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Authors: Margaret Cho

Tags: #Humor, #General, #Biography & Autobiography, #Entertainment & Performing Arts, #Topic, #Relationships

I'm the One That I Want (6 page)

BOOK: I'm the One That I Want
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We sneaked into the gay hustler bars on Polk Street and laughed as the chickens and the chicken hawks cruised each other and ignored us. We dressed each other up and took pictures. When we both got lovers, we weren’t jealous. We grew up, but we didn’t grow apart.

When Berry was gay-bashed on Market Street, greeting me the next morning with a black eye and a smile on his face, he tried to make the best of it, dismissing the whole thing as “Truly funny, if you really think about it,” but I knew that it hurt him more than he could say.

When my parents told me they hated me because I was a failure at everything, Berry baked me a cake, made me a mixed tape, and loved me madly.

Berry and I dressed more and more alike as we got older. We told everyone we were brother and sister, but it is almost as if we were closer than that.

We both tended to pick boyfriends who cared little about us, which makes me glad that we had each other to love.

We are friends even now, in what seems like a lifetime later. We grew together, grew apart, then together again. We still love to make dinner together and talk about the days when everything was new, and life was so exciting because it was just beginning.

If this relationship sounds familiar to you, it is very likely that you are a fag hag. We are from all walks of life, all classes, all ages, all races; straight, lesbian, and somewhere in between. We are as diverse as we are numerous. The common bond that we share is our alliance with gay men, a connection that is both nurturing and powerful, sweet and sour, retail and wholesale.

Although our fag hag experiences vary greatly, there are generalizations that can be made. Fag hags usually make all the plans and see that they are carried out in a manner that pleases both the fag and the hag equally. This is because most of us have a knack at organizing and mobilizing. We are leaders, and keep our troops in line.

Fag hags like to be the center of attention. It is ironic that at a gathering of men, coming together for the sole purpose of meeting one other, they will all spend the better part of their evening hanging on the only woman’s every word.

Unfortunately, this situation does not last. By the end of the party, a fag hag often finds herself alone in the room, in the midst of the overflowing ashtrays and half-finished drinks, deserted by all her admirers—who have paired off to admire each other. This brings us to the next fag hag rule of thumb: We always drive ourselves to events, and for the most part, we enjoy going home alone. I suppose it could be looked at as a depressing end to an evening, but I find it joyous. I love to sleep in bed alone, tossing my body in slumber every way I can, waking up without having to kiss some sour mouth or awkwardly realizing I have no idea whom that sour mouth belongs to.

I can carry on with plans I made for brunch without having to consult or bring along the “trick.” I don’t have to gauge his expression to see whether our drunken episode resulted in a fight and try to gauge his mood. I don’t have to dress quietly and duck out the back door, or learn a new language. Tricks are always much more trouble than they are worth. That is why, every Halloween, when I am asked “Trick or Treat,” I always err on the side of chocolate. Yes, it’s true. I do live in paradise.

Fag hags, contrary to the wisdom of popular culture, are not “beards.” The term “beards” refers to the complicit relationships between some women and gay men, wherein they pretend, for the “benefit” of family and sometimes employers, that they are a conventional straight couple. This is so that they might enjoy the “status” of being “normal” heterosexuals.

I find this a violation, a travesty, and an aberration of the fag hag/fag relationship. However, I do not wish to judge those who find themselves in the kind of predicament that requires such a façade. It is not their fault, but the fault of the ignorance of those around them. In my world, honesty rules above all, and the truth helps everyone. So have a beard if you must, but I would prefer that you be clean-shaven.

We fag hags love drama and are skilled thespians on the stage of life. We also crave scandal and gossip. Be warned, we don’t keep secrets, we harvest them. Of course, we do know when and where loyalty is required, and in these cases, we are true to our beloved. Bitchiness is always appreciated, and insulting others behind their back is a favorite pastime. This is a way for us to repay the world for the way we are treated. Women and gay men have long been considered second-class citizens by the dominant culture. How do we keep our strength? By talking shit about those who think they can oppress us. Herewith one caveat given me by a particularly elegant and flamboyant gentleman: “Fight fire with
flame
!” Do not underestimate the power of our wagging tongues. Cross us and you will get burned, not licked.

