Date: Thu, 29 Feb 1996 03:16:48 -0500


Subject: Re: GAY (Changes to the English Language)

Tom Uharriet asks:

When & why did the word "GAY" change from homosexual to male


stewart mason says:

Fairly recently--within the last five years or so, I believe. In


courses I took for my Women's Studies minor, the general consensus

was that

gay and lesbian" was both more inclusive and more specific. It


perfectly reasonable to me.

the fact that people only recently started using "gay and lesbian" a

lot doesn't mean that _gay_ only recently started having a male-only

sense. (the masculinization of _gay_, _homosexual_, and

_queer_ is another issue I discuss in the "elusive bisexual" paper i

mentioned last week.) i don't think there's any reason to believe

that the word ever didn't have a male-only sense (note: it has never,

including now, _only_ had a male-only sense). there are a couple of

possible sources for the male-favoring polysemy. first, any word

that isn't overtly feminine in its form or connotation is apt to get

male-only as well as gender neutral sense or connotation (e.g.,

waiter, poet, negro (vs. negress)). second, gay male community and

identity has received much more public notice than its lesbian

counterpart (if we can pretend at a little symmetry). thus, when

(non-lesbians) talk about gay people, they are often refering

exclusively to the gay people they are familiar with--men.

in "the elusive bisexual" i note that w/in the sexual minority

communities, _bisexual_ is the only sex-neutral term that i know of

that has gained a female bias--probably because bisexual identity and

activism has most strongly been touted in women's organizations (i

have some theories on that too. hell, i have an opinion on

everything.) HOWEVER, in AIDS discourse, 'bisexual' has come to have

the same male-only type of sense as 'homosexual' and 'gay.' i could

give examples, if anyone's interested.


lynne m.