confronting my inner roadblocks, or, how someone puking on Lady Gaga changed my outlook on life

I am extremely open-minded.

Well, what does that mean, even? I've always understood the term open-mindedness to express the ability to accept human beings (individuals or groups or both!) as valid and whole and perfect. This is inclusive of religious belief, gender expression, sex, race, identity, etc. Open-mindedness is accepting. An open-minded person who finds bias in hir own life explores its source, and doesn't let it fester into an "-ism".

In college, I chaired an organization called Sex Collective that sought to spread sex-positivity. We planned several events each semester to publicly spread our message, but certainly our greatest service was our weekly meetings. We'd meet every Monday night for an open discussion on a general topic. The idea was to provide an open and safe space for people to learn, to share their stories, and, hopefully, to gain understanding and acceptance of all people.

We talked about everything. From the vanilla (role-playing, toys, light bondage, etc), to the highly taboo (pedophilia, zoophilia, rape fantasy). We sought to understand the activity factually, outside of morality, and then, once we had a solid understanding, we were able to reintroduce the activity to our own morality. In some cases, attendees still believed some activities to be morally reprehensible, but their opinions were now coming from a place of knowledge, instead of ignorance. The open-minded person needs to recognize that they live in a society with rules, and that we need to abide by rules even if we seek to change them.

Suffice to say, after almost four years of active membership in that club, nothing shocks me anymore. Literally nothing. Don't get me wrong! I have discovered hard lines that should never be crossed by anyone living in a modern and civil society. For example, I believe the foundation of a healthy sex life is consent. Always, without exception.

I've always been proud of my open-mindedness. Friends often come to me with, "Is this normal?" type questions, and I help them to develop self-acceptance. Whether you like cross-dressing, you're a furry, you want to experience extreme bondage, you have rape or incest fantasies, you want to create a polyamorous marriage, or pretty much anything else, I believe you are beautiful and perfect, and I want nothing more than to help you manifest the life you want in as safe a way as possible. Try it sometime- you can't shock me. I love you.

Now, if you know me at all, you know that I'm basically obsessed with Lady Gaga. While I've never seen her live, I try to watch as many of her shows as I can online. Sometimes, like with the ARTPOP release party, it's broadcast live, which is pretty sweet. Other times, entire shows are available online after the fact. One such show was Gaga's performance at the South By Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my laptop, excitedly watching the show, as my partner sat opposite me, doing a crossword. The show was awesome. While all of the ARTPOP performances until that point had been classic pop glam, this show was full grunge. At one point, Gaga cracked open a beer on stage, drank some, and spit the rest out into the audience. It was just spectacular. What I love most about her performances, I think, is how they can create a little independent world. It's like for every show, some specific piece of her personality becomes dominant, and that's the version of Gaga we have for the evening.

The band started playing "Swine"; a harsh, shrieking, dubstep, rave-piece. It's really in stark contrast to the rest of ARTPOP, but it fit perfectly in this performance. The song is about a shitty human being (the swine) who is just "a pig inside a human body." The song sounds like a violent catharsis for Gaga, and she's said that it's inspired by people who took advantage of her on her rise to fame (while she has implied that these instances were sexual in nature, she hasn't specifically detailed the history).

The song starts. There is a mechanical bull (except with a pig's head) on stage right. Gaga sits at a drum set after having put on a white apron (I immediately think of a butcher's apron). A tall, slender, young woman with long, pin-straight brown hair, in glittery high-waisted shorts saunters onto stage. She is identified by Gaga as just "Millie." Millie holds a large water bottle full of something that looks like green paint. As the song starts, she stands at stage left, looking into the audience, slowly drinking the paint.

I have no idea what's going on, but I love Gaga, so I don't worry about it.

As Millie finished her thick green drink, the music gets frantic. Gaga is beating furiously at the drums and shrieking into the mic. Millie walks over to Gaga, and pulls her hair back with one hand. The first two fingers of her free hand disappear down her throat. As Lady Gaga shrieks, Millie proceeds to vomit green paint all over her.


Moments later, once she's presumably emptied her belly, Millie downs a bottle of blue liquid. She and Gaga mount the mechanical swine, facing each other, and as the animal lunges forward and back, Millie vomits the blue liquid all over Gaga.

