Category Archives: Sass & Prattle

Bitch and proud!

As a woman (or womon, if you prefer—personally I like riot grrl) I have made myself a personal goal to reclaim the word ‘bitch’ and make it something positive. Does that make you uncomfortable? Good. That’s a place to start.

We can do it!

Part of image “Rosie the Riveter” by J.Howard Miller

Us queer folk are well versed in the art of reclaiming words. It comes with the territory.

Members of minority groups inevitably get labeled. Whatever the linguistic origin of those words, they are designed to hurt. Labels are made to put an oppressed group in their place and lay bare their differences as a negative. Take the word ‘queer.’

The word itself originated from the Old High German word ‘twerh’ meaning oblique. The word itself is an adjective and means odd or off-centre. It was first recorded as an adjective to describe gay men in 1922. As men who are odd and off-centre, I suppose.

In the 1980s the gay community decided to reclaim the word. It was impossible to ignore the fact that ‘queer’ was being used as a weapon by homophobes. So instead of ignoring it we tamed it. We removed the sting and made it harmless. Something to be proud of, even.

In most of North America today, ‘queer’ is simply used as a term to encompass all members of our community: gay, lesbian, trans, bi, or any other descriptive word s/he’d like to use. Hence the name of this blog.

Today queer can still be used in the context of an insult, but it’s a weak one and we don’t give much credence to it. The few who still use ‘queer’ in a derogatory context are backward and bigoted. Today, if someone calls me queer, I can look at them square in the face and say, “Yeah, I am. What’s your point?”

Now let’s take a look at ‘bitch.’ The word’s dictionary definition is “a female dog.” This was always the case, even in its Old English form. I can’t imagine why this would ever be considered an insult. I live with two female dogs. They are kind, intelligent and full of personality. When they play with male dogs, they are not lessor beings. In fact they often take the lead.

I would be proud to be grouped among them. More so than some members of my own species.

Still, ‘bitch’ has a long and sordid history. It’s been used to describe women in the lowest and meanest ways possible for about 600 years, to denote women as ugly, mean or hysterical.

To this day, ‘bitch’ is used to dismiss women with important things to say and do. It’s certainly not uncommon for powerful, intelligent women, especially those in business or politics, to be dismissed by a rival as a bitch.

Some women have already been reclaiming bitch, and wear the badge proudly. There are multiple pop-culture examples, from bumper stickers to online memes discussing how awesome it is to be a bitch. In 1996 the feminist quarterly entitled Bitch published its first issue. The publication is still experiencing success.

Others feel uncomfortable with the idea of reclaiming ‘bitch.’ It has been used for so long to subjugate and victimize women who are strong and outspoken. Just like ‘queer,’ it can be hard to feel comfortable and come to terms with the word—all the more reason to embrace it.

Women, trans and cis, make up more than half the human population and yet we can find daily examples of subjugation and abuse. We need as much empowerment as we can get, and language is one of our strongest tools. Language evolves.

Just like ‘queer,’ it’s impossible to avoid hearing ‘bitch’ in a negative context, so we have to change it.

So here’s to all the bitches and their supporters. Next time someone calls you or someone you love a bitch, look them in the eye and tell them, “and proud.”

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Looking for Cookies

Doing my Master of Social Work program here in Toronto has been an eye-opening experience so far. Ryerson University uses a specifically anti-oppression framework in their program, which is part of the reason I chose it, what with my history of activism and having worked at PTS where we talk about anti-oppression on an ongoing basis. In this process, I’ve come to a revelation: I’ve been looking for cookies.

I’m not talking the sugary kind that you eat (although if any of you cute queers wanted to bake me some I wouldn’t be opposed 😉 ). I was looking for ally cookies.

Ally cookies, for those who don’t know, is a somewhat mocking idea that marginalized folks have used to discuss the recognition that privileged folks try to get for essentially as Kayla, the volunteer and programs coordinator calls it, “not being a douchebag.” So much so, that jokingly PTS through the years has internally talked about instead of cultural competency workshops instead “How not to be a douchebag” workshops.

I’m an activist by nature, fundamentally I believe that one needs to actively engage in the creation of change. That creation can come from many different avenues other than marching on the street, but I do that too. And no, I don’t think activist is a dirty word. As a result I genuinely believe in the importance of anti-oppression and challenging the multiple marginalizations within gender, sexuality, race, ability, profession, class and more.

As a result I try to advocate on issues even where I am privileged, including importantly race. Now racism is a very real issue that needs to be discussed and challenged in the queer community, which is why I was so happy when QPOC-IT started. And those of us who are white do, in what I know to be true, have a role to play in that. But, that role is one of ally working in solidarity instead of white saviour.

