Reclaimed?

Cassandra Euphrat Weston

I hate the word bitch.

I mean, I want to hate it.

I mean, I can’t get enough of it rocketing off my tongue. But only because I am mocking it. I am repeating bitch to resist it. Bitch. Spit it. Bitch.

Do not use that word about me. No, do not use that word at all. When you call her a bitch (any her) the ice thickens between us. At the same time, I forgive you. I’m being ridiculous, of course. I forgive the word too. I never had a chance against its hot breath in my ear. Bitch.

In a question and answer session after a live performance, a poet I admire is asked about the word. I am too rapt to write down his answer, but he might have said something like: ‘Bitch’ strides through my poems like metal studs on a leather jacket. It is not inconsistent with my radical gender politics. It is a word used and reclaimed in the communities of gay men of color that are my home. It is not inconsistent with my politics.

My brain body-tackles my voice and pins it in my throat: Watch it, Cassandra, his experience is not yours. My whiteness blinds like sun off snow. But still—men reclaiming the thought that they might be as low, as base, as little, as scorned as women. Men ridiculing that thought. Yes, I want to say, finally you have found others like you, men who encompass femininity joyfully like you, with masculine bodies and masculine given names. It is heady. It is to be celebrated. But not with “bitch.” Call each other gurl, queen, call each other fag, call each other words that have no place in my mouth or out of my pen, but you haven’t defanged bitch. Don’t use bitch in relief.  Bitch says: thank god you’re not actually so diminished as a woman. Thank god.

In high school my friend refused to stop saying wench. He liked the slap and squelch of it, like a boot landing in slush. He liked the archaism of it, the quaintness slurred together with plausible deniability. It’s a pirate word. It’s a Shakespeare word. He’s now pyrotechnically out, and I wonder if his queerness was an excuse, even then? He’d laugh when I protested, meaning: Calm down, Cassandra. It’s really not a big deal.

It’s just camp, some would say. But for me, “camp” means a tent in the woods. Okay, no, I can’t barricade myself off with such facile distinctions. I don’t know exactly what is and isn’t camp, or what is and isn’t mine to condemn, but I think the idea of camp uneasily snags onto bitch. Maybe wench. And it has something to do with parody, but when you say bitch, who are you mocking? Homophobes, or women themselves? Are you sure?

Calm down, Cassandra. Suspicion does not become you. Militancy is so passé. After all, these days feminists revel in contradictions. Haven’t you heard of Bitch magazine? Haven’t you heard girls call each other bitch? Haven’t you heard bitch fall from a gay man’s lips sleek and welcoming? It’s a term of endearment now. It’s a reclamation. An act of resistance. Catch up with the times. Don’t be such a bitch.

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