As soon as I had my hands on my Blueberry guitar I could not let it go. It’s an extraordinary instrument. Not only is it beautiful to look at, it sounds incredible and imbued with a mystical spirit that makes me a better player. It is stunning for stage – it looks like no other guitar out there – and it plays like a dream. I’m a fan for life.
I got in “trouble” for outing someone. I don’t really feel like explaining it. It is much better if you actually just watch the video:
I got in big Twitter fights about it. (If you want to see them, they can be viewed here.) Twitter fights are kind of unfair, because there’s not enough ammunition in 140 characters. It’s just a bit of gunpowder and smoke and misspellings. No one really gets hit as hard as they should. I would love a social media site called “Book” with not just unlimited characters but unlimited chapters and bibliography-style hashtags. The sound that my iPhone would make would be that of a huge, leatherbound encyclopedia shutting really dustily: “You’ve got a new Book!” Then, if you want to fight, you can really throw the book at them!
I want to write a book on the subject of homophobia and outing, but that would take more words than I know, more pain than I wish to uncover, more rage than my heart can handle in its already weakened state, having been broken long ago thanks to a life of tragedy and blood, bullying and suicide, hatred and disease and so much death.
Outing celebrities has always been a popular pastime. It has its roots in the golden age of cinema, when gossip mavens and trashy tabloids would sling rumors about Rock Hudson or Valentino or Pola Negri or Ramon Navarro. I wasn’t around then, so I can’t tell how those early cinematic queers really felt about it, because even though the truth about their sexual orientation may have been common knowledge, no one really believed it. Or did they?
Like life, it was harder for some. It was a Sisyphean uphill battle for Liberace, who was constantly lobbing lawsuits at the media as he sat behind his gilded baby grand trying to proclaim his predilection for mature women. But who could look upon Liberace’s rhinestone athletic socks and think for a moment that his glitter-blind, semen-reddened eye had ever come to rest upon a vagina?
I wish I had known him. I wish I had hagged him. I loved him, and I saw his queerness in myself. Liberace made me feel safe inside when I didn’t even know why I was dangerous. I wish Liberace had come out at the height of his fame. I think so many more people would have survived what would be our deadliest years. Perhaps he couldn’t have, but I still don’t understand why he couldn’t have.
I learned about outing in the ’80s and ’90s from the fiery, political homosexual men who raised me. They believed in Harvey Milk and walked for miles with candles after his assassination in 1978. You can see them in their great numbers in the film Milk, a deep, blue ocean of my family, grieving, unbelieving. I come from this watershed time in queer history, when we were at war with homophobia, at war with ignorance, at war with our most formidable enemy, AIDS.
There were many grassroots gay political organizations becoming active then. We buried our soldiers every day, and then we came back to fight even harder because our ranks had grown smaller. I wish we had a military cemetery for those fallen soldiers, but all we have is a quilt. It’s a nice one, though. I love that quilt. I have cried so many tears on it. It’s heavy with the hopeless slaughter of an entire generation who should be remembered as veterans. AIDS was a war that they fought and did not come back from. We miss them. They are our heroes.
We wanted gay celebrities to come out because we were dying, and we needed help. I still feel this way.
My history in show business spans over a quarter of a century, and I have seen many people in the industry struggle with coming out, only to find much more success after they finally did. I have comforted many shaking hands worrying at rolled-up tabloids like worry beads, and I’ve borne witness to sorrowful shouts of “But it’s my business! It’s my private life!” I felt for them, but at the same time I didn’t understand, because they didn’t come from where I came from. They didn’t see any of the sickness and the suffering. They didn’t get really good at closing caskets or have that cremation smell permanently embedded in their clothes and hair. They were younger, or they were working on their careers and their wonderful talents, getting more and more successful and happy — then suddenly secure enough to come out. Their lives, as far as I could tell as part-innocent-bystander and part-industry-insider, seemed to improve greatly as a terrible fear was lifted, a terrible fear of themselves.
I want this for everyone. I want us all to feel good as ourselves. I want us all to feel good about ourselves. We deserve this. Our lives are hard enough as it is.
