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This article is about gay as an English-language term. Gay_sentence_0

For the sexual orientation, see Homosexuality. Gay_sentence_1

For other uses, see Gay (disambiguation). Gay_sentence_2

Gay is a term that primarily refers to a homosexual person or the trait of being homosexual. Gay_sentence_3

The term was originally used to mean "carefree", "cheerful", or "bright and showy". Gay_sentence_4

The term's use as a reference to male homosexuality may date as early as the late 19th century, but its use gradually increased in the mid-20th century. Gay_sentence_5

In modern English, gay has come to be used as an adjective, and as a noun, referring to the community, practices and cultures associated with homosexuality. Gay_sentence_6

In the 1960s, gay became the word favored by homosexual men to describe their sexual orientation. Gay_sentence_7

By the end of the 20th century, the word gay was recommended by major LGBT groups and style guides to describe people attracted to members of the same sex, although it is more commonly used to refer specifically to men. Gay_sentence_8

At about the same time, a new, pejorative use became prevalent in some parts of the world. Gay_sentence_9

Among younger speakers, the word has a meaning ranging from derision (e.g., equivalent to rubbish or stupid) to a light-hearted mockery or ridicule (e.g., equivalent to weak, unmanly, or lame). Gay_sentence_10

The extent to which these usages still retain connotations of homosexuality has been debated and harshly criticized. Gay_sentence_11

History Gay_section_0

Overview Gay_section_1

The word gay arrived in English during the 12th century from Old French gai, most likely deriving ultimately from a Germanic source. Gay_sentence_12

In English, the word's primary meaning was "joyful", "carefree", "bright and showy", and the word was very commonly used with this meaning in speech and literature. Gay_sentence_13

For example, the optimistic 1890s are still often referred to as the Gay Nineties. Gay_sentence_14

The title of the 1938 French ballet Gaîté Parisienne ("Parisian Gaiety"), which became the 1941 Warner Brothers movie, The Gay Parisian, also illustrates this connotation. Gay_sentence_15

It was apparently not until the 20th century that the word began to be used to mean specifically "homosexual", although it had earlier acquired sexual connotations. Gay_sentence_16

The derived abstract noun remains largely free of sexual connotations and has, in the past, been used in the names of places of entertainment; for example W. Gay_sentence_17 B. Yeats heard Oscar Wilde lecture at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. Gay_sentence_18

Sexualization Gay_section_2

The word may have started to acquire associations of immorality as early as the 14th century, but had certainly acquired them by the 17th. Gay_sentence_19

By the late 17th century, it had acquired the specific meaning of "addicted to pleasures and dissipations", an extension of its primary meaning of "carefree" implying "uninhibited by moral constraints". Gay_sentence_20

A gay woman was a prostitute, a gay man a womanizer, and a gay house a brothel. Gay_sentence_21

An example is a letter read to a London court in 1885 during the prosecution of brothel madam and procuress Mary Jeffries that had been written by a girl while slaved to a French brothel: Gay_sentence_22

The use of gay to mean "homosexual" was often an extension of its application to prostitution: a gay boy was a young man or boy serving male clients. Gay_sentence_23

Similarly, a gay cat was a young male apprenticed to an older hobo and commonly exchanging sex and other services for protection and tutelage. Gay_sentence_24

The application to homosexuality was also an extension of the word's sexualized connotation of "carefree and uninhibited", which implied a willingness to disregard conventional or respectable sexual mores. Gay_sentence_25

Such usage, documented as early as the 1920s, was likely present before the 20th century, although it was initially more commonly used to imply heterosexually unconstrained lifestyles, as in the once-common phrase "gay Lothario", or in the title of the book and film The Gay Falcon (1941), which concerns a womanizing detective whose first name is "Gay". Gay_sentence_26

Similarly, Fred Gilbert and G. Gay_sentence_27 H. MacDermott's music hall song of the 1880s, "Charlie Dilke Upset the Milk" – "Master Dilke upset the milk, when taking it home to Chelsea; the papers say that Charlie's gay, rather a wilful wag!" Gay_sentence_28

– referred to Sir Charles Dilke's alleged heterosexual impropriety. Gay_sentence_29

Giving testimony in court in 1889, the prostitute John Saul stated: "I occasionally do odd-jobs for different gay people." Gay_sentence_30

Well into the mid 20th century a middle-aged bachelor could be described as "gay", indicating that he was unattached and therefore free, without any implication of homosexuality. Gay_sentence_31

