It Gets Better

I was bullied pretty badly when I was a kid, the worst period falling between the ages of 10 and 14, I think. People tell me to get over it, and that I am an adult now, privileged and famous and constantly applauded not only in my primary field, stand-up comedy, but also in practically every endeavor I have chosen to devote myself to, from acting to burlesque bump-and-grind to songwriting. I am told I have no right to complain, and that may be true to some extent, the good in my life flowing in from all directions, satisfaction pulsing through me every second of the day, but I will never stop complaining until I am dead in the ground or even afterward, probably, if I can find a way back out of the light to complain about the afterlife. I will never stop complaining. It’s kind of fun to me now, and looking back, I was treated so terribly that I don’t feel I have the capacity to forgive. Fuck forgiveness and all that. I think that even Jesus would say, “Yeah I guess you do have a point…”

I was hurt because I was different, and so sharing my experience of being beaten and hated and called ugly and fat and queer and foreign and perverse and gluttonous and lazy and filthy and dishonest and yet all the while remaining invisible heals me, and heals others when they hear it — those who are suffering right now. If you are going through this kind of shit today, try to remember that I lived through it and now thrive. I fucking thrive.

My former bullies pay extra to come backstage and meet me after shows, and I pretend not to know them in front of their friends. It is the most divine pleasure to exact the revenge of the brutalized child that resides within. Don’t consider suicide. Consider revenge. Consider what I get to do now. Know that this could be your life, too. Grow up and let anyone try to contend with the adult you. The grown-up you will be fearsome and tremendous, not only for all the pain you have endured but also because you have survived it. I cannot wait to meet you, tall and mighty in your grown glory. Stay here so we can eventually come together and be friends. Stay so you can tell me your story. I need to hear it.

I love the It Gets Better campaign, and I want to tell you that it not only gets better; it gets amazing, and don’t leave before you can witness it firsthand. Stick around for awhile. The best stuff comes later in life. It just does. You’ll see. You just have to trust me on this one, but you will be glad that you did.

There were a few things that saved me, like the young gay men my father employed at his bookstore, who would ride me on the back of their café racers, motorbikes that were butch yet classy as hell, built for speed first and beauty next. They’d tell my father that if I got tattoos, maybe then I would have friends, and this is true today, as if they had been telling me my fortune. I have tattoos, and I have many, many friends.

Music was like a hot bath I could escape into, steamy and warming me to the bone. I still am comforted greatly by sounds. Chord progressions and lyrics were my cliques and confidants. Songs sustained me more than I can say here, more than I can explain in words.

Comedy was the key to everything. I grew up fast and controlled my future by bringing it on faster than it naturally unfolded. I cheated myself out of a childhood but then got a running headstart into adulthood that no one else could keep up with.

All these things help me still, revive me when I feel weak, and remind me how far I have come and where I am going.

21 thoughts on “It Gets Better

  1. This is a very powerful testimonial. So many GLBTQ youth will see themselves reflected here and find some needed strength to not only carry on, but to challenge themselves and pursue their dreams. Will there be a follow-up, perhaps “Margaret Cho’s Gay Guide to the Living Well Revenge?” I’ll line up for a signed copy!

  2. as someone who has worked in education programs across the united states from hawaii to new york wrapping through 17 mexican states across to the netherlands and israel as well as japan and indonesia, i am livid with some people in my life at present….livid for how stupid they have been in the face of believing that feeding youth (or any person of any age) a pile of reprehensible ethnic ignorance, sexism, homophobia, and chauvinism has been beneficial for anyone other than their pocket books — and then they exclaim crises!! THEY ARE the crisis.

    1) after living in asia on two occasions, it altered plenty in my perspective beyond ordering summer rolls, hip hop, bee bim bop, cracker jacks, and guru-guru zushi if only i’d had a personal shopper and is there something other than the epicanthic foldover and origami. dear lord. being the other in a state of said’s orientalism that transcends even more than that as technology superseded plenty and buzzed light years through merely observing the foreigness of others when ordering from a take-out menu. maitais, hula limbo, and denying a language already suppressed by colonialism — sound familar?? gay youth encounter this.