If public figures came out of the closet, then the LGBT kids who saw them on TV would feel safe, before they even knew why they felt dangerous. Maybe if enough people came out of the closet, gay kids would never feel dangerous. Maybe we could have a world where we could all just live. We may not all agree, but why can’t we just all live?
I have seen too much death to take things lightly. I don’t have a prescription for a chill pill. I don’t think that I am asking so much of celebrities. I don’t think I am asking that much of the world.
Excerpted from “No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood” edited by Henriette Mantel. Available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2013.
I don’t have children, and I am not sure if I have wanted them or never wanted them. It’s weird not to be able to decide. Kids are great, and many of my friends now have almost-grown-up kids, like in their late teens and early 20s, and I see these tall beings I once held in my arms, and I am alarmed, amused, and I want to cry, just for the passage of time and how it grows us like plants. I think about how, during all these years they’ve grown up, I must have grown down. That’s awful to realize.
Korean children get a lot of fuss made over them, I guess because life was tough in the old country, and it was a big deal if you survived. There’s a big party thrown when you are 100 days old, followed by another when you make it to one whole year. My parents took a lot of pictures of me at these parties, although I don’t remember a thing as I was really drunk at both. From the pictures I see the cake, though — all these big multicolored rice cakes, each pastel stripe a steamed layer of pounded and steamed rice flour, not sweet like birthday cake but a delicious treat all the same. It looks like a chewy Neapolitan ice cream, or a gay pride flag made of carbs. It’s the best and I want it, but I think wanting that cake isn’t enough reason to have a baby.
My mother goes crazy over babies. Some people just do. They love ’em! I never have. Babies scare me more than anything. They’re tiny and fragile and impressionable — and someone else’s! As much as I hate borrowing stuff, that is how much I hate holding other people’s babies. It’s too much responsibility. Of course they are lovely and warm and adorable, and it’s so funny when they decide they like you and hold you in return, but I am frightened of doing something wrong that will alter them forever. Give them a weird look and they might be talking to their therapist about me 50 years later. My mom has none of this fear. She loves kids to the degree that she will talk to other moms about their kids — she’s always done this — even white moms! This was so embarrassing when I was growing up. I was like, “Mom! Shut up! They’re WHITE!”
When it comes to children, my mom doesn’t believe in borders. She loves all children, and that’s a good example of mothering the world. I need to do that, but before I can, I need to get over my fear of kids in the first place.
It might not be a fear of kids themselves, as in truth I usually get along with them pretty well. They like my tattoos and my uncomplicated child/adult face. They identify with my orange shoes. I look like I would let them get away with stuff, and I do. My fear of having children is that, frankly, I just don’t want to love anyone that much. I have my own problems with love, and I have processed and played the same games for a lifetime, but what if I had to do that with someone I actually MADE?! (Or went all the way to China and adopted. This is not a joke — I have long thought I would adopt one of those baby girls from China, because really, who’s going to know the difference?)
I don’t know if I could stand that kind of commitment, or, if I am really honest, I don’t think I could handle being that vulnerable to someone else. My child would have my heart completely — having never truly given that over, in all my relationships in my life, starting with myself, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
I deeply respect runners. I can’t go more than say, 10 feet without totally winding myself, coughing and sputtering, red faced and sweating, staggering to my own imaginary finish line.
It must be incredible to actually complete a marathon. To challenge your body to go that far, like Pheidippides, running on, to what might feel like your last breath, and for a few today, terribly was. I may never do it, but I will always admire and envy the incredible spirit it takes to do such a thing.
I awoke this morning in Melbourne to the tragic events in Boston, and I am sickened and shocked and concerned, yet also moved by all the beautiful Bostonians banding together to help house and comfort those in need. It’s remarkable how human beings, normally closed up unto ourselves in our own private solar systems of need and greed, will suddenly open up homes, sofa beds and kitchens when terror looms large.
I see my old friend Patton Oswalt’s words over the internet, and I remember when he lived a block from me, and I could walk, not run over for drugs or coffee anytime, and here he offers solace once again, from all the way across the sea.
All my love to Boston, to the runners, the watchers, the fans in the stands, and for all of us here in the world, trying to understand.