This usage could apply to women too. Gay_sentence_32

The British comic strip Jane, first published in the 1930s, described the adventures of Jane Gay. Gay_sentence_33

Far from implying homosexuality, it referred to her free-wheeling lifestyle with plenty of boyfriends (while also punning on Lady Jane Grey). Gay_sentence_34

A passage from Gertrude Stein's Miss Furr & Miss Skeene (1922) is possibly the first traceable published use of the word to refer to a homosexual relationship. Gay_sentence_35

According to Linda Wagner-Martin (Favored Strangers: Gertrude Stein and her Family, 1995) the portrait "featured the sly repetition of the word gay, used with sexual intent for one of the first times in linguistic history," and Edmund Wilson (1951, quoted by James Mellow in Charmed Circle, 1974) agreed. Gay_sentence_36

For example: Gay_sentence_37

The word continued to be used with the dominant meaning of "carefree", as evidenced by the title of The Gay Divorcee (1934), a musical film about a heterosexual couple. Gay_sentence_38

Bringing Up Baby (1938) was the first film to use the word gay in an apparent reference to homosexuality. Gay_sentence_39

In a scene in which Cary Grant's character's clothes have been sent to the cleaners, he is forced to wear a woman's feather-trimmed robe. Gay_sentence_40

When another character asks about his robe, he responds, "Because I just went gay all of a sudden!" Gay_sentence_41

Since this was a mainstream film at a time, when the use of the word to refer to cross-dressing (and, by extension, homosexuality) would still be unfamiliar to most film-goers, the line can also be interpreted to mean, "I just decided to do something frivolous." Gay_sentence_42

In 1950, the earliest reference found to date for the word gay as a self-described name for homosexuals came from Alfred A. Gay_sentence_43

Gross, executive secretary for the George W. Henry Foundation, who said in the June 1950 issue of SIR magazine: "I have yet to meet a happy homosexual. Gay_sentence_44

They have a way of describing themselves as gay but the term is a misnomer. Gay_sentence_45

Those who are habitues of the bars frequented by others of the kind, are about the saddest people I’ve ever seen." Gay_sentence_46

Shift to specifically homosexual Gay_section_3

By the mid-20th century, gay was well established in reference to hedonistic and uninhibited lifestyles and its antonym straight, which had long had connotations of seriousness, respectability, and conventionality, had now acquired specific connotations of heterosexuality. Gay_sentence_47

In the case of gay, other connotations of frivolousness and showiness in dress ("gay apparel") led to association with camp and effeminacy. Gay_sentence_48

This association no doubt helped the gradual narrowing in scope of the term towards its current dominant meaning, which was at first confined to subcultures. Gay_sentence_49

Gay was the preferred term since other terms, such as queer, were felt to be derogatory. Gay_sentence_50

Homosexual is perceived as excessively clinical, since the sexual orientation now commonly referred to as "homosexuality" was at that time a mental illness diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Gay_sentence_51

In mid-20th century Britain, where male homosexuality was illegal until the Sexual Offences Act 1967, to openly identify someone as homosexual was considered very offensive and an accusation of serious criminal activity. Gay_sentence_52

Additionally, none of the words describing any aspect of homosexuality were considered suitable for polite society. Gay_sentence_53

Consequently, a number of euphemisms were used to hint at suspected homosexuality. Gay_sentence_54

Examples include "sporty" girls and "artistic" boys, all with the stress deliberately on the otherwise completely innocent adjective. Gay_sentence_55

The 1960s marked the transition in the predominant meaning of the word gay from that of "carefree" to the current "homosexual". Gay_sentence_56

In the British comedy-drama film Light Up the Sky! Gay_sentence_57

(1960), directed by Lewis Gilbert, about the antics of a British Army searchlight squad during World War II, there is a scene in the mess hut where the character played by Benny Hill proposes an after-dinner toast. Gay_sentence_58

He begins, "I'd like to propose..." at which point a fellow diner, played by Sidney Tafler, interjects "Who to? Gay_sentence_59

", suggesting a proposal of marriage. Gay_sentence_60

The Benny Hill character responds, "Not to you for start, you ain't my type". Gay_sentence_61

He then adds in mock doubt, "Oh, I don't know, you're rather gay on the quiet." Gay_sentence_62

By 1963, a new sense of the word gay was known well enough to be used by Albert Ellis in his book The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Man-Hunting. Gay_sentence_63

