Thursday night, comedian Margaret Cho sent out a series of tweets revealing that she had been a sex worker, expressing her support for women in the sex industry and her disdain for those who judge and criminalize sex work.
Her message: “I support sex workers because I was one.”
A few of the many tweets she posted:
Sex work is simply work. For me it was honest work. I was a sex worker when I was young. It was hard but well paid. There's no shame in it.
— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) October 29, 2015
It's hard work that's not protected by law enforcement or unions. It's unfair. We have the right to our bodies +work https://t.co/wcvQm07spI
— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) October 30, 2015
Cho’s perspective — that sex workers deserve protection under the law — is one that is shared by Amnesty International. Earlier this year, the organization released a draft proposal that called for the decriminalization of “all aspects of sex work.” Both sex workers and sex worker advocates largely supported it, based on the belief that legalizing — or, at least, decriminalizing — sex work is the most effective means of ensuring the health and safety of sex workers while simultaneously fighting sex trafficking, particularly the trafficking of minors.
But the proposal incited backlash from the likes of Gloria Steinem, Lena Dunham and Meryl Streep, who claimed decriminalization would “support a system of gender apartheid.” They pushed, instead, for a system that would keep the purchase of sex illegal but not criminalize sex workers, a structure based on the prostitution law in Sweden.
These tweets from Cho come just over a month after she opened up to a Billboard reporter about sexual abuse she experienced as a child. In the interview, Cho described how she was molested by a close family friend from when she was five years old until she was 12:
I had a very long-term relationship with this abuser, which is a horrible thing to say. I didn’t even understand it was abuse, because I was too young to know. I endured it so many times, especially because I was alone a lot.
Her abuser is still alive, she said, and her family knows what happened. But according to Cho, “They don’t really want to talk about it, because that would make it real somehow. I think Asian culture often is in denial about such things. Like, if they don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist.”
She went on to say that, at 14, she was raped by someone she knew. “I was raped continuously through my teenage years, and I didn’t know how to stop it. It was also an era where young girls were being sexualized. For me, I think I had been sexually abused so much in my life that it was hard for me to let go of anger, forgive or understand what happened.”
Her peers were even more dismissive, she remembers:
When I was raped in high school, it was the first time I had sex that was penetrative, so it was different and weird. I told someone that I was raped, and the kids at school found out and said, “You are so ugly and fat that the only way anybody would have sex with you is if they were crazy and raped you. So don’t act like you are hot and somebody wanted to fuck you… It’s because you are disgusting, and you deserve to be raped.”
One song on her new album — her second, after 2010’s Grammy-nominated Cho Dependent — is called “I Want to Kill My Rapist.” One lyric: “I thought I forgave you, but I’d mistake you… I see clearly and sincerely, you’ll pay dearly.” To Billboard, she said, “I’m a victim and now a survivor of sexual abuse and rape, and I think it’s really hard to talk about it. I think having a song to perform live will allow others to talk about it. It’s a huge issue, and this was cathartic for me.”
“The rage women have against abusers is real,” she said. “We have the power to come forward and say ‘This happened to me.’”