    2) proffering other people’s work while denying them of funds through salary or awards while keeping their current work from blooming because a crew of people is steeped in the most banal stick figure notions of other cultures other than costumes on the runway. skimming people’s work?? oh dear, it gets better but not with bottom feeder trolls steering the ship. and 12 years later?? that’s an entire generation as K-12 folks. see note #1 above for myopia impacting the next generation.

    yes, it gets better but it would be fabulous beyond the cliche of some bottom feeder troll style fabulous if kids hadn’t been raised on this nonsense that has me vomiting around every bend. thus, am i complaining?? well, it’s not over yet. when an artist is coerced into working with people that make them vomit over the years because of seeing what cliched negative stereotypes have been attributed to “education”, “learning”, or “schooling” — I WANT TO PUKE. yes, maybe it was a privilege to live in asia, europe, latin america, and hawaii to new york as well as work at universities, the asia society, and many other wonderful places, but that may also come with expecting a certain caliber of work that has nothing to do with starched, armchair pontificating of academia, plagiarism, . felch.

    have a beautifully lovely day ms. chorrific indelibly tattooed.

  3. I wish I was as good with words as you are Margaret, so I could tell you how much this means to me. You’re the first women I saw in the “limelight” who was a bi woman like me. I didn’t know we existed, like I was some foul, little, freak or mistake. You, and women like you, made me realise that I am wonderful for who I am. I would like to credit you to for helping so many by being outspoken about these issues. All I can say is, thank you and I will continue to speak out myself, even if the voice of our detractors grow loud, I will only grow louder.

  4. I wasn’t bullied much as a kid; I was able to camouflage myself and hide out, but the cost was to deny who I really was and that set me back years in my social development.

    As it turns out, a life well lived has been my revenge too. You express this so very well in terms of your life lived large, but it is just as true for many of us in smaller measure.

    I am so proud of you for writing this.

  5. Thank you so much for your post on this issue. I too was bulled with the most intense periods being around the same time that yours was. I was bullied intensely from about 11 until 12 – from 4th until the end of 6th grade. I remember faking being sick on Monday mornings so that I would get an extra day at home. The kids, interestingly other girls (but not the boys, who I played sports with), would pick on everything from the way I dressed to the way that I laughed and what I ate. It was awful. But you give me and gave me hope. This posting is wonderfully inspiring and powerful and so nice. Thank you!

  6. Thanks for existing. There is so much hatred in this world, that it is a miracle of sorts that some people like yourself are able to not only survive, but prosper. You are indeed an inspiration for all of those who are despised for simply being who they are. Thanks for your courage, your outrageousness, and your honesty.

  7. Oh, how I relate to this…

    I’m so happy with my adult life! I run a non-profit that helps media artists launch their professional careers. I get to do something different every day, whether it’s produce a music video for a talented new artist, help an comedian find a neat venue in Philadelphia (like your friend Jessica Halem!), or act in a ridiculous web series that talks about robotic dicks. I’m not fabulously famous or ridiculously wealthy, but I’m surrounded by talented friends that are making the world a little better, one piece of art at a time.

    I realize now that the reason I fight SO hard…the reason I stopped being the shy kid that didn’t speak English into the arts activist that work 80 hours a week, seven days a week instead of playing Farmville…. is pure spite, and I’m embarrassed how much I enjoy it.

    Every time I have a success in my life, I cannot help but remember the days when I was forced to sit in the center aisle of the bus while kids threw half-eaten fruit at me because I was foreign. Any time I buy a new item of clothing, I remember the endless cycle of sitting with my grandmother patching my clothes with bits of rags because the bullies pushed me down and spit on me…for wearing patched rags. When I nuzzle up to the person I love at night, I can’t help but remember lying in my bed at age seven, screaming as loud as I can, hoping and praying that the neighbors would hear me and take me away to a better place.

    So on the very rare occasion when one of the “spitting bully” stumbles into your show and asks you on a date (true story), it feels pretty damned good to pretend you don’t know them.

    I cope (and hopefully entertain & educate) through my writing. And as a result, I also get asked, “Why are you mad at people that hurt you 20 years ago? People change.” Not necessarily. Many of these kid bullies just become better at bullying as adults. They’re the trolls that post the anonymous racist or sexist comment at 4 am. Instead of hurling rotten fruit, they write laws that deny anyone they deem “different” equal human rights. They call you a socialist and a slut when you ask for health care and birth control and a heathen if your true love happens to be another woman. At a very young age, bullies learned to control other people through fear, doubt, and despair, which is why their businesses, families, and political campaigns are run on the same principals. That is no way to run a society.

