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Gaga's fans make voices heard in 'Heal This Way'
BOOKS
by Sarah Toce
2013-12-10

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Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta ( more famously known as singer Lady Gaga ) measures a petite 5'1" in stature, but her personality is disproportionate, to say the least. A case in point is Madison Square Garden, Feb. 22-23, 2013. The words "Lady Gaga: Cancelled" were unapologetically dished out across the Internet. The "Born This Way" eccentric singer was out of commission for a hip tear and her remaining concert dates were kaput. Zilch. Sayonara, Gaga.

But then, picture it: New York City, 2013. Little Monsters are in a studio writing their hearts out for a woman they've never even met, but have shared intimate moments with nonetheless. Not swayed by the concept of missing their favorite celebrity at a larger-than-life concert stop, they would flock to the scene of her missed show anyway—to commiserate, create and communicate—and a new project would be born ( in an egg, at an awards show… ).

Windy City Times: How was the idea of Heal This Way—A Love Story conceived?

Tracey B. Wilson: I have been giving rock-star photo shoots to Lady Gaga's biggest fans on all her North American tours in a pre-show performance art event since the fall of 2009. I have a special relationship with her fans, the Little Monsters. The Born This Way Ball tour was abruptly cancelled in February, just before coming to Madison Square Garden in New York City due to Gaga tearing her hip. Since so many of her most dedicated fans from around the world would be in New York City without a concert to go to, and were desperate to give Gaga get well messages, I rented a studio and gave photo shoots like I would before the concert. Only this time, I had Little Monsters bring a get-well letter for Lady Gaga, and told them I would make a special book called Heal This Way for her.

I would compile their photos and letters in a special coffee-table book just for her as a get-well gift. But the act of helping heal Gaga helped Little Monsters heal themselves and each other. Helped them to speak their truths and own themselves. Claim who they really were. This became a very powerful work of art that needed to be shared. I then contacted everyone in the Heal This Way project, and we moved forward with making this public version.

WCT: Who was chosen to contribute and what was the approval process like?

Tracey B. Wilson: For the original book we made just for Gaga, I promised that anyone who showed up for the shoot would be included, whether or not they submitted a letter. ( Many were from other countries and did not speak English. ) We put a sign-up sheet online, and it was filled almost immediately. For the public version, I kept that same promise. Everyone who was in the original book for Gaga was part of the spirit and energy of this project, and would be included in the published version. Due to the expense of self-publishing a color photo book, it had to be much smaller than Gaga's original copy, so not every letter was included, and not everyone has a full page spread, but everyone's voice is there. Everyone's love is there. And everyone's beautiful faces are there.

WCT: What can you tell us about working behind the scenes with Gaga?

Tracey B. Wilson: Working on Gaga's tour is incredible. I have been so proud to be the tour photographer of the Little Monsters. It is my honor and privilege to show people how beautiful they are—especially when you are talking about a crowd of people that is often bullied, or don't feel like they fit in—they are the most beautiful of all and they don't seem to know it. It is a joy to watch people react to seeing themselves in the photos I take of them—to finally get an idea of their beauty and watch them radiate joy! My goal is to empower people one by one the way Gaga does to the whole crowd.

WCT: In your opinion, why is a book like this needed?

Tracey B. Wilson: Heal This Way is needed because it illustrates what so many people are going through right now. What so many young people are struggling with: being bullied, coming out, thoughts of suicide, loneliness, wanting to fit in, wanting to not feel outcast—and it is in their own words.

This book is needed until parents are accepting of their children no matter what. This book is needed to show that encouraging each other is crucial. Helping each other flourish in life is necessary! My goal is that if I am a young person, reading this will help me to understand I am not alone, and it will give me some peace. And if I am a parent or adult, it will help me to understand what kids are going through right now. I even hope that if I am a kid who has bullied someone, I will read this book and have a better understanding of the consequences of my thoughtlessness.

WCT: Is it your intention to open doors for discussion that might otherwise have been closed in the family structure?

Tracey B. Wilson: Heal This Way is needed because it is a way in to conversation. It is a way in to discussions that are not easy to have, but must be had. A parent can give it to their child as if to say, "I know you are going through something, and you don't talk to me about it, but maybe something in this book will make you feel better." A book like this [puts a face] on these issues in a wrapping of pop culture. It's not a textbook. It's hip and artsy, and user-friendly, but the topics inside are crucially important.

WCT: How much was Gaga involved in this project?

Tracey B. Wilson: Gaga is the vessel. It is her words that encouraged and inspired the people in the book. It is her messages of love and acceptance that we must universally own. The book itself was self-published.

WCT: Can you share one or two of your favorite excerpts from the book here with us?

Tracey B. Wilson: I love the picture of a young boy that simple says, "I am 11 years old and you have already changed my life. I love you because you support people who are bullied everywhere." [It's] so necessary to feel like we can have an ally in this life. [It's] so necessary to feel that we are not alone.

And then there is the page, next to an epically important letter, where a Little Monster's picture was. But there is not a picture now. In the public version it says, "The Little Monster pictured here asked to be removed. Even though he was of age, and a gorgeous human being, he was afraid his parents would 'find out.' It breaks my heart. That is why we made this book." That is why this book is important. Until we accept ourselves and each other, this book matters.

WCT: Why do you feel bullying is such a huge problem in our society still even after "It Gets Better" and all of the other top-level initiatives?

Tracey B. Wilson: Unfortunately, I feel that bullying has taken on epic proportions due to the increase in texting, and cyber bullying. It was one thing to write a note that got passed around, but the reach of social media and online bullying is so rampant. Kids don't always think. They get caught up in peer pressure, and trying to fit in. They do things I am sure as adults they will be mortified by. They are not all taught empathy. They do not all understand what their words are doing. A goal of Heal This Way is to put faces and stories out there. To use the book as a teaching tool to make the bullies understand that these are other human souls they are torturing.

WCT: In your opinion, how does Gaga empower the youth? Is there more she could do with her fame to highlight the issues brought up in the book?

Tracey B. Wilson: I believe Gaga is doing an excellent job empowering youth and bringing to light important social issues including bullying, acceptance, and suicide prevention. Her Born This Way Foundation is an excellent charity for people of all ages to find resources in their areas. A portion of the profits from Heal This Way have been pledged to her foundation.

WCT: We are winning marriage equality in more states than ever before. Which issue( s ) will be next on our radar as a community?

Tracey B. Wilson: I believe that—as a society—once we have moved into full acceptance and equality, there is a next step. I don't want to see just "tolerance," but encouragement. It's time to rally behind each other. To cheer each other on as people! It's time to embrace that we are all in this together and let's make this life the best experience it can be.

WCT: If you could tell your younger self three things, what would they be?

Tracey B. Wilson: I would tell my younger self how much cooler 30 is than 17. That when you are an adult, you get to choose who you surround yourself with, and are not forced to sit next to some A-hole in math class. I would say that it gets better because you get better. You come to realize that very often, when people say stupid things to you, it's usually about them—their own insecurities or issues that they are taking out on you. You learn to feel sorry for them, instead of taking it personally. ( But yes, it can still hurt, but it's different, there is more understanding ).

I would tell myself that for every one person who made fun of me in high school for being president of the drama club, or drum major of the marching band, there are 20 people in New York City hiring me for being creative, talented and energetic. Don't hide your passions and your energy—no matter what anyone says. What makes you different is your gift. In high school, differences are ridiculed. In the real world, your differences are your gold.

Heal This Way is at www.healthisway.com, Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com, and is on iTunes.


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