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Gay, etc.

Posted by ESC on August 01, 2004

In Reply to: Bings words meant something different posted by Lotg (OZ) on August 01, 2004

: I was playing a Bing Crosby CD (yeah I know, there were no CDs then, but there are now). The swift evolution of words becomes apparent when you listen to his songs.

: He sings of 'making love', of having a 'love affair' and of having a 'gay' time.

: Then, making love didn't have to involve sex. Then a love affair didn't have to be clandestine. Then, gay didn't mean homosexual.

: This evolution has been so swift.

: When I was a kid (showing my age hey?), it was normal to have a gay time at a party. And while there may well have been gay people at the party, that wasn't the focus and that wasn't the meaning.

: Can anyone tell me how 'gay' evolved to mean homosexual by-the-way?

"'Homosexual (from the Greek 'homo,' same) and related words, as any references to homosexuality, were censored from most family newspapers, radio stations, and movies in America until the mid 1940s."

Homosexuality was "celebrated as 'eros'" in Ancient Greece and some other societies. But in Europe in the Middle Ages and in America in colonial times, intercourse between males, known as "sodomy," was punishable by death. So most people were quite naturally silent homosexual inclinations or activities.

"The first informal derogatory terms for true homosexual men (as opposed to effeminate heterosexual men) came into common use during the 1840s." They were followed by even more offensive words during the next hundred years: faggot or fag (1905, probably from fagot, bundle, lump, old woman). These were followed by fairy, queer, pansy, fruit or fruitcake, limp-wrist, and swish.

"It wasn't until the 19th century that Americans first heard the word lesbian (referring to Lesbos, the birthplace of the 6th century B.C. homosexual poet Sappho)." Writers in the 1800s described 'smashes' and 'spoons' (infatuations) between college women, but these relationships never aroused much suspicion until Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) alerted people to the sexual motives underlying everyday behavior."

"Gay" meaning homosexual first appeared in "Underworld and Prison Slang" in 1935, "where a 'geycat' was defined as a homosexual boy. Prior to that it had been used to describe someone who was addicted to social pleasures and dissipations , and was later applied to prostitutes or women who led an immoral life . By 1955, gay was widely acknowledged as an American euphemism for homosexual."

"By the late 1980s into the 1990s 'gay' had become the standard word for those whose sexual preference was homosexuality, although the formerly derogatory 'queer' was adopted by many younger lesbians and gay men to describe themselves."

From "Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English from Plymouth Rock to Silicon Valley" by Stuart Berg Flexner and Anne H. Soukhanov (Oxford University Press, New York, 1997). Page 378-379.

"Something queer is happening to the word 'queer.' Originally a synonym for 'odd' or 'unusual,' the word evolved into an anti-gay insult in the last century, only to be reclaimed by defiant gay and lesbian activists who chanted: 'We're here, we're queer, get used to it.' Now 'queer' is sneaking into the mainstream - and taking on a hipster edge as a way to describe any sexual orientation beyond straight. . ."

From "Does wide use of 'queer' mean society is changing?" by Martha Irvine, Associated Press. The Courier Journal, Louisville, Ky., November 14, 2003. Online at


From a book about "gay families":

BOTHIE - Child whose mother and father are gay . "Noel Black, 30, is a 'bothie,' meaning he had a lesbian mom and a gay dad." Page 34.

COLAGE - Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere. Page 11.

CULTURALLY QUEER/EROTICALLY STRAIGHT - "Stefan Lynch, 31, the first director of COLAGE (See COLAGE) invented the term to describe the bicultural identity of heterosexual children who are linked to queerness through their heritage.The assumption is that straight adult children belong in the straight 'mainstream' community. At the same time, however, these same children are often viewed as outsiders to the mainstream. Because they have been 'queered' by their upbringing, their sensibilities set off cues that they're not quite like other straight people, placing these children in a cultural limbo." Page 198-199.

GAYBY BOOM - An increase in the number of single and partnered LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) people who are becoming parents. Page 5.

HOMOPHOBIA, DEGREES OF - "Because the word 'homophobia' has its limitations for describing all levels of prejudice that LGBT communities face, I add two terms to define the severity of homophobia more comprehensively. At one end of the spectrum of homophobia are people I call 'homo-hostile' and at the other end are people I refer to as 'homo-hesitant." While a phobia - bear - may be at the root of all prejudice, I make a distinction between the people who are intentionally hateful and those who are simply uncertain." Page 12.

MIXED ORIENTATION MARRIAGE - One partner is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered but the marriage stays intact. Page 66.

QUEER FAMILIES - Families where a parent is LGBT.

QUEERSPAWN - May be considered offensive. Coined by Stefan Lynch, the first director of
COLAGE (see COLAGE). "'Queerspawn' has been considered a more radical term, and while some children find it offensive, some people in this book used the term proudly." Page 11.

QUEER FAMILY KINSHIP TERMS - "Sons and daughters are often inconsistent when they choose kinship terms to refer to their parent's partners. Without a universally understood name for that relationship, children will say 'other mother,' 'stepmother' or simply call her by her first name. In reference to the couple, a child might say 'my mom and her partner,' 'my moms,' and 'my parents' all in the same conversation. These terms need to be understood within their context. If, for example, a son of a lesbian is talking about his 'mom and stepmom,' he is referring to his mother's partner, not his father's wife. Page 11.

From "Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It is" by Abigail Garner, HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 2004.

HOMOPHOBIA - "n. fear or hatred of homosexuals and homosexuality. Coined from homosexual + phobia. An identically spelt word had been coined (from Latin 'homo' 'a man') in the 1920s, meaning 'fear of men or of mankind'; but there is no record of its use since 1960. The related 'homophobic' and 'homophobe' are first recorded in 1971.1969 'Time' Such homophobia is based on understandable instincts among straight people, but it also involves innumerable misconceptions and oversimplifications..."

"From "20th Century Words: The Story of New Words in English Over the Last 100 Years" by John Ayto (Oxford University Press, New York, 1999).

DOWN LOW, THE - "HOUSTON -- Once a week the five friends, all members of the Abundant Life Cathedral, get together to eat sushi, sip wine and talk. But one recent afternoon the women chose a different activity: They went to see 'Not a Day Goes By,' a musical about black men on the 'down low' who, while not calling themselves gay or bisexual, have sex with other men, often behind the backs of their wives and girlfriends. To these women, it was a subject of increasing urgency. 'Once I found out how prevalent the 'down low' was in our community, I was very afraid,' said one of the women, Tracy Scott, a 37-year-old government relations consultant. .." From "AIDS fears grow among black heterosexual women," by Linda Villarosa, New York Times. Reprinted in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader on April 6, 2004.