Let’s Talk About Sex
Let’s Talk About Sex
Between a phone sex operator whose consumer has an affinity for mannequins and a young man’s scientific experiment to disprove his heterosexuality, sexual experiences can certainly be…unpredictable.
Guests: Diane Ivey, Trevor Cassidy, Chris Lundy, Freya Zork, Paul Lyons, Margaret Cho
Image: Dave Rose
Read the transcript
Jamie J: From WHYY and First Person Arts in Philadelphia, this is Commonspace, where live stories connect us to each other— and the world. I’m your host, Jamie J. And I’ll take you deeper into the stories with conversations that might just challenge your perceptions.
So, let’s talk about sex baby. Remember the Salt ‘n’ Pepa song?
Let's talk about sex, baby. Let's talk about you and me.
That makes me think of something else having to do with sex. Have you ever wondered how a middle aged women, with a heavy accent could became so popular on TV?
Ruth Westheimer: Kick boredom out of your bedroom. Don't worry about being normal. Don't worry that you're not exactly like your neighbor.
Jamie J: It’s probably because Dr Ruth Westheimer spoke openly and vividly about all things having to do with sex. Her less-inhibited European approach to sexuality gave her authority, and credibility. You want to talk about orgasms? Yes, she seemed to say, of course. Condoms? Erections? Yes…Yes! YES!!
Ruth Westheimer: Have good sex!
Jamie J: Back then, regular people just didn’t talk about such things. But now Dr Ruth has been replaced by even more daring sex therapists using blogs and podcasts. And in our complicated world the need to talk about sex has only increased…and that talk is all over the place:
(Montage of sex podcast audio)
“The following podcast contains explicit language…”
“Welcome to another episode of "Guys We F***ed"
This anti-slut shaming podcast…”
“Hello and welcome to Sex Lives, the New York Magazine's sex podcast….”
“Thanks for listening to the Dr. Drew podcast…”
“I'm Nikki Glazer, welcome to Not Safe. Tonight we're gonna talk about sex because look I'm doing it, you're doing it…”
[Savage Love Cast Theme]
Jamie J: By the way, we are talking about sex here so it’s obviously not material for all ages.
Of course, we all know from the news these days that there’s a really ugly part of sex. Non-consensual sex having to do with horrendous abuse, exploitation, violence and misconduct. But those stories belong in another show at another time.
Today we wanted to tell sex-positive stories about love, discovery, gender, chance encounters and more. And we add to it a dynamite conversation with comedian Margaret Cho:
Margaret Cho: When I was a kid in school being so different as I am, it was very difficult to relate to other kids because I felt my world was so much bigger than this
Jamie J: Everyone has a sex story. They can be clueless and funny, or emotionally powerful and complicated. Naturally, we start off at the beginning: that clunky, sometimes awkward moment of the first sexual encounter.
I remember mine. I decided at seventeen years old that I was ready to take the plunge. The fact that I didn't have a boyfriend made no difference whatsoever so I simply selected the nicest guy I met and took the plunge. It was a terrible experience. And I don't recommend it for anyone.
Anyway, here’s writer Diane Ivey…
Diane Ivey: To celebrate my last night in Michigan I decided to lose my virginity. I was moving the next day to Springfield, Illinois from Lansing, Michigan for graduate school. And the summer after I graduated from college from Michigan State, I was dating this guy and his name was Jay and Jay was a really good friend of my roommates and he was kind of chubby and quiet and one time he canceled a date because his dungeons and dragons game ran 3 hours over schedule but he found me completely and totally fascinating which as far as I'm concerned is the most important quality a man can have.
So, I decided that morning of my last day in Michigan that Jay and I were going to finally have sex and I thought it would be this big last hurrah for me, it would be this sweeping romantic experience and I thought maybe it would be like the scene between Karen Allen and Harrison Ford in "Raiders of The Lost Ark" because I think the reason I was still a virgin at 22 was I was still saving myself for Harrison Ford and I thought maybe Jay would get injured and I'd have to kiss it and make it better and right before we made love I would sweep off his fedora because he's wearing a fedora in this fantasy, and then we'd make love all night and the next day we would, you know, go out facing the uncertain future together.
