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A Margaret Cho Outing

So I shelled out the fifty or so dollars to see Margaret Cho’s show “Mother” during the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

After a little under 50 minutes of Cho-time, the Capitol Theatre lights came up - almost abruptly - and she left the stage. The guy behind me reassured his companion, “don’t worry, she’ll come back out.”

She didn’t.

I’ve written previously about length being no determinant of value - of enjoyment - and truth be told, 48 minutes was sufficient. I’d heard quite enough about the importance of same-sex marriage - cue too-predictable hootin' and a'hollarin from the audience - and it was getting close to my bedtime.

There’s a story to be written about a billed show bearing no semblance whatsoever to the marriage-equality-ranty monologue that was delivered. I’m more interested however, in the content of one of Cho’s anecdotes.

Cho was doing a little subtle name dropping and mentioned being on set with John Travolta (presumably during the filming of Face/Off (1997)).

She belaboured how oh so flaming queer Travolta was. About how everybody in Tinseltown knows just how poofy Danny Zuko is. Of how she had to break the news of his supreme gayness to a naive Olivia Newton John.

I’ve written about what I see as the scourge of sexuality speculation before. More than mere speculation however, Cho was outing Travolta.

Not funny and certainly not okay.

Tom Cruise and John Travolta and Hugh Jackman and pretty much every handsome Hollywood leading man has, at one time or another, been at the centre of gay rumours, cast in the infamous gerbil story and had their face plastered on a gay club poster glued on a pole in my street.

Maybe because they’re heterosexual, maybe because they’re non-practicing gay - or bi - or maybe because they just fear a bloody public backlash - but whatever their reason, actors like Travolta have asserted their allegiance to the Good Ship Straight. And I think we need to leave it at that.

No, we might not like it, might not believe them, and we may have heard accounts like Cho’s and think we know a truth, but it’s not doing equality a service to drag people out of the closet kicking and screaming.

Sure, I’d love for everyone to feel safe and empowered and righteous enough to be their true sexual selves without fear of demonisation. Equally I’d love for homosexuality to be an attribute that people feel is worth shouting from the rooftops.

But making closet jokes - shaming people for not coming out all loud and proud - is not the way to speed this process up.

Cho didn’t out Travolta because she thought it would help him on his sexuality journey. She didn’t out him to encourage him to establish himself as role model.

Oh no.

Cho did it for easy laughs: oh how Goddamn funny it is that Travolta is so camp but thinks people don’t realise. Ha ha ha. Like so hilarious.

And she got away with it because she identifies as bi and she gets cut slack for it.

Don’t get me wrong, something bristles in me too when wives crap on to women’s mags about how very poker straight their man is. And lawsuits implying that gayness is akin to being called a war criminal or paedophile revolt me to the very core.

But surely it’s Travolta’s choice to do his sexuality as he sees fit. If it’s okay to be gay and it’s okay to be bi - and if I’m okay and you’re okay - then it’s got to be okay for John Travolta to “do” his sexuality whichever way he chooses.

I frequently find Margaret Cho hilarious. I have a poster for her film It’s My Party (1996) on my office wall and I’ve repeatedly quoted her line about her bed looking like a crime scene because of all the menstrual sex. And I did laugh, once - admittedly tentatively - during her Melbourne show quip about her father’s Virginia Tech massacre remark (“one or two okay, but 32?”)

But it’s not funny to use the sexuality of other people as fodder for a shoddily structured act. It’s cheap and it’s sad.

(On the upside, Cho’s show wasn’t nearly as painful as Mr Snotbottom. Alas, another story and another round of therapy).

Join the conversation

37 Comments sorted by

  1. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    Hard to know what to say.........I used to get "upset" if that's the right word about them not having the guts to come out.

    But these I just think "so what". Didn't do too much for Rupert Everett's career, but then again didn't hurt Elton John's neither.

    Do it or don't do it - who really cares. Although the sports guy coming out today is good in a role model sort of way. But the hoopla sort of makes it a freak show, and counter productive in one sense.
    But hey it's all good.

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Lauren Rosewarne

      Absolutely.

      We all have our secrets, and it should be up to us to disclose them - or not.

      The only exception I would make is if a public figure made disparaging comments re homosexuality to deflect his/her sexuality. This has happened in the past, and I am comfortable with that "outing" occurring.

      Of course ideally there would be no need whatsoever to fear disclosure.