Similarly, Hubert Selby, Jr. in his 1964 novel Last Exit to Brooklyn, could write that a character "took pride in being a homosexual by feeling intellectually and esthetically superior to those (especially women) who weren't gay...." Later examples of the original meaning of the word being used in popular culture include the theme song to the 1960–1966 animated TV series The Flintstones, whereby viewers are assured that they will "have a gay old time." Gay_sentence_64

Similarly, the 1966 Herman's Hermits song "No Milk Today", which became a Top 10 hit in the UK and a Top 40 hit in the U.S., included the lyric "No milk today, it was not always so; The company was gay, we'd turn night into day." Gay_sentence_65

In June 1967, the headline of the review of the Beatles' Sgt. Gay_sentence_66 Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album in the British daily newspaper The Times stated, "The Beatles revive hopes of progress in pop music with their gay new LP". Gay_sentence_67

Yet in the same year, The Kinks recorded "David Watts". Gay_sentence_68

Ostensibly about schoolboy envy, the song also operated as an in-joke, as related in Jon Savage's "The Kinks: The Official Biography", because the song took its name from a homosexual promoter they had encountered who had romantic desires for songwriter Ray Davies' teenage brother; and the lines "he is so gay and fancy-free" attest to the ambiguity of the word's meaning at that time, with the second meaning evident only for those in the know. Gay_sentence_69

As late as 1970, the first episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show has the demonstrably straight Mary Richards' downstairs neighbor, Phyllis, breezily declaiming that Mary is, at age 30, still "young and gay." Gay_sentence_70

Homosexuality Gay_section_4

Main article: Homosexuality Gay_sentence_71

Sexual orientation, identity, behavior Gay_section_5

Main articles: Sexual orientation, Sexual identity, and Human sexual behavior Gay_sentence_72

See also: Situational sexual behavior Gay_sentence_73

The American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as "an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes," ranging "along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex." Gay_sentence_74

Sexual orientation can also be "discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of the other sex), gay/lesbian (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of one's own sex), and bisexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to both men and women)." Gay_sentence_75

According to Rosario, Schrimshaw, Hunter, Braun (2006), "the development of a lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) sexual identity is a complex and often difficult process. Gay_sentence_76

Unlike members of other minority groups (e.g., ethnic and racial minorities), most LGB individuals are not raised in a community of similar others from whom they learn about their identity and who reinforce and support that identity. Gay_sentence_77

Rather, LGB individuals are often raised in communities that are either ignorant of or openly hostile toward homosexuality." Gay_sentence_78

The British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell has argued that the term gay is merely a cultural expression which reflects the current status of homosexuality within a given society, and claiming that "Queer, gay, homosexual ... in the long view, they are all just temporary identities. Gay_sentence_79

One day, we will not need them at all." Gay_sentence_80

If a person engages in sexual activity with a partner of the same sex but does not self-identify as gay, terms such as 'closeted', 'discreet', or 'bi-curious' may apply. Gay_sentence_81

Conversely, a person may identify as gay without having had sex with a same-sex partner. Gay_sentence_82

Possible choices include identifying as gay socially, while choosing to be celibate, or while anticipating a first homosexual experience. Gay_sentence_83

Further, a bisexual person might also identify as "gay" but others may consider gay and bisexual to be mutually exclusive. Gay_sentence_84

There are some who are drawn to the same sex but neither engage in sexual activity nor identify as gay; these could have the term asexual applied, even though asexual generally can mean no attraction, or involve heterosexual attraction but no sexual activity. Gay_sentence_85

Terminology Gay_section_6

Main article: Terminology of homosexuality Gay_sentence_86

Some reject the term homosexual as an identity-label because they find it too clinical-sounding; they believe it is too focused on physical acts rather than romance or attraction, or too reminiscent of the era when homosexuality was considered a mental illness. Gay_sentence_87

Conversely, some reject the term gay as an identity-label because they perceive the cultural connotations to be undesirable or because of the negative connotations of the slang usage of the word. Gay_sentence_88

Style guides, like the following from the Associated Press, call for gay over homosexual: Gay_sentence_89

There are those who reject the gay label for reasons other than shame or negative connotations. Gay_sentence_90

Writer Alan Bennett and fashion icon André Leon Talley are out and open gay men who reject being labeled gay, believing the gay label confines them. Gay_sentence_91

Gay community vs. LGBT community Gay_section_7

Main article: LGBT community Gay_sentence_92

Starting in the mid-1980s in the United States, a conscious effort was underway within what was then commonly called the gay community, to add the term lesbian to the name of organizations that involved both male and female homosexuals, and to use the terminology of gay and lesbian, lesbian/gay, or a similar phrase when referring to that community. Gay_sentence_93

