Date: Thu, 29 Feb 1996 03:16:48 -0500 From: "M. Lynne Murphy" <104LYN[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]MUSE.ARTS.WITS.AC.ZA> Subject: Re: GAY (Changes to the English Language) > Tom Uharriet asks: > > >When & why did the word "GAY" change from homosexual to male > >homosexual? > > > stewart mason says: Fairly recently--within the last five years or so, I believe. In various > 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 sounds > 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. best, lynne m. --------------------------------------------------------------------- M. Lynne Murphy 104lyn[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] Department of Linguistics phone: 27(11)716-2340 University of the Witwatersrand fax: 27(11)716-8030 Johannesburg 2050 SOUTH AFRICA