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  2. Alastair Lawrie

    Policy and Media Officer

    Lauren, I am having some difficulty with this article. Specifically, how do you reconcile writing an article about the politics/ethics of outing, and come to the conclusion that it is unethical, while simultaneously using the name of a non-out celebrity throughout? This undermines your argument - couldn't you have written this piece in a de-identified way?
    On the broader question of whether outing is ever justified, the example you have chosen is probably at the easiest end of the spectrum to resolve - surely the celebrity involved deserves a right to privacy. The more interesting question, and one that is much more vexed, is whether an anti-gay political figure (eg someone campaigning for family values/against gay rights) can be outed in an attempt to stop the damage they themselves are inflicting on the LGBTI community. Thoughts on either of these issues?

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    1. Lauren Rosewarne

      Senior Lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Alastair Lawrie

      You raise a question that underpins all journalism - about whether reporting on something makes a writer complicit. I'm not sure I have a fixed opinion on this one way or another.

      Indeed, I could have written this article in a de-identified way. Personally however, I tend to hate that style of writing and it's important to reiterate that I wasn't outing Travolta: I have no idea about his sexuality whatsoever - I was simply discussing allegations which surround him and many other actors and which…

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    2. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Lauren Rosewarne

      There was the debate for years about whether Tom Cruise was gay, and I must confess I was secretly hoping he was. But now I think - "please don't let him be gay."

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    3. Alastair Lawrie

      Policy and Media Officer

      In reply to Lauren Rosewarne

      Thanks very much for your response Lauren.
      In terms of outing family values campaigners, I am still in two minds on this issue. In principle I agree with you that it is a matter of hyprocrisy and that we should be debating the arguments rather than the person. But in practice, I would find it difficult to argue against the outing of some extremists who cause considerable damage through their comments/actions - for example, in the case of the now retired former leader of the Catholic Church in the…

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    4. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Alastair Lawrie

      If I may add another comment re this issue.

      Often actors, politicians and other public figures who are gay decide to hide behind a wife and kids to fool the wider community.

      To me this is a completely selfish act because it has the potential to hurt more than the individual involved. This has been a common ploy by many public figures over the years.

      The ex-gay/evangelical movement to "change" people is despicable and should be soundly condemned. It preys on delicate minds and leads to disaster.

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    5. Lauren Rosewarne

      Senior Lecturer at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Alastair Lawrie

      My problem is that if we argue against specific extremists who also happen to be gay/bi/non-straight/whatever on the grounds of their hypocrisy _rather_ than the heinous of their views, then it is very difficult for us to convince people that the battle is against bigotry in general and not against individuals. It also again, would involve sexuality being throw around as a weapon: which I am uncomfortable with.

      As for conversion (something else I've written about before, i.e., http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/apple-should-have-kept-the-anti-gay-app/), it's the same thing: you and I and any other sane person would argue that conversion therapy does not work and that the perpetrators are - in varying degrees – damaged and charlatans. But again, pointing to their individual stories as somehow demonstrative of all that is wrong with conversion, is, in my opinion, detrimental to the greater cause of a fight against the perpetration of bigotry and not about shaming individuals.

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    6. Scott Miller

      logged in via email @aol.com

      In reply to Alastair Lawrie

      It is not her JOB to disclose another persons sexuality! As for Cho ( used to be a fan) shame on her. She got what she wanted (and at this point-as she gets unfunnier) a lot of free press. If John Travolta, or ANYONE, has issues with their sexuality, it's theirs and theirs alone.

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  3. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    I have often thought about the power of gossip, and its commercialisation and movement through the media, and its spread into areas such as social science.

    It seems that no one has actually asked John Travolta if he was “gay”, but instead, they have made up stories about him.

    I don’t know why feminists have not vehemently opposed this type of thing, but then I guess feminists indulge in it so much themselves, and many base their career around making up stories about men, without ever actually asking men anything.

    To pay out $50 to hear gossip indicates gossip is now a valuable commodity, but it doesn’t give truth much of a chance.

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  4. Dianna Arthur

    Environmentalist

    Timely article.

    Only a couple of days ago a girlfriend and I were discussing Ricky Gervais and she remarked on something along the lines of "that's because he's gay". I replied I hadn't even wondered about his sexual orientation - which, in an ideal world should be the accepted norm.

    Having said that, I'm going to 'out' myself a little in that I hope certain good looking men are straight - except for Tom Cruise! (and some women gay, had a major thang for Sharon Stone ).

    Really should not…

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Here’s another one gossiping and making up stories about men, this time about Ricky Gervais and Tom Cruise.

      Feminism really hasn’t taught women anything.

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  5. George Harley

    Retired Dogsbody

    I will be dead, but my grandchildren will look back at this moment in history and will say " WTF was all that about?"

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  6. Shirley Birney

    logged in via email @tpg.com.au

    Gay? Straight? Who gives a fig? Both have been around since time immemorial but the ones with the biggest guns get to write the rules.

    Homosexuality is only newsworthy because happy clappers and homophobes have defined it as such while comedians et al profit from the butt of their jokes.

