Canada
3 min

Margaret Cho pissed me off

'I refer to myself as gay, but I am married to a man'

Credit: margaretcho.com, Austin Young photo

Sometimes, out of the blue, something happens that makes me not just gay-grumpy, but gay-apoplectic. It is usually cumulative. A straight person will say something dumb or ignorant, and I’ll think, “Hmm, that’s irritating.” And then another straight person (or TV show or newspaper article) will offer a similar sentiment, and I’ll get snarky. But pity the poor sod who voices homophobic lunacy yet again. I become a take-no-prisoners, lezzie vigilante, intent on flaying their skin with my neatly clipped fingernails — less effective than talons but more painful. In moments like those, thank goddess I’m not armed.

A few years back, my hackles were raised when there was a spate of talk shows about spouses who discovered that their partners were gay. I agree: the closet creates tragedy all around. But invariably some idiotic guest would suggest that if someone lies about their sexuality, they should forfeit all claim to joint assets. Whoa! Closeted homos should be doomed to penury? Unlike lying, cheating straight people because heck, that’s normal? As I say, the voicing of this double standard on daytime television vexed me, but when I heard my sister-in-law echo it, I wanted to boil her in oil. Really, who could blame me if I did? Honestly, a person can only put up with so much utter stupidity.

Recently I had a similar reaction to, of all people, Margaret Cho. I’ve always enjoyed her humour, always enjoyed her off-centre-ness. And the woman can write. Check out her excellent piece in Yes Means Yes, Visions of Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, handily reprinted in the winter ’09 issue of Herizons Magazine. Cho rocks. Or at least I thought, until reading a recent profile in the New York Times Magazine.

Now it’s not really her fault that the article is basically about what she owns: how big her house is (so big she doesn’t go into half of it), how unique her tattoos are, how cool it is to have her very own Santería shrine. The NYT “Domains” column is always like that. If the New York Times visited the Dali Lama, no doubt they’d get him modeling his favourite robe and weighing in on the relative merits of carpeting versus parquet.

No, it was her answer to the question “Sexual politics?” that drove me ballistic. Cho answered, “I refer to myself as gay, but I am married to a man. I’ve had relationships with women but my politics are more queer than my lifestyle.”

ARRRGH!

Okay, now I’ve composed myself enough to continue typing. Marg, Marg, Marg, come on!

I know there have always been cross-orientation relationships. Apparently the love of the songster Cole Porter’s life was his wife, despite the largely asexual nature of their relationship and his open liaisons with men. The recently deceased porn star, Jack Wrangler, was likewise devoted to his female spouse, with whom he saw things “the same way, comically, professionally and romantically.” Wagner was a role model for other men in the ’60s and ’70s because of his homo self-acceptance. Despite his marriage to a woman, he always described himself as gay.

But good god, this is the 21st century. You can be bi, you can be a straight ally to homos, and you can have intense relationships with friends of many genders and not marry them.

I appreciate Margaret Cho’s willingness to be identified with us — that’s great. But as someone looking to mess around, I like knowing who is actually gay, not just friendly to the cause of homo liberation. Cho has frequently said she learned how to accept herself through drag queens. She moves within a gay cultural milieu. I get that. I have lots of gay friends who have children. No doubt most of these tykes will turn out to be straight, but because of their upbringing, they will be culturally gay. There are codes, cues, music, art, fashion, social structures and politics that are flaming! But for me homo-ness is also a sexual practice. What does “gay” mean, if not wanting a person of the same gender? I feel like the language police here, but to me, gay means homosexual.

Of course it could be that Margaret is in fact the biggest lez to walk the planet. What do I know about how she gets off? But if she a “friend of Sappho’s”, what’s with marrying her dude roomie? Heterosexual marriage? Wow, radical.

We all know that as long as there is homophobia, gay sex is a political act. But that’s not why we have it. We have it because we like it. (Duh.) And we call ourselves gay because whether we’re getting any or not, it’s where our throbbing organs (hearts, cunts and cocks) lead us.

The reason I have my knickers in a knot on this one is that Margaret Cho is not the first happily het-and-married person I’ve encountered who calls herself gay. Is this some strange trend? Designed specifically to befuddle me?

I guess I’m just pissed by what is an obvious mixed message. I’ve always believed that you can’t have it all — straight privilege when you need it, gay solidarity when it’s fun. I know that many of us don’t fit into neat binaries, but that’s why words like bi and queer are so handy.

Maybe I’m just jealous (not). But I’m not getting on the bandwagon and calling myself straight anytime it suits. Language holds meaning. Words have power.

(And if, like me, you actually are curious about the Dali Lama’s taste in décor, check out this photo gallery on Time.com.)