    THANK YOU for battling all of the naysayers along the way to get where you are. I’m so thankful that rational people like you use their microphone to take a stand, make a change, and kick some bully ass.

    I hope this letter finds you well, and I’m sorry it took me this long to write you (I’ve been relating to you since the days of “All-American Girl”). Someday, I actually hope to create some art with you, but I’ve been too shy to ask. I appreciate your writing (both in your memoirs & online) on levels I can’t articulate in a stupid comment box.

    You have my name & e-mail – if you’re ever open to collaboration, google me or mention me to Jessica to see I’m no bullshit. Until that day comes, I’ll be here, fighting the fight against assholery from Philadelphia.

  8. Hello, hello.

    I grew up in similar circumstances to you. I too was raised in San Francisco by immigrant Asian parents. Well, in my case an immigrant Chinese mother. I even went to Lowell! But still, I grew up watching your show and loving it.

    I had no idea things were so hard for you growing up. To me, you were a superstar, and your comedy is so hilarious that I still tell people about your Asian chicken salad bit to get them to like me. (I credit you, of course).

    Anyway, I love that you’ve put your personal story of triumph over your bullies out there. I think this is just the right thing to do. I, myself, have been bullied all my life — but mostly by my own mother. Alas! That one I can’t seem to escape or get to old for. Your story has inspired me to write a blog post as well. Thanks for being so brave.

  9. Testing Prejudges and Stereotyping
    Comedian Margaret Cho appeared today on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show. Margaret points to the human dichotomy that exist between, appearance and true-substance. I am a chalky old white guy. I was taught what the “ prefect female “ was to look like by other chalky folk. We must remember that in the middle ages, skinny chicks were considered ugly. Back then, a woman with some meat on her bones was the pretty one, as she was more likely to survive a rough winter. Now as far as female intelligence goes, most men’s propped-up egos are still to fragile to bear the test of a smart woman. And it gets more confusing if you realize that the fathers of most girls, think their daughters should go on to college. The correct next question should be, “ So what has he been teaching his son about women ? “ And women, you are not off the hook on this one. Truth is, sometimes kissing men’s behinds only makes us men worse. In the long run, the lack of self-respect is not good for you or me. Just saying. Lastly, what is the truth in that, many women dress up in order to piss-off other women, just as much as to catch the men’s eyes ? What is that all about ?
    The reason women generally are more peaceful folk is in the fact they know they possess the future. A group of purist men once formed a men-only-society. But when kidnapping young boys and/or female slavery was banned, their perfectly harmonist community died out in only one life time. Anyone surprised here ? Bit short sighted, yes ?

    Is America just a breed of people ??
    Or is America an ideal ?!
    This is my high school version of American ideals in a nut shell: The foundation of all rights of freedom is in that it will be universal to all. All will have the right and responsibly of a say and vote, no matter how much I think they are wrong. My home is my castle. All are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Did I miss any ?

  10. “Don’t consider suicide. Consider revenge.”

    Amen to that! Living well is always the best revenge. Bullies getting their comeuppance is a bonus!

  11. Thank you so much for being the wonderful you, Ms. Cho.

    I can totally relate to this. I was bullied from the age of about 7 to 13 1/2. It was incredibly hard. I am now almost 18 and not really over it yet, but my self confidence has grown SO much. I do not have a lot of friends (right now), but those who I have are some of the most wonderful human beings I know.

    Now, I can honestly say you are my role model. You are such a strong, confident and kind person and I’m looking foward to meet you some time in the future. That’s definitely one of my goals.

    Another one is to get a job, where I can help kids and teens that go through the same shit I and many others have gone through.

    You are amazing!

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  13. I am inspired by your story. I grew up fat, jewish and gay and felt like an outsider. I hated being teased for being different. Now I love being on the outside – I don’t conform to what society thinks I should be unless it’s something I want. Being an outsider gives you the freedom to think outside the box, or in it. 😉

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