Margaret Cho on BDSM, 'Polyamory-Fatigue,' Wanting To Die Alone
The bisexual comedian explains why she plans on being single for the rest of her life.
SEPTEMBER 25 2019 4:33 AM EDT
This interview was conducted as part of the interview series, LGBTQ&A, a weekly podcast that documents modern queer and trans history.
Margaret Cho grew up in San Fransisco, coming of age at the start of the AIDS crisis. Her parents owned a gay book store; Cho worked at a lesbian BDSM collective and had a brief stint as a dominatrix. It was during this time Cho started asking the question, "In the age of AIDS, what does safe sex mean? And how do we still make it exciting and fun?"
The answer came in the form of a long leather whip. She describes BDSM as the perfect place to engage and celebrate sexuality in a way that felt dangerous, without being dangerous in a way that would transmit HIV or other infections.
All of these experiences have fed into her comedy career, the cornerstone of which has been marked by her candor. Before nonmonogamy had entered the mainstream consciousness as it has today, Cho was talking about it onstage and in interviews, just as she would speak about people's disbelief over her bisexuality, her experience with sex work, and more recently, her newfound "polyamory-fatigue."
Cho speaks about all this on the LGBTQ&A podcast, and opens up about why she now plans on being single for the rest of her life.
Jeffrey Masters: Do you have any grand theories to why people are still so wary of bisexuality?
Before we had gay marriage and before we had this idea of being able to have families, bisexuality gave you a little bit of a sliver of that ticket to normalcy. Bisexuality is seen as this strange thing of dipping your toe into the pool of otherness, but not all way all in.
JM: Was there comradery between you and other famous, closeted queer women before you came out?
I was just really scared into a feeling of Wow, this feels really scary and unsafe.
JM: I was actually under the impression that you were open about being bi, even early in your career.
Even my parents, they're fine with gayness, they're fine with straightness, they have a real problem with bi.
JM: So your sexuality just wasn’t publicly talked about?
JM: Have you always been so comfortable talking about sex?
Sex was different too because we were looking for a way that we could still be queer, but also in the age of AIDS, what does safe sex mean? And how do we still make it exciting and fun? Because dental dams were not fun, and so we wanted to figure out how to make sex dangerous for us, but not really dangerous in that we're not fluid bonding.
BDSM was a perfect place to celebrate that and to explore that even further. I was fascinated because I was discovering it as it was happening and it was something that was very appealing to talk about too.
JM: For you, BDSM came out of the AIDS crisis.
What BDSM does is it really puts the danger back into sexuality. So much of the mentally about AIDS was about separating ourselves. We had to have this layer of latex between us and the world. How can we now go back and really be gay and be in it and be of it? And so BDSM was the answer then.
It's very alternative, but it's also very San Francisco. In San Francisco, if you're going anywhere, you're low-key listening to people talking about their limits. What's their hard limit and what's their soft limit? People are always negotiating their scenes, so I love that.
JM: What are your limits?
There's a human puppy play park. That's a great one too. Then you get into sort of furry territory. I love that, but I don't know if that's so much about the sexual impulse as much as it's about playtime because I love animals.
JM: Do you still engage in BDSM?
Also, the processing that happens, so I did get tired of it. To me, it's very stuck in the 90s and early 2000s, but I do love it.
JM: Are you still discovering new things that you like?
Now I'm on a new journey of like, "What does this look like?" I have this idea that because I'm now single, my thought is I would like to try to remain unpartnered for the rest of my life and I'm going to really try.
JM: Why is that?
JM: Why do that for the rest of your life and not a shorter period of time?
That solitary life is really important, but I do want to have sex still. That's a very confusing thing to me too, because I have not been single in the age of apps, so I'm like trying to start that journey to see what it looks like.
JM: How has your relationship to masturbation changed?
JM: You're setting goals.
I think it's a necessary part of sexuality, especially to discover what you like so that when you have partnered sex, you can instruct them on what to do and then maybe they'll show you what they need. I think that's what masturbation is really good for. It's going to give somebody this entry into my being that is very exclusive and very, very intimate and very important, and if somebody else can grasp that and then possibly reciprocate, that's intimacy.
That's really true love, if that was to exist. That's what I think it is.
JM: Does true love not exist?
JM: How many times have you been in love?
JM: I think 15 or 16 is a lot.