Bitz 'n' Bobz in attack on gay culture ...

A new act at the Queer Up North festival aims to expose the misogyny of drag shows.
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The Independent Culture

Self-proclaimed gay socialist transvestite poets aren't exactly two-a-penny in our cultural vistas, but then neither are lines like Chloe Poems's: "Drag is dead/ put it to bed/ lay this misogyny to rest".

Self-proclaimed gay socialist transvestite poets aren't exactly two-a-penny in our cultural vistas, but then neither are lines like Chloe Poems's: "Drag is dead/ put it to bed/ lay this misogyny to rest".

How he means it. Alongside David Hoyle, the artist formerly known as The Divine David, Poems is half of an an incendiary double act of drag queens called Bitz 'n' Bobz. Their mission? To challenge gay male misogyny, reignite the revolutionary spark of gay liberation and, through a satire so savage it leaves you winded, maybe, just maybe, change the world.

Hoyle's pale blue eyes flash with mischief. Chloe, in real life a 38-year-old Liverpool-born performance poet and playwright called Jenni Potter, rubs his week-old beard. The gay press are already trying to ignore them - difficult, as the two cult performers represent the articulate wing of gay politics. "See what we're up against?", Potter asks.

In a word, misogyny. Not because either man thinks he's a woman - separately and jointly, their stage acts are more interested in issues around individuality - but because, they believe, a rampant hostility towards women infects gay male culture. Nowhere, they believe, is this antagonism better developed than in the traditional character of the drag queen, found in circuit pubs and clubs the length and breadth of Britain. "Calling women fish, ridiculing female anatomies; I've been in clubs where I've stopped drag acts because of the vileness coming out of their mouths," says Potter. "It's quite common, for instance, for drag acts to say, 'Oh, it's so hot in here, I'm sweating like a f---ing rapist'. How do they know? What does that mean? How do they think that women in the audience may feel? There's a massive disregard."

To this end, both men have created Bitz 'n' Bobz, a brace of horrendous old queens who are, declares Hoyle, "devoid of all humanity. A couple of neo-Nazis, although they'd say nouveau nastiche because that's camper."

As Bitz 'n' Bobz, aka Rachel Cleansing and Nancy Germany, Potter and Hoyle take such traditional drag patter and hurl it straight back. "Anti-art, anti-politics, anti-everything, they're the authentic voice of the gay scene," says Hoyle, "and by exaggerating them to the point of manic parody, we're holding up a mirror to society."

Clearly they seem to be pressing all the right buttons. In the few outings Bitz 'n' Bobz have had since their inception nine months ago, plain-clothes drag queens have organised demonstrations against them and penned writing campaigns. "One letter said that drag is entertaining and beautiful and a fantasy that helps you forget the problems of the world," - Hoyle says in an infantile voice - "Well, Bitz 'n' Bobz couldn't have put it better themselves."

But let it not be said that the two don't relish a fight. As The Divine David, the Manchester-based Hoyle, now 37, conducted a 10-year reign of terror against the increasingly consumerist nature of gay culture. His was a maddened, vitriolic character charged with an acerbic wit and rare intelligence. At venues that included the performance club Duckie, the ICA and, most recently, two series on Channel 4, he railed against the lovelessness and political lassitude of gay life.

Potter ploughed a parallel furrow. Becoming involved in youth theatre as a teenager, he cut his political teeth in SWP and seven years ago Chloe Poems sprang fully armed from his imagination. As Poems's first book of verse, immodestly titled Universal Rentboy, shows, Potter tackles, with an X-rated immediacy, similar themes; in performance he makes a compelling advocate, slamming out a verbal rhythm with the pugnacity of a bare-knuckle fighter.

Last month Hoyle killed off his famous alter-ego in considerable style in a show at a London ice rink. "It required huge energy levels to generate The Divine David," he says - he now intends to concentrate on painting. "It got to the point where I felt unformed as David Hoyle."

Arguably, the ice-show was the height of his success, but the love Hoyle's character inspired was, perhaps, its weakness. By concentrating on the one theme, Bitz 'n' Bobz now share the same delicious tension that characterised The Divine David's early years.

Theirs is, avers Potter, a timely intervention in a gay world that has lost its zeal for social change. "Even on the level of friendly banter, traditional drag's acknowledgement of female disgust is profound. But because we're gay, we've been given a leeway to be really rude. Just because we're oppressed, it's somehow given us a voice to oppress others. It's very damaging.

"It seems that an oppressed culture finds it very difficult to ask questions about itself. I want to question my culture - but to be seen to do that marks you out by people who don't want to rock the boat. Well, my culture - white, gay, whatever - is massively flawed and what we say is meant to be provocative. If we can question our culture, you can, too. That's the power of Bitz 'n 'Bobz: they offer you an opportunity, a space to see these two dissident voices in a very powerful light."

On stage, Bitz 'n' Bobz may sway through a burlesque routine, but they're absolutely focused. To reinforce their message, Nancy and Rachel appear, in their full, sinister mien, on Drag is Dead, a 25-minute film they made with underground film-maker Lee Baxter.

Says Hoyle, "They're amoral gay businessmen - they made a lot out of the gay pub and club circuit. They do charity events from time to time to con the public into thinking that they're nice. They're the kind of celebrities who have an opinion on everything from crotchless knickers to whether Nigerian political poets should be given asylum here. 'Why do you write political poetry in a country where you know you're going to be persecuted?'" - Hoyle has segued effortlessly into Nancy/ Bobz . "'Just snap your pen in two, Really, you bring it on yourself. Why not just do drag?'"

"Can you get shot for drag?", asks Potter aka Rachel aka Bitz. "Don't think so."

"Not for demeaning women", replies Bobz. 'No, you'll get your own TV series and become stars like us". They cackle like demons.

"I suppose," muses Potter, "when we ask questions about drag culture we're killing the final sacred cow, if you'll forgive the pun. Drag's been part of gay life for so long, it's become a conceit that it's beyond criticism ... We're trying to redress the balance, to rethink what drag actually does. It'll upset some people, but if we can make things a little better then, surely, that's all anyone could hope for."

Bitz 'n' Bobz in 'Drag is Dead': Green Room, Manchester (0161 907 9000), 10 September; Chloe Poems's 'Universal Rentboy' is published by The Bad Press, £6.95; David Hoyle is in 'Apocalypse Now and Next Week'; Castlefield Gallery, Manchester (0161 832 8034), 15 September to 29 October