Word of the Gay

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

Archive for The Basics

#34 “swish”

Throughout history, words have been used to discriminate, pigeon-hole, or otherwise keep groups of people “in their place” in society.  To that end, groups that have been the target of vicious name-calling often reclaim insulting language as a way to self-identify and empower themselves as an individual, or as a member of a larger community.

Reclamatory language, as it is referred to, is language with pejorative connotations that people with marginalized identities use to identify themselves. Language which has been used as an insult, and which is still used as an insult today, can be reclaimed through the use of reclamatory language.  However, there are some words, like the “n”, “f”, and “c” words, for instance, that many people believe to be too far beyond reclaiming for anyone to use in an empowering manner.

“Swish” is an example of this phenomenon; and of how a group of like-minded individuals were determined to build a positive movement to further the rights of LGBT people through reclaiming an often insulting slang word used to describe “effeminate” men.  The small group of friends has evolved into a large, diverse community comprising people of every background, shoe size, hair color, and sexual identity. With more than 1,000 members in 32 states and 4 countries, “Swish” creates volunteer, advocacy, and educational opportunities for the gay and straight communities to learn from each other and work together toward full, unwavering equality for LGBT people.

plural -ers. adjective -y [swish]

1. adjective (swishy, swishing): A pejorative word used to describe flamboyant characteristics, personality traits, or physical attributes of a homosexual person; usually a gay man.

2a. noun: An American gay-straight alliance, founded in 2003 (originally an acronym for Straight Women In Support of Homos), that provides opportunities for straight women and men to contribute their time, energy, and talents to furthering the LGBT rights movement.

2b: noun (Swisher): A member of “Swish”, who embodies the mission and vision of the organization – to further the LGBT rights movement.

3a. verb: To fight for equal rights for the LGBT community using one’s talents, smarts, and sense of style.

3b. verb: To make activism uplifting, rewarding, and fun.  To “swish” is the emancipation from what was once a pejorative to an ability to envision and create a world in which equality, freedom, and love for all LGBT people is valued and celebrated.

Ex: “Oh my, would you just look at that guy swishing down the street!”

Ex: “I love being a Swisher!  Each year at NYC Pride, I am able to set a positive example for straight allies in the LGBT movement and beyond!”

[Origin: Most likely American or European, used in pre-Stonewall (i.e. 1969 A.D.) gay male communities.]

#32 “trade”

It goes without saying that there are a great many words and phrases that relate to casual sexual encounters.  “Trade” is one such word.  The word originates from Polari (post #22), the now almost entirely defunct gay “slanguage” from The United Kingdom.

“Trade” originally referred to a straight male who was the sexual partner of another man, either gay or bisexual, and quickly came to describe any pair of male sexual partners.  Over time, the term has also been commonly attributed to younger or economically-disadvataged man who becomes the sexual partner of another older, or considerably more affluent, man.

Some specific examples of its use relate to men who seek out overtly masculine sexual partners.  For instance, some men will seek out service members of the armed forces, who exemplify for them a very masculine example of manhood.  These men are referred to as “military trade“, and may or may not be gay.

Currently, and in most cases, the word is used casually to refer to any male sexual partner of another man.

Ex: “I was at my favorite bar again last night, trying to pick up some trade.”, or “Did you see Chris and his trade come out of the club when it closed last night!”

-noun

1. the male sexual partner of another man; depending upon the circumstance may identify as straight, bisexual, or gay; individual may also receive payment after sexual acts are performed

[Related: “hook up”, “MSM” (men who have sex with men), “one night stand”, “rough trade”, “trick”]

#22 “Polari”

Throughout history, gay people have been forced-out of mainstream society and have had to create for themselves a sort of counter-culture, a secret code of ethics, language and activities.  One manifestation of this phenomena occurred, and flourished, in Great Britain during the mid-Twentieth century.

“Polari” is described as a “secret language” used by gay people during the twentieth century (mainly in England), that was based on slang used by societal outcasts – namely, criminals, prostitutes, sailors and tramps.  It incorporated English rhyme with other languages and slang, such as: Yiddish, Italian and French.  As gay slang and culture moved more into the mainstream toward the end of the twentieth century, Polari began to lose its footing and was used less and less.  Some of its phrases and slang are still used today, but in far less frequency.  Most people who use these “Polari” phrases are most likely unaware of their origins.

EXAMPLES of POLARI phrases and words:

AC/DC: 1. noun: a couple.  2. adjective: bisexual.

joshed up: adjective: looking your best. (root: zhoosh-Yiddish)

on the team: adjective: gay.

polari, polare, parlare, parlaree: 1. noun: gay language.  2. verb: to talk. (possible root: palare-Italian) 

[For more information on Polari, the lost language of “the gays”, pick up “Fantabulosa: A History of Polari and Gay Slang” by Paul Baker, published by continuum Books.]