Check it out! (Like, in case it wasn't obvious, be warned that there is legit vomming in this video)

I was surprised at the amount of feelings exploding inside of me as I watched this. I cowered behind my laptop screen so my partner wouldn't see me—I was embarrassed to be seen watching someone puke. I didn't know why I was embarrassed; in fact, I didn't understand the wave of emotion breaking over me. As that first stream of neon green slime rocketed out of Millie's mouth, I was shocked, disgusted, embarrassed, sad, alienated, disillusioned, angry, and...and I felt like I'd been lied to. Had I not been so affected by this performance, I probably would have chalked it up to Gaga being crazy, and I'd move on with my life. And yet I couldn't shake the feelings! Why in the world did I feel so much disgust? I can't remember the last time I've had such a visceral reaction to anything. So, I confronted my issues. I looked up interviews where Lady Gaga talked about the performance. I learned more about the vomit artist, Millie Brown. I learned more about the message behind the performance art (vomming all over obviously fit the vibe of show, and the act of throwing up on stage certainly elicited the types of emotions that the song is trying to deal with). Now that I was able to (important point #1) research and understand what I was seeing, I was able to (important point #2) revisit my own emotions that were born out of seeing this performance. I won't go into a lot of detail here about my conclusions regarding the messages of the performance—because that doesn't really have anything to do with my point. Please visit the links above to make your own conclusions! As far as revisiting my own emotions- I realized that this reaction was indicative of a very basic and overarching fear or discomfort regarding emotions, specifically when expressed by other people. As Millie Brown has explained, her art is extremely personal. It literally comes from inside her body. For me, anyway, I guess vomiting is categorized with other mundane bathroom activities which seem to be not only intensely private and personal, but also tangled up with shame. When I was a kid and I'd get sick and have to be sent home, I was never emotionally upset about feeling ill; I was upset about losing control of my body. My body decided that something was in me that needed to not be there, so it would forcibly vom it out. And, I mean, that's obviously the correct course of action, but we are typically under the impression that we're totally in control of our physical selves. And in a culture riddled with body-negativity, it's no wonder that watching someone intentionally vomiting on someone else could cause such disgust among viewers. [This isn't the end of the psychoanalysis. But I just wanted to illustrate the process. From here, I need to explore why I have such body negativity and where it came from. I need to explore why I see expressive emotions as inherently bad and weak. And I need to understand why those two things are connected.] Now, this idea of being uncomfortable by those who actively emote only made complete sense to me some time later, when I was at church. The church had just lost a vital member of their community- the funeral had been the day prior to this particular service, so emotions were still running in overdrive. A woman got up to speak in front of the congregation and her intense and complete despair was evident. She wept and screamed and banged her fists on the pulpit. She was in mourning. I know this may seem normal, but that's not how I felt about it at the time. I was really uncomfortable. I felt embarrassed to be in the presence of this woman, and I really considered leaving. I took sideways glances, trying to see if anyone was looking at me—witnessing my attendance to this service. This whole business of Gaga getting vommed on came back to me (isn't funny how the mind works?), and I realized the pattern I was living. "What the fuck is wrong with you, Nick? How is any part of this situation bad? How is the expression of love and despair anything to be ashamed of?!" I recognized then that the woman standing in front of the church should be applauded for her courage. She was expressing herself in a way that terrifies me. She screamed in sorrow in front of forty people, and had I been in her shoes, I might have withheld my emotions from everyone, for fear of being seen as weak and not in control of myself. Everyone knows that it's unhealthy to keep your feelings locked inside (seriously, read any self-help book ever). I  know that, and knew it before that day, but here I was, judging other people for taking the more emotionally healthy course of action.

Recognizing, also, that this fear of emotions in others is solidly based in a fear of emotions in myself, I consciously let down my shields, my barriers, and I let the waves of emotion in that church wash over me. I wept uncontrollably.

One of my favorite pieces of advice I've gotten from my life coach is to look for the gift in all situations. Because Lady Gaga works with avant-garde performance artists, and because I witnessed the emotional aftermath of a funeral, I was able to do some incredible emotional evolution. I learned that it's REALLY important to know WHY something or someone makes you uncomfortable. You need to keep asking yourself questions until you get to the root of the issue. Educating yourself about things or people that make you uncomfortable is a great way to gain understanding for others, and for yourself.

This is something I've been living with and avoiding for years. In two short days I had all the pieces given to me and, while I'm not instantly comfortable with emotions, I've been making great strides. I also learned that growing and becoming more amazing can sometimes be uncomfortable. Don't avoid it for that reason. We all have so much more potential than we can ever imagine.


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