I returned to the Aroma spa today, and I was late. You know when you are in LA and you are just trying to go to Koreatown, like 10 minutes from my house, but in LA Friday Traffic Time, which are like the DOG YEARS of drivetime, it can take you – well, a lot longer.
My incident last week there, which I wrote about here caused quite an uproar.
Lots of people were angry about things, mostly proud of me for speaking up, angry that I had been mistreated (while naked no less), but some mad because they felt I was being ‘full of myself’. I might be full of myself, but I would much rather be full of YOU baby – that’s my misguided attempt at responding to hatred with flirting.
Anyway, anyone who criticized my body last week just hear this – you who are without stretch marks, cast the first stone.
Sometimes I want to respond to people who say, “I read what you wrote and you are disgusting.”
Me: First of all, congratulations! I didn’t know you could read! Well, read this – FUCK YOU
But I don’t do that, at least I try not to.
People who hate my body don’t realize how much I love them, as they are in pain, and direct it at me because they don’t what else to do with their pain, so they want me to feel it. If you hate me, please continue to, and maybe the hate will come out of you enough where you will one day be happy. I will take your misery and turn it into poetry. I am like the Soymilkman of Human Kindness, like my hero Billy Bragg, but I am lactose intolerant.
I bowed so much when I finally arrived at Aroma Spa and Sport, and the whole staff came out to greet me. The sweet manager who had to deal with the tough job of negotiating with some irate Korean women who were terrified of my body and then who had to come to ME and talk to me about it – a bad situation for her and everyone involved – was there to help me. She apologized again, and thanked me profusely for returning to the spa, without hard feelings, without anger, but with lots of clogged pores that needed extractions.
Everyone was so nice to me in the spa, women even coming up and complimenting my tattoos and smiling and friendly. I wondered for a moment if they had closed the spa for the day and hired a bunch of actors to play the parts of Korean women bathers, but I actually recognized some of the faces – some of the same women who had judged me so harshly the previous week, those mean ladies, came up to me, with kindness and curiosity in their eyes. I sat in the sauna and watched golf and wept.
The treatments were remarkable, and although they tried to stop me from giving them any money, but I forced about $50 on them, as I am so Korean, and I can fight over a check until the police and ambulance are called and the golf clubs are out and swinging at heads. Sometimes the fight over the check at Asian restaurants is so intense, one family will leave in the squad car, one will leave in the ambulance, but I know whichever emergency vehicle I wind up in, I am going to be the one to pay. That is the winner. Winners pay.
I thanked them up and down, bowed like 100 times, and we took pictures together to post on the Aroma Facebook and my Twitter. I told them that it’s hard to be a Korean American comedian sometimes, because for me, as I work in an industry where there are not many who look like me and do what I do, and I grew up in this showbiz world, feeling alternately hated then invisible for my inability to fit in, and then I go to a place, where everyone is like me – looks like me that is (ok just in the face, not in the tattooed body) and they seem to hate me, I feel so lonely, as if there is no place for me in the world at all.
Also, the jimjilbang, Aroma Spa in particular, reminds me of the women in my family, especially my beloved Kun Immo (my mom’s Unee, i.e. Big Sis, i.e. The Notorious KIM, RIP Kun Immo – I am pouring a 40 of makgeolli into the ground for her and all my mom’s dead homies) who would take me to their favorite ones in Korea. They would wash my back and braid my hair and hold my face in their hands and ask me if I had any idea how beautiful I was, and how beautiful a woman I was going to grow up to be.
All I have of them now is their jewelry, willed to me in embarrassingly large amounts and stored in safety boxes all over the West Side, as they couldn’t give me any more days, because they only had so many, and had spent them all loving me and my mom, but in death, they could still give me jade and diamonds, to carry into my days, as the beautiful woman they all knew I would grow up to be. (my mom is slightly pissed off that I have it, but I totally let her borrow it! especially the emeralds. She works an emerald better than joan fucking Collins.)
The women at the Aroma Spa look like my family, who are all gone now, but are maybe watching me from heaven, where there’s probably an Aroma spa with a big screen tv in the sauna showing what is happening on earth, and I feel like, they are proud of me, because I found some new ladies that might do the same things for me that they did, until I see them once more, in the great jimjilbang in the sky.