Often I find myself calling out racism in a conscious attempt to stop the oppression that exists. However, at times I mess up as I look for recognition from people of colour for what is essentially just being a decent human being. I take up more space at times calling out racism then people of colour who are there, which only further reinforces the racism that exists in some ways. Perhaps this comes from white guilt or settler guilt, perhaps it simply comes from arrogance, but I definitely need to sit back and be quiet more often.

So what I suggest for myself and others is that we put away looking for ally cookies. In the queer community we have many different factors that marginalize us and let those of us with more privilege, not work for, but work in solidarity with marginalized folks. So no more ally cookies for me, but if you ever want to have a date some time we can eat the other kind.

Jade Pichette:

Former Education and Outreach Co-ordinator

Toronto Queerism Columnist

My time at PTS (a student placement story)

I joined PTS in June, as a co-op student after finishing classes at Everest College in the Addictions and Community Service Worker Program. I am training to be an Addictions Counsellor and I have a personal vested interest in this field of study. I want to give back to and make a change in the Queer Community of Ottawa by helping others take back control of their lives. I had left Ottawa to better my life, and I did. Though I wasn’t born in Ottawa, the city is my home and I want to make it a better place for the next generation of GLBTTQ people. So I came back here to do my education. I feel that this is the best way to say to all those people (that said I would never change, that I could never change) “Fuck you!” “I can, I have and not only will I continue to change, I will BE the change, I want to see in the world.” “I can, I will and I have made a difference, and I will continue to for as long as I am able”

I came to PTS knowing very little about the services they offered as I have been out in Ottawa for going on fifteen years, though I have known of PTS for quite some time. I was nervous at first, not knowing what really to expect. If someone had told me five years ago, that I would be working in an office, I would have told them they were crazy, but here I am. It has taken some getting used to and I am still working out the kinks and adjusting, but the team here are great people and with their help, I am fitting in pretty good.

One of the duties I was assigned is to develop a peer lead addictions group program that will be run for and by members of the Queer Community in Ottawa. I was very pleased when I was asked to do this. Wanting to give back to the community, I feel this is the best way I can leave a lasting impression. I hope that long after I leave Ottawa to help queer folks in other parts of the country, my work will live on.

One of the other duties I have is to be here for peer support for youth on Wednesday nights. It amazes me to see such a wonderful group of diverse young people coming together to support each other. When I was that age I thought I was the only gay person in the world. It’s a nice feeling when you know that younger people have more resources at hand and that there is more positive support for them then I did at that age and it’s also a nice feeling to know that I will have a hand in that, again leaving a lasting impression through the work I am doing here at PTS. So if you are a youth and need someone to talk to, I am here.  See you around.

Mario

… So When Did You Come Out?

So when did you come out? When did you know? These are questions that as someone who has been out in the queer community for about a decade over and over again. In fact it is often the most frequent question asked of queer people, including in the communities themselves.

For me I don’t know what to answer. Do I saw ten when I was brought as a queerspawn to Pride for the first time? Or how about thirteen when the school found out my mom was bisexual? Or how about fifteen when the school found out I was pansexual? Or how about sixteen when some of my friends found out I was trans or seventeen when other people found out? Or eighteen when I started being in poly relationships? Or how about every time I meet someone new or do a workshop?

Each and every one of these times I’ve come out and I don’t really know which I go with. The core of this is heterosexism and hissexism. In other words, the assumption within society is that unless someone tells you otherwise that they are straight, cis, monogamous, vanilla and that their friends and family are as well.

Once the mere aspect of coming out was a revolutionary act – and for some people in certain communities it still is. To come out was to loose your friends, most of your family, sometimes children and to live a completely different life. Many people currently (in mostly white, western, cis communities) however, still live the life they were living before coming out. One of the recent examples of that is Anderson Cooper who came out to mostly, “oh that is great and it is about time.” Formerly people in public roles were publically outed by radical queer groups to prove the existence of queers everywhere and to challenge hypocrisy, which would then cost them their jobs.

I think within the queer community too much focus is still put upon coming out and more needs to be put on the recognition that coming out for many people is the start or continuation of their life not the be all and end all of it. In the words of Christopher Atkins: “Who cares who comes out of the closet or not, so long as you’re happy?”

So let us focus on what makes us happy and healthy. Let us reinvent the concept of ‘coming out.’ How would you reinvent it?

Jade Pichette: Education Co-ordinator