An Asian-American Bisexual Woman – Margaret Cho

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Yet, the denial of her bisexuality is arguably a symptom of a societal denial of LGBTQ identity, made easier by the fact that Cho’s bisexuality can be ignored. By focusing on her sexual experiences with men, both gay and straight, queer identity is still repressed. Despite the fact that Cho has never attempted to hide the fact that she has had relations with both men and women, her comedy is still read through a heteropatriarchal lens, despite its incredibly, subversive nature.

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Perhaps one of the most unique qualities of her work is how she uses her intersectional identities as gateways into many communities in order to share and advocate for multiple perspectives. Despite the ways she can be read, Cho, as an Asian-American Bisexual woman, manages to create charged comedy by never being apologetic about her identity, her most powerful work done by redefining what it means to be Asian as well as queer, particularly through talk of sexual acts and her physical body. The format Cho takes in the majority of her stand-up is through the autobiographical manifesto, using her own personal history and identities as a way to contend against the norm and demand respect for her own, as well as other, minority identities. As Sidonie Smith explains, “The purpose is to “incite…self-conscious encounters with the politics of identification” that would otherwise assign the writer to a fixed position as object or as representative of a minority” Therefore, her sets often focus on her personal lived experience as anecdotes as to why it is important to recognize oneself as beautiful not matter body type, race, or sexuality.

Throughout her comedy, Cho recounts her experiences with eating disorders and addiction, times of struggle which she has attributed to her dissenting, out-spoken persona that has come to define the comedian. Cho recounts her extreme struggles when she first started out in Hollywood, struggling to find anyone to represent her because of her race. She recounts how one agent told her “Asians will never go anywhere in this business and you really are wasting your time.” However, Cho did seem to find success when she was asked to star in her own sitcom “All-American Girl” which was to be based off her real life experience as a Korean American and was to be the first American show showcasing an East Asian family. However, executives told Cho that if she wished to maintain the role, she would have to lose thirty pounds in two weeks. “They asked me to lose weight to play myself,” Cho darkly jokes in her later stand-up. This resulted in Cho starving herself to a point that she was hospitalized for kidney failure. The show, a stale, stereotypical depiction of stock Asianness was quickly cancelled, leaving Cho down in the dumps. Following this cancellation as well as a series of events such as a Hollywood executive telling her he would make her movie if she slept with him, which she did not do, Cho spiraled into alcoholism and drug abuse. However, after attending rehab and cleaning herself up, Cho reemerged into the comedy scene, unapologetic about her asianness, her body, or her sexuality. As Mizejewski says, “As opposed to the canned laughter of the All-American Girl sitcom built around a body deemed acceptable to the television network, Cho evokes laughter on her own terms through the physical performance of the body she has declared as the one that she wants.”

Cho has always had, progressive ideas about gender and sexuality, up to date with more current ideas about sexuality that have become popular predominantly amongst youth culture in thanks to visibility provided by media. Particularly, Cho understands her bisexuality as attraction to her same gender as well as all other genders, a more common reading of the taboo sexual identity as defined by bisexual people. She says:

“I don’t know using ‘bisexual’ is right because that indicates that there’s only two genders, and I don’t believe that. I’ve been with people all across the spectrum of gender and who have all kinds of different expressions of gender, so it’s so hard to say. Maybe pansexual is technically the more correct term but I like ‘bisexual’ because it’s kind of ’70s.”

This has always been reflected in her nonchalance in discussing sexual acts and experiences on stage, often time stressing the sexual acts that tend to have taboos around them. As Steven Mazey writes in regards to the comedian, she is “not-for-the-easily-offended” because her comedy covers “politics, race, celebrities and sex, including graphic descriptions of her own experiences with men, women and a few battery-operated devices.”

For example, in I’m The One That I Want, Cho reveals that she has had sex with a woman in a very nonchalant intonation, suggesting that it is no big deal. Unlike Esposito who describes queer fear, Cho paints homosexuality as something that should not be anxiety-evoking. In the same special, Cho discusses at length her love for “eating ass,” a sex act that has often been attributed to homosexuality. Yet, by stating that she enjoys to “eat the ass” of her straight male sex partners, she depicts the sex act as one that can be performed and even enjoyed between a man and a woman, with the man in the submissive position. Therefore, audience members are greeted with the suggestion that queerness does not need to dictate sadness or pain but instead a way of living that allows for enjoyment. As Mizejewski comments, Graphic sex talk helps validate identities that are deemed subject to marginality, illigitmacy, and unauthorization.”