So my last night in Michigan I'm at Jay's house and we're outside and he says "So, what do you want to do tonight?" And I say "I think you know what I want to do tonight." And we go into his bedroom, I've actually never been in his room before, he lives in one of those college houses that has 3 sombreros but no kitchen table and he has this bed that's just like got a fitted sheet and a fleece zebra print blanket and every geeky 20 something year old guy if you date those kind of dudes, they always have this elaborate home-built computer, you know, situation, like the Matrix, 3 monitors, one always has some anime girl half naked. Like is this "To Catch A Predator?" Is that legal, is that okay? So we're in his room and we start to kiss and I'm like, alright I'm going to be swept away by the passion, I don't care about the house, that's not important, we'll be lost in the ocean of each other. And things are going pretty well, I'm feeling it, and then he takes off my bra and he's staring at me topless and he says "Your boobs are really symmetrical." And I say the only thing I can think of which is "Thank you?" And I move to take his shirt off and as I lift it over his head I realize that he has a lot of back hair and I don't know what to do with this, I don't know if you're supposed to touch it or not touch it, I'm like, do I kind of just ignore that? And like, he's much taller than me so I don't really have another place to put my hands, you know? Do I, do I run my fingers through it, what do I do? I really don't know. And he finally sees me kind of "What?" And he says "Yeah, I know I have a lot of back hair." And I said the only thing I could think of which was "Have you tried shaving it?"
And I finally, we get to the point, and I, you know, put my hand over, over, you know, his penis and I, I'm like trying to figure out what to do now because I've never seen a real live penis and I feel like I should savor this moment but at the same time I am terrified of what will happen next and so I kind of take it out from beneath the sweat pants, like you do, and I'm faced with this just total frozen, what? and I mean, I've seen a lot of porn, like a lot of porn, but I always skip the blow job because it just takes too damn long and I'm like, okay, are we still doing this? And then you check and you refresh like, maybe my video's stuck, why is this still happening? And so I have no idea what to do next I've always avoided phallic objects lest I give someone, you know, a boner accidentally so I just have no idea and finally I look at him like what do I do, and I think I said "What do I do with it?" And he says "Pull it" And I think of like, that children's toy the Bop-It, you know, bop it! Twist it! Pull it! I forget the 4th one, isn't there a 4th one? Maybe not, and that's all I can think of, and I'm like, "Like Bop-It?" And so I start and I feel him flinch and he looks at me and he says "I think we should cuddle now."
And we just lay there listening to his room mates play videogames in the basement and I can feel my romantic dreams and my epic last ditch romance just disappearing beneath the zebra print fleece blanket and I finally leave and I go home because I have to finish packing for this move and the next morning I wake up and I drive home, or I drive to Illinois, my new home, with my mother in the car. There's nothing like 7 hours in the car with your mom after the first time you've touched a penis. It's literally all I could think of was, I touched a penis last night, I touched a penis last night, does she know? Like can she tell? Is it on my hands now like an imprint, like, touched a dick everybody, touched a dick, last night, like 4 hours ago and now we're in the car listening to, probably NPR and I'm like, this is really inspirational, like, no it's not and I move to Illinois and I realize quickly that I'n not the kind of girl that can hit it an quit it even in a romantic way, it's just not in me, and it took me 2 more years before I could bop, pull, or twist a penis again. Thank you.
Jamie J: Diane Ivey is a writer and storyteller, currently living in Washington, D.C
Let me tell you, for all the talk of how things have changed, for young people half of the struggle to express their new love is still spent finding a private place and time for a couple to be together. But for our next storyteller, Chris Lundy, actually getting privacy with his very special overnight guest turned out to be the surprising only easy part.
Chris Lundy: It was the blizzard of '96, right? I was in high school. I had a girlfriend at the time, it was my high school sweetheart, pretty girl named Daiya. I know, Daiya. And she was my high school sweetheart. And I had a scheme to get snowed in with Daiyam right? So I got her dropped off to my house, I'm staying with my mom of course. So I got her dropped off and we're chillin' and my mother comes home from work she was like "Hey, you know, a really big snow storm is coming." And I'm like "Snow storm? Whaaat? That's crazy."
So, so we're there, we're relaxing and you know my mother she was really liberal about you know me having company but spending the night was out of the question. She's Haitian, my family's Haitian, old fashioned that way. So she's like "Before the snow gets too bad we should really get Daiya home."
And at the time my mom's boyfriend, a guy named Albert,was living with us. I hated Albert. He was around when I was younger, when I was a little kid, and he used to make use call him daddy. He wasn't my damn daddy. You know? He used to make us drink cod liver oil. Yeah I know, right? He was allowed to spank us if we were out of line. I hated that guy. But he came into the room and was like "Hey, at this point, we might as well let her stay." And so I'm like... all is forgiven.
So the stage was set. Daiya was staying over, my girlfriend was sleeping over and we were going to have sex, right? That's what we were gonna do. And so it's getting later, the house is pretty much all asleep and so it was time for me and Daiya to have sexy time. But the bed was too loud and the the apartment was small and rooms were too close, bed was too loud so we took it to the floor. You know what I mean? We took it down to the floor. So we're getting it on. Now here's the thing, my room was really small and in my room there was a dresser but because it was so small I also had a bookshelf and I actually put the bookshelf on top of the dresser to save space. But I just sat it up there. There was no anchoring, it was just on top of the dresser. You know, who cares?
