Word of the Gay

*Straight talk on Gay language, one word at-a-time.

Archive for November, 2010

#36 “pronoun dance”

Avoiding a subject that you are confused by, or uncomfortable with, is something that most people deal with at some point in their life.  However, when dealing with sexual orientation, and/or gender identity and expression, some people find it so difficult that they are unable to use the proper pronouns to describe or refer to someone else.  And unfortunately, far too many individuals (in my opinion) use this “pronoun dance” to avoid speaking about someone else’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or to speak about their own open and honestly.

When someone transitions from one gender to another, their family and friends, and extended network of acquaintances, colleagues, etc. can find it confusing and difficult to discuss that person in conversation.  For some, discussing someone else’s  new identity who has transitioned from one gender to another can be difficult , especially when they were so familiar with their old identity.  Remembering to keep names and pronouns straight is a very important thing to be able to do for someone who is trans.  However, it’s only a fraction of the trans experience and the complexity of their experience.  Due to this, it is not uncommon for some to mistakenly refer to someone using their former identity (either by name or by pronoun); in a worst-case scenario, the use of gender-neutral pronouns are used to avoid the subject.

In other cases, there may be times when someone disguises their sexual orientation through the use of gender-neutral pronouns – in order to keep their sexual orientation private.  For instance, for members of the U.S. Armed Forces that are either gay, lesbian, or bisexual, they are forced to keep their personal hidden on a daily basis.  That is because the military’s current ban on openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – a.k.a. DADT) has forced them to keep their sexual orientation and relationships secret.  Therefore, many will refer to their partners by first name only if they have a gender-neutral name (i.e. “Chris”, “Pat”, or “Jay”), may even invent a boyfriend/girlfriend or  husband/wife, and will avoid the use of “her”, “him”, “he”, or “she” altogether.

[pro-nown danse]

-noun
1. in conversation, the process used to avoid the use of gender-specific pronouns; commonly related to anxiety surrounding a third party’s sexual orientation or gender identity

-verb
1. using gender-neutral pronouns when describing another person, based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity

Related: pronoun dancing

Ex: “Joe led Mary in the pronoun dance when the subject of his sister Julia’s transitioning process came up.”

Ex: “Sgt. Jones used the pronoun dance to avoid talking about his boyfriend with other members of his Army unit.”

[Origin: Most likely American, mid-20th Century.]

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#35 “walker”

Throughout history, gay men and straight women have gone together like peanut butter & jelly, peas & carrots, or Cagney & Lacey.  The level of intimacy that can be reached between these two individuals can rival even that of the most star-crossed of lovers.  Now, couple the needs of an older woman who is either single or in a loveless marriage and has vast resources – with that of a younger, attractive man who’s looking to advance his social standing – and you’ve got sheer magic.

“Walker” describes the man in this equation; a young gay man that provides company for older women for the purposes of keeping her company, giving her advice, and escorting her to social events – in lieu of a husband or boyfriend.  A walker will usually accompany a widow or unmarried woman, and act as both company and a sort of handler or aide.  Since the woman is usually “of a certain age” the term also has a double-meaning, which refers to a walker, which is a device used to assist with standing and/or walking.

This term should not be confused either “beard” or “frock,” which both describe individuals (bread-female, frock-male) who are romantically linked to either a gay man (beard) or a lesbian (frock) in order to keep their sexual orientation hidden.  Walkers are not necessarily in (or out of) the closet.

1. noun: A man (usually younger and gay) who is in a non-sexual relationship with an older woman (usually single or widowed), and serves as her social escort, muse, best friend, artistic expert, or confidante.

Ex: “Isn’t that Ms. Weintraub?  I haven’t seen her since her husband passed away last year.  It looks like that walker of hers is going to be out with her even more now.”

Ex: “Well, I saw Doris at two different events with her walker, Lawrence, again this week.”

[Origin: Most likely American or European, and used almost exclusively in high society circles.]

[Related: “beard” (female who acts as a closeted gay man’s companion in public); “frock” (male who acts as a closeted lesbian’s companion).  Examples: George “Gould” Strong & Edith Bouvier Beale; Jack McFarland & Karen Walker.]