Accordingly, organizations such as the National Gay Task Force became the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Gay_sentence_94

For many feminist lesbians, it was also important that lesbian be named first, to avoid the implication that women were secondary to men, or an afterthought. Gay_sentence_95

In the 1990s, this was followed by a similar effort to include terminology specifically including bisexual, transgender, intersex, and other people, reflecting the intra-community debate about the inclusion of these other sexual minorities as part of the same movement. Gay_sentence_96

Consequently, the portmanteau les/bi/gay has sometimes been used, and initialisms such as LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQI, and others have come into common use by such organizations, and most news organizations have formally adopted some such variation. Gay_sentence_97

Descriptor Gay_section_8

The term gay can also be used as an adjective to describe things related to homosexual men, or things which are part of the said culture. Gay_sentence_98

For example, the term "gay bar" describes the bar which either caters primarily to a homosexual male clientele or is otherwise part of homosexual male culture. Gay_sentence_99

Using it to describe an object, such as an item of clothing, suggests that it is particularly flamboyant, often on the verge of being gaudy and garish. Gay_sentence_100

This usage predates the association of the term with homosexuality but has acquired different connotations since the modern usage developed. Gay_sentence_101

Use as a noun Gay_section_9

The label gay was originally used purely as an adjective ("he is a gay man" or "he is gay"). Gay_sentence_102

The term has also been in use as a noun with the meaning "homosexual man" since the 1970s, most commonly in the plural for an unspecified group, as in "gays are opposed to that policy." Gay_sentence_103

This usage is somewhat common in the names of organizations such as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Children of Lesbians And Gays Everywhere (COLAGE). Gay_sentence_104

It is sometimes used to refer to individuals, as in "he is a gay" or "two gays were there too," although this may be perceived as derogatory. Gay_sentence_105

It was also used for comedic effect by the Little Britain character Dafydd Thomas. Gay_sentence_106

Generalized pejorative use Gay_section_10

When used with a derisive attitude (e.g., "that was so gay"), the word gay is pejorative. Gay_sentence_107

While retaining its other meanings, its use among young people as a general term of disparagement is common. Gay_sentence_108

This pejorative usage has its origins in the late 1970s, with the word gaining a pejorative sense by association with the previous meaning: homosexuality was seen as inferior or undesirable. Gay_sentence_109

Beginning in the 1980s, and especially in the late 1990s, the usage as a generic insult became common among young people. Gay_sentence_110

This usage of the word has been criticized as homophobic. Gay_sentence_111

A 2006 BBC ruling by the Board of Governors over the use of the word in this context by Chris Moyles on his Radio 1 show, "I do not want that one, it's gay," advises "caution on its use" for this reason: Gay_sentence_112

The BBC's ruling was heavily criticized by the Minister for Children, Kevin Brennan, who stated in response that "the casual use of homophobic language by mainstream radio DJs" is: Gay_sentence_113

Shortly after the Moyles incident, a campaign against homophobia was launched in Britain under the slogan "homophobia is gay", playing on the double meaning of the word "gay" in youth culture, as well as the popular perception that vocal homophobia is common among closeted homosexuals. Gay_sentence_114

In a 2013 article published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, University of Michigan researchers Michael Woodford, Alex Kulick and Perry Silverschanz, alongside Appalachian State University professor Michael L. Howell, argued that the pejorative use of the word "gay" was a microaggression. Gay_sentence_115

Their research found that college-age men were more likely to repeat the word pejoratively if their friends said it, while they were less likely to say it if they had lesbian, gay or bisexual peers. Gay_sentence_116

Parallels in other languages Gay_section_11


  • The concept of a "gay identity" and the use of the term gay may not be used or understood the same way in non-Westernised cultures, since modes of sexuality may differ from those prevalent in the West. For example, the term "two spirit" is not interchangeable with "LGBT Native American" or "gay Indian". This term differs from most western, mainstream definitions of sexuality and gender identity in that it is not a self-chosen term of personal sexual or gender "identity"; rather, it is a sacred, spiritual and ceremonial role that is recognized and confirmed by the Elders of the two spirit's ceremonial community.Gay_item_0_0
  • The German equivalent for "gay", "", which is etymologically derived from "schwül" (hot, humid), also acquired the pejorative meaning within youth culture.Gay_item_0_1

See also Gay_section_12

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