Now everyone who knew about this furniture situation knew to be careful around the dresser. Because it could easily fall. But for people who didn't know, for example Daiya, they wouldn't know to be careful around said dresser.
So we're getting it on. I mean we're going to town. It is business time. And inch by inch, the bookshelf starts to shimmy off of the dresser until it comes crashing down on me and Daiya. I'm talking BOOM! Everything's all over the place, it's loud as hell. Not only did it wake up the whole house but it probably woke up the whole building. So I manage to pull myself off get from up under the bookshelf, and just then I hear my mother's door swing open.
Now I got a choice to make. I could either help Daiya get from under the bookshelf, or I could jump into the bed and pretend like I was asleep the whole time. Now, before I tell y'all what I decided to do, I need you to understand I had a really close relationship with my mother. She thought the world of me! I was on honor roll, I had like attendance certificates. So as I pulled the blankets over top of me I look down at Daiya she was just looking up in utter disbelief. Like oh my god you left me in a lerch. So the door comes swinging open, my mother and Albert come running in. "What the hell happened?" and I lift up like "Wha-What the hell happened?" And Daiya's like "The bookshelf fell on top of me," So we get the bookshelf off and everything and I can tell my mother is just about to go off, but that's when Albert goes "Hey you know what? It's really, really late, let's all just go back to sleep." And I'm like "Thanks, daddy. Thank you"
So they leave and me and Daiya have the biggest whisper argument in history. She's like, "I can't believe you left me like that!" I'm like "I'm sorry there was no time." She's like " That was so selfish. You know how embarrassed I am?" I'm like, "You don't know what it's like living here, it's a prison." And she's like, "You know what? We're never having sex again." I'm like, "Babe. babe. I'm sorry!." She's like "No, no that was selfish!" I'm like, "You know what? She don't even like you like that anyway! She loves me, she loves me. I have to live here and she loves me," so we argue, we argue. And don't feel too bad for Daiya in that embarrassing moment because later that school-year she actually cheated on me. That's right. OK? She cheated on me with a buddy of mine, football teammate. That stuck with me for awhile.
But I learned a big lesson, OK? And this is an important lesson,everyone pay attention here. If you ever stack furniture make sure you anchor that shit to the wall. Thank you.
Jamie J: I can’t help but wonder if Daiyah ever forgave him…What do you think?
You can ask Chris Lundy becaue he's a published writer and still hosts First Person Arts slams on occasion.
I think that coming to understand our own sexuality is one of the inevitable rites of passage for any teen. In his story, Trevor Cassidy found inspiration in his school's science class as to how to discover his sexual identity.
Trevor Cassidy: So, I grew up in Denver in a very gay neighborhood. So gay, like, the local supermarket which the actual name is King Super's everyone called Queen Super's, and I remember walking the dog with my mom and every once in awhile my dog Riley would, like, come to us with, like, a used condom that she would find in the lawn and my mom would be disgusted and horrified and I would just be like, I don't really know what's going on, like, I was a pretty sheltered child, but I was living in a gay world god damn it and even extended into Catholic school. Although only 8 years, but it was a pretty progressive place I remember probably one of the best teachers I've ever had in my career as a student was my 6th grade science teacher, aptly named Mr. Blessy, of the Catholic school, but he taught evolution and like a modern sort of take on sexual education and actually was gay himself.
But I had two best friends in middle school, Jacob, who was being raised by his uncle and his uncle's partner because his mom was in a assisted living institution for her schizophrenia and his dad had run out on him when he was a kid, so I had Jacob and my other friend was Roy and Roy and I had lots of great times together.
One special time was a camping trip that I took with him and his family on the summer after 6th grade and we did all the things that you do on a camping trip, we went hiking and swimming and stayed up late in the kids' tent talking and on the first night Roy actually he confessed to me that he had stolen a pornographic magazine from his dad's stash and it was just this magazine filled with these like pictures of these very voluptuous black women and we were sort of, of course, thumbing through it by flashlight together and Roy like kind of stops, he's like transfixed by this one girl, Mikayla, I remember. It was a very, it was a relatively small picture on the right page in the upper left hand corner and the way that she was posed she was just kind of bending over the hood of like a red convertible and she was wearing this bright pink thong that sort of dipped down between her thighs and she was looking over her left shoulder, right at me and Roy. Roy, he was, he just kept going on, "Oh man, she's so attractive," and "Man, like, I'm so hard right now" and I'm just kind of like "I can't, I can't relate to that second part."
And it was something that troubled me because even for the rest of the camping trip, god, Mikayla, you are really attractive and you've got a great ass, like, objectively but like, I'm not rising to the occasion, and that troubled me all the way home until we were riding by Queen Super's and suddenly the solution occurred to me, oh my god, yes, what if that's it? Like, what if I'm, like, fortunately Mr. Blessy was a great teacher and the thing that he touted around as most special and dear to him was the scientific method. If you leave 6th grade with nothing else you take the scientific method with you to the grave.
