Born This Way

July 8th, 2011

I’ve been thinking about this video, in which comedian Paul F. Tompkins’ talks about his elderly mother’s rethinking her views on gay people:

Paul F. Tompkins: My Mom’s Final Decree
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And of course, that makes me think of this song by Lady Gaga, presented here in a remix by the famous Bollywood producers Salim and Sulaiman:

When I first heard Lady Gaga’s song, I thought the sentiment was surprisingly retro. Among the people I know and see on a daily basis, the sentiment that LGBT people are predisposed to be so–born this way–seems like nothing new and surprising. Of course, the song is about more than that; the sentiment of “accepting who you are” is not limited to one kind of outcast. But when I heard the song, the Eurodisco beat wasn’t the only thing that made me think the song would be more in place in the 70s or 80s. Isn’t “Born This Way” common knowledge, old news?

But then, to Paul F. Tompkins’ elderly mother, this attitude wasn’t cliched, wasn’t something she’d even considered until her old age. Then she treated it as her own private revelation, the product of intense contemplation, “Why are gay people that way? Maybe it’s because they were born that way.”

I was especially moved by Tompkins’ story because I kind of identify with him. In most of his work, he’s taken a detached, ironic view. He was the host of VH1’s “Best Week Ever,” a show that has irony built in to the title. Not every week can be the best week ever, but we can sarcastically act like it is. So when he tells the story about his mother, he’s on the verge of cracking wise about it, but there’s also a very sincere appreciation.

It’s odd that a sentiment that seems hackneyed and cliched from one perspective can be profound from another. Statements like “Money can’t buy happiness” or “Every cloud has a silver lining” seem hollow, unless you’ve had a transformative experience that leads you to treasure them. Philosophers expand, question, seek further treasure from these little sentiments, but to people who have something else to do with their day, there’s only the space and energy to make it into a song, to express it as a simple topic of bedside conversation, to hum along with it on the radio.

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