Most of us like to shop and love to be taken to lunch at a restaurant in a department store. Not the food court, mind you. We are still ladies, regardless of how we behave at times.

I still lobby for a “Fag Hag Day,” when we might be shown the gratitude we deserve en masse. We are important. We are the backbone of the gay community and as such should be honored! Consider that there are holidays as innocuous as “Secretary’s Day”—with special greeting cards to celebrate them. What might a “Fag Hag Day” card look like? Possibly a photograph of a winsome young man in an evening gown, with a darling bit of verse at the bottom:

You have stuck by me now and then,

Even though you know I like men.

We are so close, my sweet fag hag,

Sometimes I think you are me in drag!

Gentle reader, if you wish to join us, I bid you “Welcome” with open arms and an arched eyebrow. Let it be known, however, that this is certainly a profession that chooses you. Many of us did not plan to become fag hags, we just looked around one day and realized that was what we were. Others aspired to greatness, and then greatness materialized around them in the form of a group of cute advertising executives spending Labor Day Weekend on Fire Island.

The fastest way to become a fag hag, if you are so inclined, is to get a job as a makeup artist, but this is not practical or realistic for most. (I do not offer the perfect solutions, only the ones I know work.) Another is to become a grand dame of the stage and screen. For myself, this route has been most rewarding. This way, I can “hag” as many “fags” as I like, and bring to the world this kind of love story that is so common, yet so often overlooked.

Whatever road you take, when you get there, be good to the men in your life and let them take care of you. Know that what you have is precious and holy. Remember, regardless of sexual orientation, men and women will always need each other.

So if you’ve nothing nice to say, go sit next to the cutest, most elegantly dressed and well-mannered guy at the party. He will appreciate it, I promise.

6

 

NICKY AND THE NEW SCHOOL

 

When I was fourteen, I attended a senior party with Jodie Peet. The party was one of those where the parents are out of town and there are a bunch of people passing joints and picking at a turkey carcass. It was in St. Francis Wood, where all the rich kids lived, in a beautiful mansion. The kids’ bedrooms all had their own bathrooms, which seemed so extravagant to me, but in one the toilet was broken and there was all kinds of shit floating around in it.

Jodie, a big, tan girl with tiger-colored hair, got seriously drunk almost instantly. I wasn’t sure what to do with her, because I was supposed to be spending the night at her house. I kept trying to get her to stand up, but each time she’d roll back to the ground, getting her khaki shorts all dusty from the gravel in the garden. She’d laugh and say, “You know, we are really good friends. I love you Margaret . . .” and then start laughing and falling down again. At first, I thought she was faking it, but I couldn’t get her to move, so I guessed she was really fucked up.

This guy named Nicky who was twenty-two and had a hot senior girlfriend named Jennifer, with big, blonde hair and who looked like she was thirty-six, offered us a ride. It was nonspecific. There was no predetermined destination. He just said, “Ride.” I should have known then what would happen. I should have told him to take us home. I should have told him we were going to her house. I should have never been born.

I remember the thrill of being in this car with a MAN and how strange it was. He was flirting with me and he said, “I’m so lucky, to have such a cute girl in the car. I better watch myself!” I was so nervous that I was acting like he wasn’t talking to me, so he just kind of stopped.

Jodie was passed out in the back as we drove up to his apartment on Oak Street, a few blocks up from my uncle’s snack bar in the bowling alley. I didn’t say anything. I tried to think of it as an adventure. I was not going home, and nobody would know. I was not in trouble. I could spend the night here and go home the next day and not be in trouble. I could spend the night at a man’s house and not be in trouble.

We walked up to his top apartment, and he carried Jodie into his roommate’s bedroom while I waited for him in the hallway for a second. He came out, led me into his bedroom, and then he went back down the hall. I sat down on his bed. I was tired but still amazed that I was in this guy’s apartment. I lay down on the bed and waited. I wondered if I was just gonna stay like that all night. I could hear him moving around in the hallway, but no lights were on.

