The art of the bitch

Taking them down a peg or two

I’m a bitch. I have no trouble saying it. Over the years I’ve become rather proud. I’m intolerant of ignorance, selfishness, rudeness and human stupidity, an intolerance that manifests my glaring attitude. I’m willing to poke a jab at anyone who dares cross my line of fire.

Lately that’s been just about anyone, from the moron blocking my way on the escalator to the “woe is me” gym fag or the gay rights freedom fighter who is openly racist. I lash out at them all.

But bitching is far more than a verbal cannon, cocked and ready to destroy. It is a subtle and sophisticated social art. Women use a good bitch session to help them clear the air and burn off some steam with friends. Gay men have an almost inborn affinity with bitchiness, like in the case of Oscar Wilde’s frank, flippant tongue or actor Rupert Everett sending a critic his pubic hair to voice his distaste with a review.

Gay men seem pre-programmed with the skill. It’s always right there for us, just in case we ever need it. And fags like myself have embraced it fully. Our world sometimes benefits from nasty verbal revenge; it keeps people on their toes, makes them think a little before they proceed with their misguided plans.

My friends are accustomed to my bitchiness. Tamara has known the gay me longer than anyone. After a brief fling in grade 10 we both ran off to discover the joys of same-sex sex, though from the beginning she had pegged my power to use simple complaints as effectively as heated insults.

“I always took it like a defence mechanism,” she muses. “You didn’t like having to explain yourself to people, so you fended off the inquiry by being a bitch.”

My skills paid off in high school where being the bitch made me the most popular boy. Everyone wanted to hang out with Chaos, who would say anything to anyone without an apology. Like Mr Bigg in grade 11. One day he apprehended a drama room that I had booked for a rehearsal. I tried to do things the nice way, but when brushed off for the third time, my eyes narrowed.

“Are you incapable of following the same procedures as the rest of us,” I snipped in full view of his grade nine class. “Or are they just to keep us infidels in check?” The comment managed to spotlight how frail his authority was. Moments like these showed me how useful being a bitch was. It was a bonus that lots of people found it entertaining.

As I grew older, my straight friends continued to find it fun, but my growing circle of fag friends in the big city were always prepared to be offended. Dare I make a comment about anyone’s wardrobe choices? Like the time we accompanied a twink-infatuated friend to a Homohop that had managed to churn up an odd assortment of fashion crimes.


“I thought we were a fashionable people,” I said dryly. “It’s not that there’s a lot of ‘Oops,’ but I’m seeing a lot of ‘What the fucks.'”

“You should try to be more supportive,” my friend scowled. By lumping all the fashion crimes into one quick, decisive brush off, I’d been horribly unfair to my community.

This forced me to fine tune my skills once again. I didn’t want to give up bitching. I wanted to be better at it.

In urban environments, especially Toronto, you have to stand confidently behind your bitch. I remember once half-heartedly bitching about Britney Spears being the next Madonna. To this day, my associates continue to poke fun at my misstep.

My bitch voice is rarely confrontational, and to many it inspires a challenge or engagement to conversation. To my mind, those who get their backs up usually have beefs of their own. The classic case was this guy at Woody’s, who pulled up at my side and ordered me a beer before saying hi. Though he wasn’t my type, I did appreciate the free drink.

“We’ll get you one now,” he winked. “It cuts down on the time before we boogie.”

“I have no intention of leaving this stool,” I said in a withering tone. “With you or otherwise. But many thanks for the beer.”

Though I was immediately cast as Satan – the symbol of this boy’s inability to get laid – I can honestly say that if he had poked a few jabs back at me, I’d have been riding him home. Bitchiness can be like a filter. In gay circles, where loyalties can change like the tides, it’s a good way to determine who is worth the time.

Though my bitchiness has set me apart for much of my life, a historical look shows its universality. The label bitch was laid claim to in the 1970s by strong black women, like singers Millie Jackson and Betty Davis who used the edge of the bitch persona to be outspoken and forward thinking.

Josey Vogels, Canada’s most widely read sex and relationship columnist, has ambivalent feelings about the bitch label. It’s touchier for women than for gay men, with much depending on the context. Women use “bitch” to describe each other much in the same way that gay men use the word “fag.” But when it’s not under tight control it can be a problem.

“Gay men don’t have to deal with the history of the word like women do,” Vogels says. “It’s been such a nasty word for so long…. After a while you take it back, you throw it at the person.”

For Vogels, bitchiness belongs to both women and gay men, stemming from “all those things we get caught up in. The drama of interpersonal relations that straight men don’t have, but women and gay men do – like cruising andjealousy.”

It makes a lot of sense. “Bitch,” with its original meaning of a female dog, grew as an insult from empowered men threatened by powerful women. It maintains similar meanings when used by warring queens in the gaybourhood. Vogels sees bitchiness as more than just a defence mechanism; it’s a persona, which of course, makes it a handy tool for the drag and camp-oriented set.

“It’s a lot more fun to be bitchy, it’s more dramatic, and it draws attention,” she says.

In a way it’s like its own social group, like goths or punks. Prime-time TV shows are always quick to have a token bitch represented in the cast, like Karen on Will And Grace, Jerri on Survivor II, or Ling Woo on Alley McBeal. Bitches demand equal representation.

“But as an attitude it’s grown tiring,” says Vogels. “It’s easy to use, and becomes the lazy way out. It’s essentially negative.”

I may not see myself as overtly negative, but I wonder if my bitchy exterior suggests otherwise. I have to face the possibility that I am not so much a cutting social critic as a living stereotype, gradually becoming dried up and tired. For example, I’ve exiled myself from the gay club circuit after one too many laments about its pretensions.

My strong base of friends, though, tell me that, in my own way, I’m approachable. I can’t admit to it, though. It would be a chink in my armour, a compromise suggesting something less than greatness. And we all know that is simply just not so.

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Power, Toronto

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