So I proposed, I hypothesized to myself, using inspiration from Queen Super's, if not Stimulus A and Reaction A then let's try Stimulus B and see, I mean. So I put together a little experiment. I was an only child so I waited for the work week to come when I knew I would rule the roost, so to speak, and my parents would both be away at work and so I scoured our video collection for anything that looked like it could remotely resemble softcore gay pornography and I finally settled on our copy of "Saturday Night Live's The Best of Chris Farley" which, as you know, has that notorious scene, that titillating scene with Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley auditioning for Chippendales and I was very nervous, I don't, what's going to happen with this? But I cued it up and I turned it on and it was marvelous and there it was right on cue and I thought, oh great, this is perfect, I can check off that box, like, sexual identity, okay good, like, thank god. I've realized though, in hindsight, that according to the scientific method you can't prove your own hypothesis you can only disprove your A hypothesis, so it wasn’t that I had sort of realized I was homosexual but I had denied my heterosexuality potential. Thank you.
Jamie J: Trevor Cassidy teaches group exercise classes, and listens to Nicki Minaj. Right on.
This is Commonspace. A collaboration between First Person Arts and WHYY. It’s been supported by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. Listen every Sunday at 8:00 PM or subscribe to us anytime on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher. I’m your host, Jamie J.
Jamie J: Today we’re all about sex. And to continue in this narrative vein, we have a story of what often follows self-discovery…self-acknowledgement. For Paul Lyons, it was a journey that took him all the way to Australia. Listen in.
Paul Lyons: I reconnected with Joan on Facebook and we had dated 27 years ago when we were 27. And we hit it off this time and so I asked her, whatever happened to us? And she goes "I don't know." You know, she goes, "Back then my parents, you know, had just died, I was divorced, I had a baby, I was a mess, you know." Yeah, I said "I was just divorced and I was a mess, too." I said, "Well, it's not like I'm not a mess now, you know, I'm just more willing to be seen." You know. And we got along great and a month into the relationship my willingness to be seen got tested because Joan, we're on the phone, and matter-of-factly said," I can't believe it, you've got 7 brothers and no one's gay" I said, "Well, I come the closest."
And then I got self conscious because I felt like I didn't want her to think it was just a joke and I for the next 20 minutes I just debated what to tell her because, it's, it's, it's something in the past that I would wait 6 months to tell, you know, a woman, you know, after we were in love, you know, just to see if she really loved me, you know, and then I'll drop the bomb this is who I am and this time I want to go in, I really want to be fully seen, now, now, I just, you know, if it's going to work it's going to work, if it's not it's not, and so I tell her, I said, "Joan, I just want you to know, I, I've had a gay experiences."
And she said "Oh! You're even more interesting than I thought." And I, well, I was only looking for acceptance and I was getting accolades, I'm like, wow, yeah, I'm more intriguing I'm a character, for crying out loud. Because that was my biggest fear, my whole life, so much fear, not accepting any of my sexuality, I was brought up Catholic, that's part of it, and just fear, of being gay, of looking gay, of anyone thinking I might be gay, accidentally, you know, being enthusiastic about something.
So, as a matter of fact, when I was 12 my brother, Chris, 1 year older than me, says "Anyone who masturbates is gay." Right? And I did not want to be gay, you know, so, so, I didn't masturbate, I didn't, you know, I didn't touch my penis,
I know it's my penis, but I'm a guy you know, what if I meet a guy that looks like me, you know. I don't want to get started, I used it to pee and I tucked it away. Good job and good night, you know. And then, and then I was 20 and I found out that masturbating is normal and so I became very normal.
And the normal guy got married but, you know, wasn't mature, we weren't mature enough, and divorced, and I was 27 years old and I'm in Sydney, Australia and I'm walking down the street and I meet this beautiful woman outside her hair salon, Marina, right, and she goes, "Hey, where you going?" I say "Right here I guess." Right, and she, and she, and she brings me inside and she was beautiful, she was voluptuous, and I'm looking at her and we're cracking each other up and she makes me coffee and she goes "You're looking at me like you've never seen breasts before." And I say "Well, I've never seen yours." I got game, I got game, you know.
And, and, and, and, and I say to her, "You're looking at me like you've never seen a crotch before," you know, and she goes "Well I've never seen yours." You know, and I was like wow, this is, I'm going to get lucky, and we kept cracking each other up, she takes me down stairs, you know, and she whispers in my ear "I hope you're not an ax murderer." You know, I said, "Well I've never used an ax." And then I whisper in her ear and I say "I'm, I'm, I'm really hard." And then she whispers in my ear and she says "Me too."
