started dating that teenage dancer and when she started flashing her 50-year-old nipples at concerts and driving around Italy dressed like a trampy nun sitting on the trunk of a convertible, I started to lost interest. A few months ago, when she was moaned and screamed at a crowd of fans who had come out in the rain to watch her during a sound check and then dared smoke in an outdoor arena, I thought I had had enough. This was in South America. I’ve been to South America. You can smoke in a baby nursery in some places down there. I was even asked by a few friends to go see her concert when she was playing at Yankee Stadium and I thought, meh, Yanke Stadium is so far away, I’ll stay home. Don’t get me wrong: I had always respected her for the gay icon she has been for decades – she gave us Vogue, after all – but my heart just wasn’t in it anymore.
But that changed on Saturday night. I had a come-to-Jesus (or should I say come-to-Madonna?) moment. Milla Jovovich asked me and two more of her favorite boys, Chris Brenner and Chris Bollen, to all be her dates to the the 24th annual Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Awards in New York. She was presenting an award and drumming up some financial support on the podium. (She practiced what she preached when she texted a donation for $20,000 and then walked away with two of the auction items.) Madonna had agreed to introduce Anderson Cooper, the recipient of this year’s GLAAD Vito Russo Award, and when she walked on the stage I was hypnotized. I was a fan once more.
First, there was what she wore. She showed up dressed as a Boy Scout, which I thought was ridiculous and amazing. I was reminded of a time (perhaps she is the last in a long line of women dressed with gusto?) when celebrities would dress up to be noticed, to court conversation. Nowadays, when so many actresses are intimidated by anonymous comments on the Internet and the possibility of being on worst dressed lists, most red carpet looks come out so bland. But Madonna has always used her wardrobe as a weapon of controversy, and this night she put on a cub scout shirt, Dickie’s cargo shorts, combat boots, fingerless gloves and a mountaineers helmet over perfectly coifed locks as a commentary on the Boy Scouts of America’s refusal to accept homosexuals into the organization. She may have looked ‘better’ in a cocktail dress, but Madonna has never been boring. And it gave her the opportunity to use the one liner: “I know how to scout for boys.”
She came on stage and the queens went wild, hooting and hollering and everyone’s mobile phones were snapping away. Then she launched into a 10-minute speech, which you can see above, that was absolutely moving. Milla put it best: “She can fill a room with electricity.” No one in that room was whispering or checking their phone or going to the bar when Madonna was on stage. And that’s saying something: This was a room primarily filled with narcissistic, overly groomed gay men – and she had their undivided attention.
What did she talk about? Gay rights, of course. And it was a long winded, well researched, powerful message. She said that while we feel closer to one another with the growing power of social media, we’re actually further apart from having a real dialogue. That discriminating people based on who they fall in love with is as un-American and inhuman as discriminating people based on their skin color. She also said that Putin would want to “fuck” Pussy Riot if they were in a room alone together, but she also explained that if people used compassion more the world would be a happier place. “I would wager that if we just took the time to get to know one another, did our own investigations, looked beneath the surface of things, we would find that we are not so different after all,” she said. Then, later, Madonna, a woman once condemned by the Vatican, quoted the Bilble: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” (If you don’t have the full 12 minutes to devote to Her Madgesty’s ramblings, you can skip to about 2:30 mark. The first part is general riffing and grandstanding, though Madonna has always been good at both.)
When I got home — which was a few hours later, which was a few drinks later) — I was still thinking about Madonna. She had inspired me and impressed me. At times, when she flirted with Cooper from the stage – pointing at him, saying he had the most blue eyes, winking – I even thought she was adorable and playful. Was she perfect? No, of coruse not. Her face was a little too plumped and of course she was a little to self involved. (Maybe she didn’t need to reference herself so often, even if 85 men were arrested in St Petersburgh for being openly gay and coming to her concert.) But at the end I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. She left me and the rest of the room energized, excited and motivated. She called for a revolution and she may actually get it.
Madonna is no fool. She understands that playing up to this audience will ensure her place in the halls of immortal gay icons, but I really do believe that she does want, desire, believe and strive for acceptance. I don’t think she was at the GLAAD Awards just to be provocative. I honestly think that beneath her costumes and her provocative acts is a woman with a strong point of view who has a heart that’s in the right place. In addition to being provocative, driven and self serving, she is also loving.
Toward the end of the video she says she wrote her own speech. “No one can write my copy,” she gloats. And I believe that. She’s a diva, she’s a genius, and at the end of the day she’s a compassionate woman. That’s what makes me respect her. Again. For now.
Captions, from top: Madonna’s speech; Madonna on stage; Milla with the Vito Russo Award recipient Anderson Cooper and his partner Benjamin; me and Milla at Anderson’s afterparty at the Boom Boom Room.