Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Vacation Post: Slang For Gay ... Old-School

I once had a person comment on the blog that they didn’t like me using the word “queer” when talking about The Gays. I responded that, while I know, and believe me, I know, the pain that word can cause, I was taking it back and in doing so, taking away some of the pain caused when I first started hearing that word in relation to me.

See, before 'gay' became the common and accepted word choice in describing homosexuals, there were a whole bunch of other words about men who loved men; some names were self-created and others were thrust, often cruelly, upon gay, bi, and queer men. 

So, as a way of keeping the words, and our history, alive, and, again, as a way of taking them back, let’s look at some ways in which people referred to The Gays …

A common, mostly innocuous term of the middle of the 20th century used among gay and bi men. An alternative: Mary Louise.

Light in the loafers
Mid-century American. It can refer more to demeanor than sexual practices, but it is mildly derogatory.

Friend of Dorothy
Refers to Dorothy Gale of The Wizard of Oz? Played by Judy Garland in the film? Get it? Huh?

Polite but derogatory; there was a Broadway play and film of the same name.

Australian/British slang that is said to be derived from the sounds the bugee makes when expelling air from a freshly stretched anus; poofter is also acceptable.

1950s American slang popularized by J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye.

Can be as widely used as the word fuck with as many meanings. Based on the word buggery [sodomy], it carries with it a rowdy feel, as it is a word straight British men tend to favor.

This one denotes not only homosexuality but effeminacy. 

When British eccentric Stephen Tennant was but a lad, he ran out of the family mansion one morning to play, only to come screaming back to his mother in tears. When she queried him about his distress, he replied, “Mother, there are pansies in the garden, and they are staring at me!”

Fruit, also Fruitcake
A British term, possibly from the gay subculture language Polari. Fruitcake can also mean a crazy person because gay meant crazy.

The earliest reference available come from Karl Heinrich Ulrichs' book The Race of Uranian Hermaphrodites, i.e., the Man-Loving Half-Men in 1864. The term came to be used mostly by German men. There is still a gay touring agency called Uranian Travel.

Nancy boy
Based on a vaudeville term. The Nance was a gay burlesque character that was a staple of the times, though it is now considered derogatory.

Pillow biter
It was ALLEGED that British MP Jeremy Thorpe, left, a former leader of the U.K. Liberal Party, was having a homosexual affair with Norman Scott, right, a model, and that Thorpe claimed he had to “bite the pillow” to keep quiet so his wife would not hear him being buggered in the next room. This story seems fairly conflated, but amusing enough to repeat here.

Shirt lifter
Well, obviously you don’t want to get your shirt besmirched when you're prpeared to bugger or be buggered, do you? 

Essentially meaning that despite outward markers of male and female gender, a person’s sexual nature was inverted. This term was popularized in the late 19th and early 20th century by sexologists, but doubtfully used among the actual inverts. 

And this was long before queer and fag and ass bandit and cock jockey and flamer and … oh there are so many ….


the dogs' mother said...

History thru language. Very interesting. :-)

Toni said...

Very interesting but can I just sneak in that there are many "pillow biters" in the heterosexual world...just saying!!!!

anne marie in philly said...

I like "gay" and the british "poof"; I have more gay friends than str8 friends!

Raybeard said...

Very wide-ranging glossary here, Bob.

The first time i read 'Catcher in the Rye', which was only about 20 years ago, I was dismayed that such an almost universally admired book (compulsory reading in many American schools, I believe) should freely use the word 'flit' with an obviously derogatory sense in its final episode - this making me wonder what message that gives out to any young readers, gay or otherwise. It's not helped, of course, by the object of this verbal target being a man who makes an unwanted pass at the novel's young male 'hero' who runs away from the guy at the first opportunity, thereby reinforcing the idea that gays are just predatory and wanting to corrupt the young. I still feel much the same way, especially now that one hopes that we live in more 'enlightened' times - but it nevertheless gives out a very negative message unless it's qualified by an explanation of the conservative social attitudes of those former times which still, of course, live on in certain areas.

Helen Lashbrook said... have you seen this about Jeremy Thorpe, who was alleged to have tried to have Scott killed.

As for fruitcake I'd only heard of it terms of 'nutty as a fruitcake'. But neither poof nor poofter is acceptable over here and nor should it be any more than all the others.

Raybeard said...

Like Helen above, I'd only heard the phrase 'nutty as a fruitcake' as meaning mentally 'unhinged' generally and not particularly relating to sexuality.

Also, re 'bent': When I was growing up a commonly used phrase was "bent as a two bob watch", meaning gay ('Bob' = shilling, so a watch so cheap would be hopelessly unreliable). I've not heard the phrase in a very long while now. Probably fallen into disuse.

Greg said...

And here I thought a "Friend of Dorothy" just enjoyed watching The Golden Girls....

Professor Chaos said...

I heard the term "shirt-lifter" once and I totally didn't get it. Sounded to me like a guy who wanted to see some boobies.

Also, the guy on the right was a model? England must've been a pretty homely country back in the day!

Will J said...

The term Butt Pirate has a certain swagger to it. The term Fudge Packer conjures up images of the Lucille Ball episode when Lucy and Ethel get jobs on the candy factory.

Fearsome Beard said...

The only two I haven't heard nor used are Shirt lifter and invert. I will certainly add them to my volcabulary. To use them and own them relieves them of any power to be derogatory. I've always been partial to poofter since the very first time I every heard it. I'm a faggot to the core.