Do you feel beautiful? If not, you should. As comedian, writer, actress, fashion designer and political activist Margaret Cho says, “when we feel beautiful we’re more political, we’re more likely to stand up for ourselves.” It’s at the heart of everything.
Margaret should know. Throughout her career this woman has been through it all. Years ago when she started out in television, network executives criticised her – she was too Asian, yet she wasn’t Asian enough, they lambasted her appearance, particularly the roundness of her face. She starved herself for weeks as a result and her rapid weight loss, done to modify her appearance by the time the pilot episode was filmed, caused serious kidney failure. For years she struggled with substance abuse problems and eating disorders and now, having come out the other side, she’s older, wiser and a hell of a lot happier. As a proud bisexual Asian American fag hag, Margaret has learnt how to stand up in front of sell out crowds and not only love herself, but inspire others to do the same.
Her methods are clever – she seduces audiences with her wit and once they’re laughing she slips in the important messages. In past shows Margaret has urged her fans to be more politically aware, to be stronger, to look out for one another, to love themselves unconditionally, to be kinder. She’s taken the blinkers off for many. Now with her new show Beautiful, she wants everyone to see that there’s beauty in all of us, despite what we’re told.
“I wrote this show because I went on a radio show once and the DJ said to me, ‘What if you woke up tomorrow and you were beautiful, what would you do?’ and I said, ‘What do you mean ‘what if?’’ and he said, ‘Well, what if you woke up and you were blonde, you had blue eyes, you were five foot eleven and weighed a hundred pounds, what would you do?’
“The question just made me feel really bad. I felt sorry for him, because it’s really sad if that’s the only person that you think is beautiful, you mustn’t see much beauty at all in the world. I think everybody is beautiful. It’s really important to feel that way – we are more active politically, more likely to stand up for our rights if we feel beautiful and it’s really important if you’re queer, because you have to take on the world everyday, so you may as well feel good while you’re doing it.”
Margaret has often said that because she sits within so many minority groups, she has a unique freedom to speak the truth, whether we want to hear it or not. So what does she think are the biggest issues facing gay communities today? “I think it’s a continuing issue of being protected from certain elements of society, creating and enforcing laws to make sure that the perpetrators of hate crimes are really punished, along with equality, which is why those issues of gay marriage are really important – symbolically they really represent equality for gays and lesbians.
“Within the community gays and lesbians should really be taking greater care of the transgender community, because that’s the community that’s really in the most danger, they receive the most homophobic attacks – they’re vulnerable because they wear their queerness on their skin. Transgender teenagers are at such a high risk of suicide too – it’s a group that we really have to take under our wing.”
Last year Margaret was the MC for Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors tour. The show, which included the likes of Debbie Harry, Erasure, The Dresden Dolls, The Gossip, Rosie O’Donnell, The Cliks, Indigo Girls, Cazwell, Amanda Lepore and Rufus Wainwright, travelled through fifteen cities spreading the message that homophobia needs to end.
“She’ll probably take the True Colors tour out again,” says Margaret, “It was just so popular, I’m sure it will have another life and I really think it should come to Australia next time. I loved it, I love Cyndi Lauper, I’ve been a fan for a long time. She’s such an icon, she’s just beautiful. She created this show because she wanted to have a show where people could bring their families and it could be this big rock festival devoted to ending homophobia. It was really cool to work with all of these queer performers and queer icons – but what was so funny about the whole experience is that these ladies party so hard, you just cannot believe it. I thought I was on the Warped Tour. The partying and the mayhem was crazy.”
Margaret intends to continue the partying while she’s down under. Those of you heading to the Mardi Gras party, look out for her. She says she’ll be there on the dancefloor with Kathy Griffin and Cyndi Lauper in tow. When I warn her that she’ll most likely be mobbed her only response is, “I hope so.”