And I'm thinking this is the funniest woman I've ever been with! This woman is hysterical, right, right, and then we got undressed and I saw her punchline! I couldn't believe it, you know, I was a little, and in situations like that I ask myself, what would Jesus do? And so I took off right after she blew me. No I did take off and then I felt bad because I was going, well, I like her, I'm attracted to her, and so I went back, 2 days later I went back, you know, because she was upset when I left the first time because I didn't touch her, you know, I was just beginning to touch myself. So anyway, since that experience I've dated men and women but I've kept both worlds apart and coming into the relationship with Joan I've realized just how great it was to just be seen, who I was, and I feel that you're only as free as the secrets you're willing to reveal. So that's why I'm here to let you know, I'm kind of gay.
Jamie J: Paul Lyons tours the country as a comedian and writer. He just published his first book called, “Carpe Diem, Mañana” about his spiritual journey from insecurity to self-pity.
Jamie J: We can’t, in one show, cover the immense universe that is the realm of sexuality but we can add one more story. This one about sex work. Writer Freya Zork tells her tale of working the telephone sex beat.
Freya Zork: When I first started doing phone sex, professionally, it was during this kind of weird period in my life when I was still kind of young and wild but I'd gotten myself into this situation where I was being required to stay home and stay out of trouble. The story is that I was working at the time as an egg donor for a fertility clinic and when I came aboard they made me sign this contract for clean living so no cigarettes, no drugs no heavy drinking, and absolutely no sex until they got their eggs.
But I signed the contract because it was just for a couple months and they were going to pay me a fortune. And also, I wanted to be an egg donor, because if you think about it, it's kind of an interesting proposition. I was actually being given the opportunity to impregnate another woman. Right? Like, that thought just fills me with this lusty virility but there I was, stuck at home on my couch, just me and my telephone so that's when I decided to try to channel all that repressed virility into something a little more productive.
Before I get to the phone sex I just want to say that I was an awesome egg donor. They were able to get 40 eggs out of my body in just one retrieval. Thank you. And they were really good eggs so my potential progeny could take up the first 4 rows of this audience. Sometimes I like to picture them like marching. And even though I'll never know what actually became of any of those eggs, I think it's pretty likely that there is at least one little person out there somewhere and I guess she'd be about 9 years old. But anyway, so you guys think I'd make a good phone sex operator? Not really.
It's not that I can't be sexy, I think I'm actually kind of good at figuring out what men want and using that to guide them to climax, but that is not what actually makes a good phone sex operator, uh-uh. If you want to make any money at it, the trick is all about turning them on really slowly and then like never quite letting them get there. Which was hard for me,at first I just like didn't get it. I'd finish up some call that I thought was really hot, and I'd hang up feeling really good, but then my boss was always listening in on the line and she'd be like, That was 2 minutes 40, Freya, you got to get your head in the game!
So, I had a lot of satisfied customers, but no I wasn't making any money. But I do want to tell you about this one call that I thought was really interesting when I finally got a chance to log some real minutes. And I knew this guy was going to be a little different when he told me he had a passion for community theater. So as I go through this I just want you guys to picture some kind of long drawn out kind of back and forth role play even though I’m just going to give you the jist of it real quick because we're almost out of time. So, in this role play I am a model working at an upscale department store where he is the manager and when I get back to the wardrobe room, I undress and the make up person completely covers my body in this like, light powder and then she dresses me again in something chic and they tell me that my job is going to stand up in the window display all day long like a human mannequin.
So I get up there and like get into position and I find that it is unusually easy to stay in just like the same position all day long and then it's getting dark in the store and then the store becomes completely empty and I try to get down out of the window display but I can't move a muscle but that's when I realize that the powder they put all over my body was not makeup at all but this mysterious chemical that has transformed me into a mannequin. And then I hear his heavy footsteps walking up behind me.
So he picks me up and takes me to the back room and he's like stroking my mannequin skin and it gets into this foreplay which is kind of passive on my part, but he's into it and then it escalates into this like rough mannequin blowjob and then he gets there and guys it was awesome, it was like so many minutes and then afterwards he's done but like he still wants to talk so he goes, nice job, so tell me a little bit about yourself.
And I say, well I work as a waitress at a topless bar in the French quarter. And he says, oh, and if I came in would you wait on me? And I said, sure baby you just tell me what you need and he says, and what if I started running my fingers up the inside of your leg up under your skirt and now I'm feeling confident so I want to draw it out even more so I try teasing him a little bit and I say, uh-uh, can't touch there. But then he says, that's what you think, but as soon as my fingers touch your wet little panties you turns straight into a mannequin. Guys, he was really into mannequins or like really into completely incapacitating women before sex, whatever, so interesting, I always wondered what it would be like to be with that guy for real. He's out there somewhere, too. I wonder if he's ever been able to tell his lover what he really wants. All that fascinating private desire most of which never gets anywhere past our own imagination or maybe an anonymous phone call, because even if you're really kinky there are some things that you can't bring to the bedroom. Like, take me for example. I get turned on by artificially inseminating other women and that's just not practical.