Pretty soon, he came into his room and sat on the bed. He started touching me, and I felt so weird. I wanted to say, “What about Jennifer?” and “We can’t do this to her . . .” because that is what it seems that adults say to each other, but I couldn’t talk. I was in shock because I didn’t know him. He was on top of me and it happened so quickly. I didn’t say yes, but I didn’t say no either. It was like a flash and he was inside me and it felt cold and hurt in a way that I couldn’t explain and I thought: He is raping me, yes, he is raping me—or is he? I did not say yes, but I did not say no. During it, I silently thanked my family for making me go to long church services, because that taught me to leave my body at a young age—those skills really do come in handy, you end up using them in life, not like algebra. Then, he was done, I guess, because suddenly he gave a great sigh, and between my legs it was wet and slimy and it smelled like bleach. He got off me and fell next to me and said nothing. Within seconds, his breathing got heavy and he started to snore.

I got up and walked around the bachelor apartment in the dark. The kitchen was furnished with dirty dishes piled precariously on top of each other. I wanted a cigarette. I wanted to lie in bed with Nicky and smoke with the sheets tucked underneath my arms and tell him it was good for me. I wasn’t a virgin anymore. I wanted to tell him, but I don’t think he would have cared. I wanted to cry, too, which was confusing, because I was supposed to have been glad that this older guy with a hot senior girlfriend and I had had sex. We had sex. I have had sex. Is this sex? Yes, I have had it. It did not feel good. It hurt a lot. But I have done it.

I went back to the bedroom and wedged myself next to Nicky and stayed awake until the sun came up. Nicky got up, didn’t say anything. He looked sick, not as cute. He turned away from me and got out of bed. I sat up and waited. He came in and asked, “Can I give you guys a ride somewhere? I gotta get going.” He didn’t look at me when he said it. He didn’t look at me at all.

Nicky dropped Jodie and me off around Ninth and Judah, and we went to the Raintree Café and ate toast with marmalade. I really hate marmalade. It’s bitter. You shouldn’t do that to oranges. Not only that, there’s rind in it. I told her about what happened with a secretive hush and maybe a little bit of pride—I am not sure why I was proud, it was actually so terrible, but that seemed to be the best way to react to the situation.

We didn’t call it rape back then. To us, rape was what happened to hitchhikers and to single women living in ground-floor apartments by men in ski masks. Rapists were not guys we knew who dated the popular girls at our school. We thought what happened was passion, romance, ravishment. It felt wrong to me, but I still defined it in those terms because those were all we had.

At school, Jodie told everyone what had happened.

This redhead named Don, who I had such a crush on, teased me about Nicky relentlessly. I don’t understand why, maybe he was jealous. It made me feel like dying. He didn’t know what really happened, but it hurt to hear him talk about it like I had enjoyed myself. “You’re just pining away for that Nicky boy! Well, I wouldn’t hold your breath. I doubt that guy is going to call you. . . . You’re just heartbroken. Hey, at least you got some! Probably the last time you ever will.”

Years later, this same Don came to a show of mine and sat in the front row proudly, as if to say, “I knew her when.” I completely ignored him. They always come back, don’t they—like boomerangs and bad chili.

When I taped my first TV appearance for MTV’s
Half-Hour
Comedy Hour
in 1990, I made a grand and stunning debut. That night, I was hailed as the new star of the San Francisco scene. Everything was bright with lights and hope for the future. I walked around with a scarf wrapped around my head and they said I was like the “Comedy Madonna,” which was the best thing you could call me, even now.

Then, I saw him. Nicky was staggering around the back of the theater. He looked at me and stopped and said, “Hey—you were really grea . . .” He trailed off, as I presume he had an awful moment of recognition. He knew who I was and it seemed like the shame of me knowing and him knowing took him over for a second. In the sickening silence, I walked past him without acknowledging him. And still to this day I drive by that shitty apartment on Oak Street and I look up into the broken windows and there is part of me still up there in that place.

BOOK: I'm the One That I Want
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