I treated the release of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way as ceremoniously as any teen girl without her driver’s license could: by begging my mom to drive me to the mall to buy a physical copy. The record came out on May 23, 2011, the day before my fifteenth birthday. The timing was a cosmic coincidence, but if I closed my eyes, I could almost convince myself that the CD was a birthday gift from Mother Monster herself.
I’d hardly admitted I was queer to myself, let alone to anybody else. I carried a giant backpack stuffed with textbooks every day, but it was my identity that weighed on me as I walked through my high school. At the time, I viewed my sexual orientation as an inescapable curse that would alienate me from my friends and family. Like Gaga herself, I was born into a family of Italian-American New Yorkers and raised in the Catholic Church, where homosexuality is still far from embraced and often shunned. But Gaga took the religious imagery I knew and spun it into tales of twisted love (“Judas”), unapologetic pleasure (“Electric Chapel”), and defiant self-acceptance (the album’s anthemic, pro-LGBTQ+ title track). If Gaga, who was openly bisexual and already a personal hero, viewed me as “beautiful in my way ‘cause God makes no mistakes,” why couldn’t I?