#21 “cruise”

The term “cruise” refers to the act of seeking a sexual partner – either the act of moving from one place to another, or the interaction between two individuals.  More recently, “eye-fucking” has also been introduced into the vernacular as a more vulgar, colloquial term to use.

Gay men recognize “cruising” as more than just eye contact, but as a sort of sport – to see who can get eyed, or “checked-out” more times while walking through a gay district.  Some popular areas for cruising include, but are certainly not limited to: parks, beaches, supermarkets, shopping centers, gyms, bars an restaurants.

– verb

1. to move around in order to look for a possible sexual partner 

2. provocative, direct eye contact with possible sexual partners; meant to casually attract a person as you are walking down the street, or are driving in secluded areas

Related: cruised, cruising, cruisy

One movie is tentatively related to this term:  The 1980 cult film, “Cruising” featured Al Pacino as an undercover police officer sent into the beat of the “sleazy” underworld of gay S&M and leather culture in New York City during a rash of serial killings.  Pacino is sent into the scene as a decoy for the murderer, and the film chronicles his encounters with leather daddies, johns, and ultimately the killer.  This film didn’t win any Oscars, and it certainly wouldn’t win any glaad Media Awards either. 

[Origin: The terms was coined in the 16th – 17th Centuries when referring to ships at sea, then given to individuals.  The gay meaning is most likely derived from mid-Twentieth century North America, when the popularity of the automobile, the full development of the highway system and gay culture combined – resulting in “cruising” spots from Mexico to Canada.]

#19 “trick”

“Tricks” are treats for some gay men.  The term “trick” is most commonly used by gay men when referring to an anonymous sex partner, or “one-night stand.”  This word is popular among young gay men, and in particular, in large metropolitan areas like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.  

The term was popularized in 1999 with the cult gay film, “Trick” starring Christian Campbell and John Paul (“J.P.”) Pitoc.  The film follows an aspiring playwright (Campbell) and a hunky go-go dancer (Pitoc) as they make their way through Manhattan in an attempt to follow-through with a one-night stand.

-noun

1.  an anonymous sex partner; usually a gay male.

-verb

1. the act of an anonymous sexual encounter; sometimes resulting in the transfer of money.

Related: one-night stand, tricking, tricks 

[Origin: Relating to prostitution, the act of picking up a “john” or being a “trick” looking for a possible sexual partner or “date.”]

 

#17 “coming out”

The phrase “coming out” (short for “coming out of the closet“), seeks to encapsulate the process by which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) people make their sexuality known to other people. Over the past few decades, the phrase has become a battle cry for individuals who champion equal rights for gay people. And for many, it has become synonymous with feelings of empowerment, courage and truth.

The phrase comes directly from “skeletons in the closet,” meaning secrets that are kept away from public knowledge due to shame, fear or embarrassment. Bringing those secrets out into the open, or “out of the closet” can then been seen as a way in which to overcome adversity or shame. Related is the phrase “outing,” which refers to the involuntary act of having your sexuality made public.

There are many more gay people out today than ever before, and a current trend is emerging, where being “in the closet” (or, not concealing your sexuality), is understood to be very unhealthy or destructive to the individual. Most LGBT advocacy groups encourage living an “out” lifestyle and advocate for programs that assist people in the “coming out” process.

The epic dance disco track, “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross has been heralded as a gay “anthem,” if not THE gay anthem. It was said to have been inspired after the song’s writer witnessed drag queens dressing up and impersonating The Disco Queen in California discos.

– verb
1. the process by which a gay person makes their sexuality public.
2. a voluntary submission of one’s sexuality, usually with an association with LGBTQ

[Related: outed, outing]

#16 “fag hag”

“Fag hag” is a term near and dear to this author’s heart. The term “fag hag” relates, most specifically, to a straight woman that associates with, or is very close to, a gay man or men. It is usually used in a derogatory manner, but has been embraced by many women as a positive self-identifying trait.  In some circles, being a Fag Hag represents a status symbol among straight women who champion LGBT equality and rights.

As a member of a gay-straight alliance founded by a self-proclaimed hag, I am particularly interested in everything “fag hag.” SWiSH (Straight Women in Support of Homos) is an example of an organization that focuses on the perspective of a “fag hag.”

Poplar stand-up comedienne and satirist, Margaret Cho offered some very entertaining passages about her experience as a self-proclaimed “fag hag” in her 2000 one-woman act, “I’m The One That I Want.” Essentially, behind every gay man is a steadfast and supportive fag hag – a woman that guides gay men from the tumultuous and exciting days of “coming out” into the golden years of gayhood.

-noun

1. a woman who is closely related to, or feels a strong connection to, gay men.

2. a person, male or female (gay or straight) that advocates on the behalf of gay people or is surrounded by all things gay.

[Related: beard, dyke Mike, dyke tyke]