Admired and Desired: Checking In With Margaret Cho

I’m the One That I Want: Can We Reclaim the Word “Tranny?”


“I refer to myself as gay, but I’m married to a man.”

- Margaret Cho

LGBTQIA identity isn’t about who you do it with. Until, of course…it absolutely is.

Margaret Cho (“Drop Dead Diva,” “I’m The One That I Want’) is as scrappy as she is electric. She’ scrappy because she’s taken so much guff, sharing her multiple talents on and off-screen (she acts, sings, directs, writes, designs clothes, is a walking tattooed work of art and is a standout standup comic). Cho can transition from an elegant purr to a lioness’ growl with no hesitation. She’s electric, because she sings the body electric: she’s sensual, naughty, flirtatious, often bawdy and ultimately playful.

If you’ve seen her comedy flick “I’m The One That I Want,” the efforting in her journey to long term success is palpable. You get the sense she’s had to claw her way all the way up to the glass ceiling and had to brace herself with her back up, and kick the glass away with a pair of steel-toed Doc Martens just to disappear the damn thing.

Cho doesn’t “play the queer card,” or the race card. Rather, she is queering play. She is queering entertainment. When you can let the cameras roll and share  minute details about your open relationship on morning chat shows, (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/28/margaret-cho-i-refer-to-m_n_180383.html) segue into outing fellow celebs (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/margaret-cho-outing-john-travolta_n_3478594.html), put the world on notice that you will get down with anything that moves as you like (just like men do), and always leave ‘em laughing…if anything, you could say Cho plays “the laughs card.”

But to what end? Her comedic M.O. Doesn’t feel like a manipulation, rather it’s a weapon.

As she’s currently promoting her latest venture, the MOTHER TOUR (http://www.margaretcho.com/2013/07/29/mother-tour-get-pre-sale-tix-today), thoughts and themes come to mind about Margaret Cho’s presence in the world.

There’s Some Tranny Chasers Up In Here

“ A few words about ‘trannychasing.’ I am not a trannychaser. Ok, actually I am a trannychaser. No I am not. I am a trannycatcher! Just kidding!” – Margaret Cho

As a self-confessed “tranny chaser,” Margaret Cho’s taken a good amount of flak for her feelings and affirmed desires, without too much apology. It’s a tough concept to think about, as she’s done so much brilliant work and she’s really been out there on the road, touring with Ani  DiFranco and Lilith Fair, indie all the way for decades on end, fearlessly advocating for queer rights, feminist and race equality, and respect in the entertainment industry.

There’s no doubt Cho is sex positive (she’s on the Good Vibrations board alongside much of her other activist and fund-raising work), queer-identified and trans* inclusive: she directed the highly acclaimed “Young James Dean” video  by Girlyman (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ue_ia7Dikq0), featuring trans* peers and allies, covering lyrics about coming up as genderqueer. And her routines, filmic work and writing boasts a high trans* visibility ratio, including clearing the floor for trans* folks, often guys, to speak as well. She supports fellow trans* comics and entrepreneurs and leverages her celebrity to help folks make a steady income who might not do so otherwise. She will tweet, promote, and help to encourage business ventures for others—often tirelessly.

Folks have voiced concern with her humor about her “trannychaser” (or catcher) jokes and statements, and Cho has formally explained her viewpoint (http://www.margaretcho.com/2007/06/26/true-colors-break), stating these are just jokes based on reverence and respect, and that folks are taking things out of context—too seriously.

Fellow Tobi Hill-Meyer states Cho is objectifying trans* men (http://blog.handbasketproductions.com/?p=7) as cisgender men often do with  trans* women, fetishizing them and changing people into “things.”

“Trans IS a legitimate gender” is a defense against the objectification idea, posted by Cho’s comedic peer, Ian Harvie (http://ianharvie.com/trans-is-a-legitimate-gender).

Harvie wrote on his blog, “ If you believe Transgender IS a legitimate gender, how can you argue that it’s wrong to eroticize Trans people? If you do not see Trans as a legitimate gender, then what’s wrong with you?!I’m Trans, I’m Butch, and identify as a Trans man, regardless of my given biological sex. I absolutely believe it’s okay to be attracted to, exoticize, fetishsize, and eroticize any and all Trans people. After all, a fetish is something that we desire or that turns us on.”

Too, RuPaul penned the song “Tranny Chaser” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQOu2d0L1qE) as a declaration of sexuality, desirability, and a playful take on the concept. “Do you wanna be me?” the song bridge begins.  Fully aware of the seduction in the words, RuPaul goes on, “That don’t make you gay.” “Or do you wanna [beep] me? That don’t make you gay….”

It’s hard to laser-focus down to one “right take” on the issue when so many folks in-community with so many different experiences feel empowered by the erotic aspects of being queer and desired. Other bloggers have called Cho’s comments disgusting, meanwhile, she is blowing heteronormative minds open simply by sharing the concept. Rhetorical questions arise: is it better to be vilified, “romanticized, dehumanized, or eroticized? If we’re all “in on the desire,” is it wrong? Is there a happy medium that requires no context?

Cho grew up in San Francisco, which could explain matters somewhat. In the City, you are what you say you are, even if you change your mind about it tomorrow. Middle America doesn’t quite dovetail with such a mindset (yet?).

Issues of class and power can’t be ignored: though they all had challenging beginnings in their careers, now relatively better-paid or well-paid performers, Cho’s, Harvie’s and RuPaul’s experiences differ by definition from that of a queer or trans* man or woman who doesn’t have the same means or sense of empowerment to lead with sexuality, or who might lead a different lifestyle, might have experienced more harassment with less resources and so on.

When these issues arise consider them to be a gift: because they grant us the opportunity to talk about them, and hopefully to come to kind conclusions at the end of the day. There are no easy answers, and let’s hope we can all find ways to continue to ask the right questions and uplift one another, wherever we meet—even if it can never be in the middle.

Let’s hope we can amicably find ways to “agree to disagree,” and let’s keep shining, living, loving and relating.

Can a person really be a “fetish?” Is that even the issue here? Please share your experience.