Cho also fights against Asian stereotypes of the unaccepting Asian mother by indicating how ok her parents where when she first came out. In I’m The One That I Want, Cho mimics her mother, one of her most famous characters, leaving her voice messages asking her if she is gay. She then mimes her mom holding her in the hospital after her birth, in a thick Asian accent exclaiming, “oh she’s so beautiful. What a dyke! Oh you’re so dykey! Maybe one day you will grow up to be t-pitcher.” While playing fun at the intensity of her mother, Cho also raises awareness of how queerness was never something that was questioned or deemed problematic by her parents. Therefore, not only does this go against racial stereotypes but shows queer people that coming out does not have to connote shame, isolation, and the losing of one’s family. As is suggested by her mother, Cho uses racial and sexual stereotypes to draw connections between racial and gay oppression.

C.H.O is very aware of her audiences and is very dedicated to them. In an opening scene of her stand-up special, The Notorious C.H.O., Cho says:

“It’s very moving to see so many different people in my audience. It means a lot to me because it’s like I feel like I really identify with them too and um, we get a lot of comfort from each other. So, I don’t think that what I’m doing for some people is just entertainment. I think it’s a kind of, way of feeling like we belong in the world. That’s a kind of inclusion and it’s a way to feel validated. It’s really exciting so I don’t take their support of me lightly.”

As a political comic, Cho makes it very clear how she wishes audiences will take away from her sets, and includes a call to action in her sets, for example, in The Notorious C.H.O., Cho closes her set by saying:

“You know who should get married, are gays and lesbians. That’s who should get married, because for gays and lesbians, marriage is not about romance, it’s about equality and having our relationships regarded in the same way, with the same kind of reverence as straight people’s relationships. It’s about being equal in every way…. We need to recognize that a government that would deny a gay man the right to bridal registry is a fascist state. As far as marriage for myself, I don’t know. I continue to love myself until I love another and I have self-esteem which is pretty amazing because I’m probably somebody who wouldn’t necessarily have a lot of self-esteem as I am considered a minority. And if you are a woman, if you are a person of color, if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, if you’re a person of size, if you a person of intelligence, if you’re a person of integrity, then you are considered a minority in this world. And it’s going to be hard to find messages of support anywhere especially women’s and gay men’s culture. It’s all about how you have to look a certain way or else you’re worthless. You know when you look in the mirror and you think, ‘ugh I’m so fat, I’m so old, I’m so ugly,’ don’t know you that’s not your authentic self? But that is billions upon billions of dollars of advertising….If you don’t have self-esteem, you will hesitate before you do anything in your life. You will hesitate to go for the job you really want to go for. You will hesitate to ask for a raise. You will hesitate to call yourself an American. You will hesitate to report a rape. You will hesitate to defend yourself when you are discriminated against because of your race, your sexuality, your size, your gender. You will hesitate to vote. You will hesitate to dream. For us, to have self-esteem is truly an act of revolution, and our revolution…is long overdue. I urge you all today, especially today, in these times of terrorism and chaos, to love yourselves without reservation and to love each other without restraint…unless you’re into leather. Then by all means, use restraints.”

Thus, Cho likens herself to the queer community by using phrases such as “us” and “we.” Therefore, she unifies the people she discusses into one group that must work together against oppression in a very intersectional ask of her audience to work for justice simply by loving themselves and loving the community.

Cho has managed to break into the mostly male, mostly white world of comedy and even though at one point it broke her, she has openly defied the structures that keep people such as her out of comedy by refusing to be silenced about issues she is passionate about. By Celebrating her body even though she has been told not to, Cho’s comedy is inherently political. Her visibility as a queer person helps other to secure in their queer identity, both on stage and off. While performing charged comedy on stage, Cho has also spent her personal life trying to engage in social justice, working with homeless queer youth and encouraging political engagement.It is amazing how successful she has come despite the niche audiences of feminists and LGBTQ people. Therefore, it is important to recognize Cho as the queer woman she is instead of identifying her with other white, cis, straight women who perform queer comedy. Instead of succeeding despite her identity, Cho has managed to succeed while celebrating her identity. And if activism encourages others to celebrate themselves to, then she is certainly an activist.

In fact, Margaret Cho is the first stand-up comic ever seen by Cameron Esposito, a Lesbian comic who, inspired by Cho, has dedicated herself to activism.

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An Asian-American Bisexual Woman - Margaret Cho. (2021, Mar 08). Retrieved from