Jamie J: Freya Zork is a nurse-practitioner whose work has been featured in multiple podcasts, including Risk, Story League, and of course WHYY’s Commonspace. She recently departed Philly for a life in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Jamie J: This is Commonspace - a collaboration between First Person Arts and WHYY. It’s been supported by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. Listen every Sunday at 8:00 PM or subscribe to us anytime on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher. I’m your host, Jamie J.
You know, at one point in her career as a renowned comedian, actress and writer Margaret Cho remembers working briefly, like Freya Zork, as a phone sex operator. In fact, her sexual history, some of which is tragic, and even harrowing, built in her a resilience that feeds her sharp standup comedy routines to this day. Being bullied, sexually abused, mocked, and discriminated against for being Asian, can do that to a person. It also helped Cho in developing her witty style of social and political critique. I sat with Margaret Cho after her performance at a recent First Person Arts Festival.
J: So, welcome to Commonspace. Good Morning!
MC: Good morning, thank you!
J: Well we are, we are, really delighted to, to have you here. You talk about growing up in San Francisco in this really diverse neighborhood when you were young. And yet you were bullied and made to feel like you didn't belong, like you were an outsider and that intrigues me how that could happen in such a diverse community, can you tell me about that?
MC: Well the diversity really kind of is about the adults. When I was with kids, kids are I think by nature are pretty conservative, you know, they sort of want to go with the flow and if you're different that can be really hard. But the people I was growing up around were much older than me, they were people who worked for my father and my father in the '70s had a gay bookstore, so he had all of these employees who were very, very political, they were all getting very excited about Harvey Milk, they were going and doing a lot of like "Rock against Reagan" kind of stuff, they were all getting tattoos, and all of that was really incredible to be around and then when I was a kid in school, being so different as I am it was very hard to kind of relate to other kids because I felt like "Well my world is so much bigger than this" Whereas the kids in school were really disgusted that Harvey Milk was in office, you know, this like natural tendency for kids to be incredibly homophobic and, and awful about stuff like that, they were really angry that a gay man, an openly gay man, was in our city government and you know, and so
MC: it was like weird to go to school where the kids were just like appalled and then the people that were working for my dad who were all sort of around me after school at night and everything they were working for Harvey Milk so it was very confusing and so it made me continually seek friends who were older and then certainly when I started doing comedy everyone in comedy was significantly older.It's weird to be, I'm the old one now
MC: Something happened, I don't know where it shifted, but, also life in comedy is hard and people don't want to stay in it that long, you know,
MC: but I, I really love it.
J: So, we thrive on stories so can you tell me the story about when you first did comedy? About the first time.
MC: Well there was a couple of things, I was doing stuff in school. There was this very flamboyant theater teacher, he was a gay man and he wore a white suit and he had roses on his lapels
J: Oh wow
MC: a very, like a hat, like he looked like Quentin Crisp, and he was very, he, he just was incredibly supportive and, you know, we were doing little comedy sets in school. This was when I was really, like, probably like fourteen, like a freshman in high school. And then I started doing comedy at, with Sam Rockwell, who was my partner, we had like a comedy duo thing where he and I were doing stand up, and it was weird because we were going to places where like these comedy clubs were all adults and we weren't allowed to be in there because we were both, like, fourteen. We weren't allowed to be there unless we were on stage so we had to sort of wait outside until we got on. And so it was really weird, but , I felt that I belonged as a comedian, it just was very apparent that this was my life.
J: This was where you belonged
J: So now, I want to shift to something not quite as happy. You know, because we are going chronological. You've been really generous in sharing your story about two people, that took advantage of you when you were young. One was a family member and one was the boyfriend of a good friend.
J: And you have not held back in talking about that and there was something in one of your interviews where you talked about it as a relationship that you had with this friend of the family. And I really would like to hear you elaborate more on what kind of a relationship was that?
