Monday, June 10, 2013

I'm the One that I Want, by Margaret Cho

Sometimes I am just not on board with those dust jacket reviews. I mean, seriously..."Savagely funny?" "Refreshingly, uproariously raunchy?" "Funny and compelling?"

I can only assume The New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times and San Francisco Chronicle were talking about Margaret Cho's stand-up routines and that they didn't read this book. Because this book? Not funny. Not unless you're the type to crack up over someone spilling a vein onto the page. No, this book is painful. Margaret Cho is unflinching in telling about her experiences with racism, body-shaming, sexual assault, drug and alcohol abuse, and a career that took years to get off the ground (due in part to racism, body-shaming, and drug and alcohol abuse).

But the painful stuff is easily the most compelling and best-written part of the book. The rest has its funny moments, but falls far short of her stand-up routines without her voice and comic timing to boost it into the stratosphere.
Let me break this down into pain categories. Paintegori--no.

  • Sexual assault. Arrrgh. Arrrrrrrgh. She experienced it twice--or, most probably, wrote about two of her experiences. I hate the amount of bravery it takes for a woman to speak/write candidly about being assaulted. I hate that the assumption is still that she's lying or that she "asked for it." It's so insidious that Cho admits to wondering both times if she herself asked for it. There's a moment when she's worked the second assault into her stand-up routine, and she's telling it to a massive crowd, and she looks down into the front row to see her assailant sitting there, absolutely livid, glaring at her. She paused for half a beat, then continued the story, not about to let him stop her.
 "I saw [his] expression when I was up there. It was just murderous. There was blood in his eyes. He must have been mad, because when things happen to women, we are supposed to remain silent. Our shame should make us want to act like nothing happened, maintain the decorum. I refuse to be silent, therefore I become some sort of criminal. I think if we all told our stories and said out loud what has happened to us, to warn other women, to comfort those who have had the same things happen to them, to show that we are not alone, the world would suddenly become a bigger and better place."
  • Racism. Dudes, I could not believe that some of the shit she described happened so recently. How is it possible that people out there can think that's acceptable?! Fuck. It was also really sad to read about how damaging it was for her to grow up with no one on TV who looked like her and her family. I feel like that's something we hear a lot now, but not enough people who work in TV and movies really get it. Like, seriously guys: this is a damaging thing you're doing. Really. 
  • Body image. Ohhhh man. Reading these parts made me feel sick. First there's the absolutely brutal treatment by her classmates growing up. Then there's the TV executives who "are concerned about the fullness of [her] face." She's given two weeks to lose weight. She lost thirty pounds. Turns out, that kind of weight loss? Not so healthy. She winds up in the hospital. And it didn't stop there:
    "It is a miracle that I didn't give myself a heart attack. I stayed on the pills for years afterward, even after the FDA had them recalled, saying that people were experiencing lung and heart failure due to excessive use. I rationalized that my use was not excessive, that I could do it, that it was worth the risk, that being a few pounds lighter was worth anything. I wanted to be thin more than I wanted to be alive."
     It's horrifying to read about. That last line gets me every time. And it all mixes together until there's no better way to describe it than good old-fashioned self-hatred. I think that's the real journey of Cho's book--I mean, sure, she takes us from her childhood to a point where she was finally sober and happy and successful in her career, but I'd argue that's the surface stuff. I think what it's really about is her journey through years and years of self-hatred to the point where it wore her out, where she realized she had to do the work to move past it.
    "Self-hatred doesn't accomplish anything. It destroys everything it touches comments upon, attacks, judges. No great deity is going to come to you, in those great moments of self-loathing, and rub the dirt from your rosy hobo cheeks and say, "Chin up! It's not so bad!" I think that was what I was always hoping for, that God would try to prove me wrong; if I hurt myself enough, God would try to stop it...It is very hard to let go of that notion...
    "I have been a longtime perpetrator of hate crimes against myself, and I am turning myself in. I have had enough."
    And that, right there, is what this book is about. It's why I would tell anyone they should read through all these painful stories. Because we all have our own painful stories, don't we? If anything, this book is a call to arms, for us to talk about what we've gone through, to support each other and to stop beating the shit out of ourselves.

    I'll try if you will.


  1. I love love love your last paragraph. It's hard, but the alternative is worse.

  2. Thank you! It's hard to know with a book like this--there are a lot of subjects that could be really triggering to some people, so I wouldn't just recommend it to EVERYONE...but then again, it's such a powerful message to hear, that it's okay to speak about these experiences and to feel all sorts of conflicting things about them. I wish it was safe for more women to do that.