Embrace Your Inner Acid Queen: How to Manage Your Mean Streak


We all have a shady side. Bruce J. Little explores the archetype of the vicious queen and how to navigate your queer mean streak.

My dark side is cunning. It’s the cruel and ruthless part of me that I try to hide, which -to my mortification- sometimes manages to evade the invisible Goodness Guardians at the gates of my mouth.

Spurts of venom that escape out of the shady parts of me to create chaos and pain, like the plagues from Pandora’s Box. In other words, I have my mean bitch moments.

Fortunately, there is no need for me to give myself too much of a public ass-whooping for this short-coming because I’m not special. Turns out most of us have mean moments. Some of us more than others. Like most of you, dear readers, I have also found myself at the receiving end of cruel and unusual viciousness.

Despite my occasional dark side dalliances, I like to think that I am predominantly a kind and loving person, but then there are those among us who should be classified as weapons of mass self-esteem destruction. Often amusing, yet chronically caustic.

The Vicious Queen Archetype

If you’re queer or spend a significant amount of time around queer people you should be aware of the Vicious Queen Archetype. It’s that gay guy with a tongue like a scalpel lacerating anyone he decides needs to be sacrificed to the amusement of the crowd. This person doesn’t think twice before getting personal and going for the jugular to take someone else down, and usually with a substantial audience of onlookers. You see, bizarrely, Vicious Queens usually come with an entourage of courtiers and can be surprisingly “popular”. There’s a reason for that we’ll get into later – so stick around.

We are all a complex blend of archetypes vying for dominance, according to Swiss psychiatrist, psychotherapist and psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung. All gay men are most likely their own unique blend of alpha male, fairy princess, bitchy queen and everything in-between. Jungian psychology says that these archetypes are hidden innate characteristics that get activated when they enter consciousness and can be constructed by cultural and individual experiences.

Sometimes we embody these archetypes consciously but often we embody them unwittingly. But why? Why are people (me, I am also people) so mean?

The Benefits of being a Bish

Experts agree that it’s a defense mechanism. Most gay men have endured trauma like rejection, alienation, bullying and homophobia. Being mean can be a learned response to this. Have you ever noticed how a wounded animal behaves when it’s in distress? It bites, even if you’re trying to help it. We’re similar. Considering this can help us to feel less victimized if we consider that this behaviour is an indication of someone who has been a victim themselves. Hurt people hurt people.

“When you insult or criticize someone else, it may say more about how you are feeling about yourself than the other person,” explains Nathan Heflick, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Lincoln. “Decades of research indicate that there is much truth in the popular belief that people are mean to others in order to feel better about themselves,” he says. But should we have sympathy for people who routinely break others down?

When we feel bad about ourselves, looking down on someone else can sometimes make us feel better about ourselves, echoes Professor Amanda Kirby, a multi-award winning “Honorary/Emeritus; Professor, Doctor | PhD”.

She believes that one of the reasons people are mean may be ‘Schadenfreude’. “This is when we laugh at someone else’s misfortune. It comes from the two German words, Schaden and Freude, harm and joy. There is part of our brain that gets excited when we are rewarded at someone else’s expense. The brain chooses pleasure over fear.” Obviously, this is no excuse to keep being a meanie though if you can help it. But why are people who are routinely abrasive and hurtful often so popular? I have a theory…

My Mean Girls Theory

I had a colleague that always seemed to have a crowd of loyal followers around her despite being consistently bitter and vitriolic. This person never had a nice thing to say about anyone and some of the judgements she would pass without restraint would sometimes take my breath away. Yet, nobody seemed to be repelled by this. They would occasionally laugh in shock at what she said or tacitly respond with wide eyes, but I cannot recall this woman ever sitting alone.

One day it hit me: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. The only way to avoid being openly scorned by this woman was to remain in her presence. She was notorious for completely slating someone the moment they got up and walked away. So, nobody strayed far from her. It was safer to stay in her orbit. Sadly, this rewarded her behaviour and ensured that she was always surrounded by a group of compliant sycophants regularly doing her bidding to escape her wrath. I see this behaviour repeated with bitchy queens. It’s all hilarious and deliciously scandalous as long as your name doesn’t come up. So how can we be better? How can we protect ourselves from this venom, both receiving it and spewing it?

The Antivenom

An obvious way to be less mean is to cultivate a healthy and sustainable self-esteem. As mentioned before, being mean is usually the result of feeling crap about yourself and then putting someone else down to temporarily feel better. Trouble is, none of us want to think ourselves as mean people so the guilt and self-admonishment that is often the outcome, can make us feel worse in the long run.

Nastiness can also be the result of anger that has not been managed, according to certified psychoanalyst and AEDP psychotherapist and supervisor Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW: “Because people act out their anger instead of first experiencing it internally. They react from the primary impulse of the anger, which always wants to be mean and aggressive.” She explains that “We do those things to discharge the energy of the anger; to get rid of the bad/painful/scary/angry feelings inside of us. And it works in the moment. But there are always negative consequences to acting out.”

The way to address this may be surprisingly uncomplicated, according to Hendel, “You do not need to be in therapy to work on your anger. You can begin practicing slowing down in the midst of your reactions and getting to know your internal experience any time you want.”

I guess it all boils down to being mindful of your thoughts and observing your feelings before impulsively reacting to them and lashing out. I know, I know, easier said than done, but I think it’s a worthwhile exercise for all of us to at least try, because as Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

Note to self: Don’t be a bitch, be lekker.

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