MC: Well when you're being molested over a long period of time, it becomes a very crazy. Because you start to really have feelings for your abuser, because it's like, such a confusing thing, like, is this right? You know? I don't think this is right, but nobody is telling me that this is wrong and so it's like you really don't trust your emotions, you don't trust your physical feelings, and that's one of the things that's so disgusting about molestation, sexual abuse, because you're seeing this adult take advantage of a child and it's so wrong because that messes up your perception for the rest of your life, because you're like, always questioning, like, is this right? Like, I don't think this is right, but I'm, I'm, like they're acting like this is right and, and so it's very, I think it's so evil, you know? I think that's one of the things that you can't forgive, is someone who takes advantage of a child like that. But so it happened a couple of times and so in that, when you're kind of in isolation and, you know, an adult is taking advantage of you like that and you're, you're getting very, like, confused, it's really hard to kind of come back to reality and understand that this is wrong and in Korean culture in particular I think they really condone the abuse of young people, you know, it's not unusual to see it in families. It's, you know, generations who have been effected by one abuser. Certainly in my life that one person has wreaked havoc on my family for three different generations of women, and yet for some reason everybody is very complacent around it and I'm not! Like I'm not and I think that's because stand up comedy is really about expressing your truth and so it's like the one place where you do feel safe talking about it, I do, although it's also kind of like people get very triggered, but then I'm so glad because now we've moved past that discomfort, now we're able to talk about things like Harvey Weinstein,
J: Right, Right
MC: or Kevin Spacey, which I am so grateful for all of the people who are coming forward with their stories because it's like, when there's one person there's apt to be many, many more.
J: Absolutely, and it's funny because when you talk about, you know, this idea of not trusting your feelings everything that you just said resonated with me. Even with this idea that the family doesn't want to talk about it.
J: And so how do you heal? But you've been generous, you've come into a space of comedy that allows us to talk about this stuff and you've been so open about it, in fact, you had a #tellyourstory, can you tell us about that?
MC: Well it was this, you know, I put out this song which is so fun. It's called "How I Want To Kill My Rapist."
J:Oh! I know, I've got it here.
MC: Which I love, yeah, I love it because I love that. I don't condone violence but I think violence has a place in art where it's really cathartic and so I wanted to talk about my experience and, and so I was calling to people out in social media to share what they went through, and of course now we have the same thing with the MeToo campaign
J: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely
MC: Which is great, so great, because it's like so many women and you think like, here are women, for the most part, the most powerful women in the world. If Angelina Jolie is afraid to come forward, can you imagine how the rest of us feel? Like it's really powerful and so I'm just, I'm humbled by all of these, these people who've survived and are coming out and talking about it. Now it seems more important than ever for us to be talking about rape and talking about the rape culture and not only like the sort of culture that condones rape but the culture that condones silence about it, that's what most of it is, and that's why people are so I think nervous now because that silence, the needing to keep the secrets, all of that is gone. And so that's good.
J: Yes, yes, yes. Now you talked about the interesting response your mom had when you told her about what happened from the friend of the family to you.
MC: Oh, well she, she said "I know," they all know "I know that he's a rapist because he already rape your aunt so you not special."
J: You're not special.
MC: That's like the, it's really funny, but it's actually true I mean it's like that generation, her generation, they're just used to keeping them secrets and because that's what they did.
J: Accepting that as part of the female responsibility, the female persona.
J: But in your song, you're encouraging women to get angry and do something!
MC: Yeah, yeah.
J: You know because we can be afraid and we can be silent, or we can get angry and let that angry fuel some action
MC: Yeah. I love that feminine rage can really fuel change. You see it all over the world, like I love, I love that in France they're doing this about Roman Polanski. For some reason, France seems to think they can hold a retrospective on this career, lifetime rapist, a lifestyle rapist, and not just a rapist but of young women, really young girls
MC: Not really women, young girls And so, you know, you're seeing these incredible, feminine like, people get really crazy when women use their anger to fuel them forward, they don't know what to do, it's so anarchic, it's so nuts, and I love it. So that's what's great that's happening all over the world.
J: I want to ask you a question. You have been very open about being bisexual. Why do you think society has such a hard time just accepting people that identify in a not, I don't want to say non-traditional, but I want to say in a different way.
MC: Well I think being gay is such a politicized identity that when you're gay, you gotta be really, like, convinced that you're gay. You're like, I'm going to endure all of this societal hatred, I'm going to go against, quote unquote against, what society has planned for me, in that I am going to go into a different life that makes sense to me and so you have to commit so much to gayness, in a very, very politicized way, because when you're gay oftentimes, you're going to be called on to be in this army, you know, whether that's army of gay pride or all of these army of lovers, this kind of lifestyle where you're going to listen to your own kind of music, you're going to dress your own kind of way, you're going to like go along with so much that, because I think the way that society is towards gay people and the homophobia that exists, we have to create our own society to step into, we can't sort of live in that other society anymore because it's too damaging and sort of depressing. So, you circumvent the norm and you go into this other way. But if you're bisexual, you're sort of straddling those notions, like, okay I'm here but I'm also here and so you don't feel fully embraced by gay culture, because gay culture is like you can't just go back, and then the straight culture is like where are you going in the first place? So it's a very like, politically, it's a very weird place to be in, activism wise, like, like, where do I fit in this? It was better defined in the '90s when it was queer, but nowadays, focus has gone more towards gender fluidity as opposed to the identify politics of sexuality and who you, you sort of want to be and who are you going to be in this community and so I think in the '90s we were so shell shocked by AIDS that we were looking around sort of sex and looking for loopholes and, and trying to figure out how do we survive this plague? And like, going around and trying to figure it out. So it's a very special thing because that generation in the '90s we were the ones just were just filled with fear around sexuality and they were demanding that we find other avenues, whether that was BDSM or fetishism, or body modification, or piercing, or hanging from things, like, it's very San Francisco,
MC: It's so that need to find transcendence that we would have normally found with sex in other avenues.