    So is it in the public interest to disclose that I'm a heterosexual? Oops, I've done it - I'm out of the closet.

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    1. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      I'm with you on this issue Shirley, being gay or straight seems to be something that is only an issue to those with some sort of religious objection, sexual immaturity, or sexual insecurity within themselves.

      It hardly rates a mention among most of the people I know. Its of little interest unless you happen to fancy the person, and you want to know if they are going to fancy you back.

      Maybe its an age group thing. In my experience it seems to be straight men who speculate the most about the…

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Judith Olney

      "Maybe its an age group thing. In my experience it seems to be straight men who speculate the most about the sexuality of others, women, not so much"

      Do you have any statistics about that or are you just making it all up?

      Are you a feminist or a social scientist?

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    3. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      No Dale, this is my opinion about what I have observed, so I don't need to provide statistics. If you like I could say that as far as speculating about the sexuality of others, 83% of this speculation, in my observation, comes from men, and only 17% of this speculation comes from women. + or - a 1.5% error margin. Those statistics are about as useful as speculating about someone's sexuality, but some people seem to like having numbers to look at ;)

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Exactly.

      You just made up a story about men.

      A lot is said and written about the male gender, based on the most scant research, or no research at all.

      Social scientists just aren’t getting through to the public that they should be more scientific, instead of making things up.

      A major failure for social science.

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    5. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Alas Dale, you need only peruse the origins of gay discrimination in the chapters of the bible (Genesis, Leviticus, Judges, Romans, Corinthians, Timothy, Judges) to find they were all written by males.

      The first English law against homosexuality was the Buggery Act 1533, which made homosexuality punishable by death; typically hanging. And there were no female politicians even in the nineteenth century when gays were still being executed in the UK.

      In 2010, it was Pope Benedict XVI who condemned…

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    6. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      When women believe they can say anything they want about the male gender, and make up stories about men, and of course none of this is ever opposed by feminists, why should I believe anything you say?

      It seems women can't have it both ways.

      They can't make up stories about men, then at other times expect to be believed and expect to be taken seriously.

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    7. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Judith Olney

      I have noticed that you are big on opinion, (based on your own subjective, narrow, biased and discriminatory observations), never reference anything, and make things up.

      You are a credit to feminism, and the education system.

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    8. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      My opinions are certainly subjective Dale, that is the nature of opinions, and biased, definitely, we all have our own biases. Discriminatory, no, I don't discriminate, just put forward an observation.

      I quite often reference, where appropriate, but in the case of this article, it is based on opinion, not hard science, so there is no need to reference my own view on the situation.

      As for making things up Dale, I'll leave that to you, you are a master at making stuff up, you do it all the time. Fortunately there are not many that share your bitter, resentful, and unrealistic, view of the world, or women in particular, so you remain an aberration.

      I'm very glad you think I'm a credit to feminism, and the education system, I value both, and am very glad to be both educated and a feminist.

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    9. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Of course feminists believe in equality (excuse me while I cough), and they wouldn't make things up when they say mean and nasty things about men, because all has been very well researched by feminists (my cough is coming back again).

      You are a good example, because you wouldn't just make something up, and you carry out really reliable research, like the author.

      So its good to know university academics don't just make things up.

      And gossip is good also.

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    10. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      If you are able to refute the information I've provided, please supply the evidence. Otherwise, you are seriously off-topic.

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    11. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      Off topic?

      I would just like the author to state what is gossip and just made up, and what is true.

      For example, she could state what is true regards John Travolta, and what she has just made up.

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    12. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Judith Olney

      More abuse from you.

      You are a credit to feminism, and the education system.

      So what in the article is true, and what was made up by the author?

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    13. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      He can't Shirely, Dale is a troll than haunts any article that has anything to do with women, gender, sexuality, well any topic that he thinks he can slip his better, resentful and twisted views into.

      Most people don't take him seriously.

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    14. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Judith Olney

      Still more abuse.

      What you could do, is print out the article and then close your eyes and point to anywhere in the article, and that might be the part that is true about John Travolta.

      And the rest made up by the author.

      I do it all the time when I’m reading women’s media.

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    15. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      So you like abuse and making up stories about movie stars in Hollywood.

      You are a credit to feminism and the education system also.

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    16. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Abuse? Whatever Dale. I don't care much about John Travolta, or anyone else's sexuality Dale, I read the article because it is an interesting take on popular culture. I have no trouble working out what the author is saying, and whether any elements of the article are fact or opinion. If you do have difficulty with comprehending the article, that is your problem, not the author's and not the people commenting on the article.

      Women's media? You just made that up Dale and it's nonsense, you need to do some growing up.

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