MC: So, that's the culture I come from, so that makes it a little easier to understand all of this sort of expansive, who we are, and how our generation and the times inform our sort of being.
J: So, mentors. Tell me about Joan Rivers.
MC: Well Joan was really an interesting mentor because she was full of advice and full of kindness and warmth but also full of fear. Like she was a product of growing up female in the '50s. You know? And having that continual feeling of being passed over and not being the prettiest girl and not being the kind of like perfect wife and always having too big of a mouth and just being so crass and being considered crass, like, I remember, she was telling me she was trying to do like stand up comedy on shows like Ed Sullivan and she was like seven months pregnant and they're like "You can't do any jokes about being pregnant" because that was considered incredibly crass at that time.
J: Oh wow.
MC: So she just had to kind of like not talk about it, you know, she's there with like maternity wear but
MC: It's like, she can't even talk about it. So I just always loved listening to her talk about her kind of past and kind of coming into comedy and she had so much faith in me
J: Well, I remember you said in one of your interviews that Joan told you there was something in you that reminded her of herself.
J: What was that?
MC: I think she just said there was just like "Ugh! You're like the ugly girl!" And I'm like "Oh my god!" Just like "Oh no, you know what I mean." And no, I don't know what you mean!
MC: But she's like, the one that laughs last, that was sort of her kind of spin on it, is like you're the one that laughs last, like you just, you're going to get the last laugh no matter what, so, I think that was more it, but it was so, so funny.
J: Well when you talk about being funny, you know if we were to listen to Christopher Hitchens, you can't be funny.
MC: Yeah, I know, but he's so dead. He's been dead for so long, I, I mean there's no part of him left on Earth. This has been long enough, I think what did he die in like 2012 or something?
J: Right, right, oh well, just five years.
MC: Yeah, but that's enough time to be completely decomposed. That's also like, it's just a weird thing for people to imagine. Like, what do you mean, like, women can't be funny? Like, who are you talking to? Or who are you talking about? Like, all my favorite comedians are women, even women from like a long time ago, whether that's Ruth Buzzi,
J: Right, right
MC: Or Rose Marie, who I love, and Lucille Ball, or, any of these comedians, like Phyllis Diller
J: Oh, yes!
MC: Who's so great, and Joan, of course. Joan's my favorite, but there's just so many and now contemporary women in comedy are incredibly diverse and so funny! Like Tig Notaro, Wanda Sykes,
J: Oh yeah
MC: Amy Schumer
MC: In every sort of age group and kind of style there's a great female comedian for that.
J: Why is comedy such a good platform for protest?
MC: I think because you, you're still an entertainer but you also have that brief moment where you can make a point. Usually when people laugh they're sort of recognizing something and that laughter of recognition is kind of, can also be looked at as agreement, like I'm going to laugh in agreement because I have to and I can't control my reaction because laughter is involuntary, often, so you got to go "Oh Alright, I get you, I understand you, even though I don't want to go there I do, I get it!" You know so you have this like kind of reluctant agreement that, that's what comedy is and so that's perfect for anything political because you, you can kind of cajole or coerce an opinion that they weren't prepared to express.
J: So what's next for you?
MC: I, well I wrote a TV show with the amazing Liz Sarnoff. It's called Highland. It's about a Korean American family and it's about, it's a new kind of Korean Family that we've never seen before, they have an amazing marijuana business which is I think the logical conclusion of like okay if Koreans were going into liquor stores, then by rights, by that same kind of like thought process they should be investing in marijuana businesses, which I think is really incredible. So it's called Highland, it's for TNT, hopefully we'll see it soon. It's very exciting.
Jamie J: That was comedian, actor and writer Margaret Cho.
You’ve been listening to Commonspace, a collaboration between First Person Arts and WHYY…and it’s been supported by the Pew Center For Arts And Heritage. Check us out at Apple Podcasts and Stitcher…
Our Commonspace team includes Executive Producer and co-writer Elisabeth Perez Luna, Producer Mike Villers, Associate Producers Ali L’Esperance and Jen Cleary. Tanesha Ford from First person Arts, and Archivist Dr. Neil Bardhan. Our Engineer was Al Banks and our theme music is by SUBGLO. I’m your host, producer and co-writer, Jamie J. Thanks so much for listening.