Recently, there has been an increase in research about gay and lesbian language (Kulick 243). There has been a cultural shift that has granted homosexuals more civil rights, the acceptance of homosexual lifestyles are at an all time high, and it is this recognition that has caused linguist to research the distinct features of gay and lesbian language. This research stems from the linguistic reality that language and words change over time (Childs “Development of the English Language”). The use of some words from the homosexual register are gaining acceptance in mainstream heterosexual culture. The distinctions between the words queer, camp, fierce, and girl are all lexical items that were once inclusive within homosexual groups and thus homosexual language, but have now made strides in heterosexual culture as well.
What is Gay Language?
It is important to define what linguists mean when they refer to gay language. This is difficult because there is not expansive research on gay and lesbian language like there is for other social groups (Kulick 4). Most linguist interchange homosexual speech or culture as a synonym of gay language, which is the definition I have accepted as well.
Many linguists believe that a specific language exist within homosexual culture. This is not an accurate assumption. According to Don Kulick in Gay and Lesbian Language, “the assumption confuses symbolic and empirical categories, it reduces sexuality to a sexual identity, and it steers research away from examining the way in which the characteristics seen as queer are linguistic resources available to everybody to use regardless of their sexual orientation” (246). What Kulick means is, gay language does not rely on only people who identify as homosexual. If this is an exclusive language, people who identify as gay should automatically understand the word and language patterns of this language. There is no secret gay code language—this is what Kulick is trying to explain in this quote.
To strengthen Kulick’s statement, at a recent Christmas party I attended that consisted of all homosexual males, with the youngest being twenty-one and the oldest being in his mid-thirties a confusion over a gay phrase came up. The incident revolved around the discussion of another gay male that was not at the party. Speaker E said “My god, he pisses glitter.” This took several people by surprise since they had never heard the expression before. The youngest guest Speaker T stopped Speaker E and asked what “pisses glitter” means. Speaker E had to explain it means to be overly flamboyant. This is just a simple example of differences in words and language that exist between gay men. Speaker T later informed Speaker E that for him the expression “shitting rainbows” means the same thing.
Kulick also states that gay language rests solely on individuals who identify themselves as gay. This does not include males that are questioning or are closeted. The fact that males can lie about their true gender or sexual orientation prohibits the finality of gay language research. This research practice has led to many stereotypes that have fueled the debates over what qualifies as gay language.
I do agree that there are some words used more frequently by gay males than straight men. One example is the word boy, or in gay language “boi.” The use of this spelling is identifiable as gay language. My only assumption why boi would be spelt this way is it outwardly marks or identifies oneself as being a homosexual.
The identification of sharing one’s sexual identity has been actively studied by sociologists and linguists. In 1994 a study
was done by Stephen Brady and Wilma J. Busse that was published in the Journal of Homosexuality titled, The Gay Identity Questionnaire: A Brief Measure of Homosexual Identity Formation. The article focused on trying to classify how “gay” males were based on a questionnaire. It rated individuals on six different levels of “gayness.” The two hundred and twenty five participants all identified as having homosexual thoughts, but the study failed to see how heterosexual males would place within the same questionnaire. This was a major flaw in the research because it automatically distinguished that straight males would not register to have any gay tendencies, desires, or be labeled “gay”.
More recently (October 2010) an article that was posted on OKtrends.com showed that many straight males have either been curious or have already engaged in a sexual encounter with another male. The website compiled this information from anonymous surveys taken by its readers. OKtrends.com might not be the most reliable source since the data collection is not done by an academic institution, but neither is an article published over sixteen years ago—since content could be out of date. This lack of research and the availability of academic sources makes defining gay language difficult and frustrating.
After evaluating several different parts of gay language I believe it is undefinable. The amount of research on this topic is miniscule and it assumes language patterns for all homosexuals. It is also difficult to define because it relies only on people who identity as gay.
Using only identifiable homosexuals for data perpetuates stereotyping and gender profiling. In response to the 1994 study, the only way to see if gay language exist is to juxtapose it against heterosexual speech. In order to achieve this result, males in general need to be researched and see if language patterns arise from the study. Sexual orientation should only be revealed if patterns exist to see if gender identification has any relevance to the results.
It is also necessary to understand that geographic location plays an important part in language. Linguists established that Southern English differs from Northern, so it should follow the same pattern that homosexual language should vary by location. This could explain why Speaker T never heard the expression “pisses glitter,” Speaker E is from New York, while he is from South Carolina. If research looked at small geographic locations of gay males the information would show that an official gay language does not exist.
If there are unique speech patterns or word usage it is important to understand that society is now changing. Several words that were one thought to have heavy associations with homosexual language are making strides in everyday speech. This pattern follows African American speech, where once a word becomes absorbed into everyday “white” speech it loses meaning within the original register.
People want to label and assign power to word and language. The attempt to try and determine if homosexual language exist shows this ideology. Through my research the amount of contradictions within the field make it impossible to define and indentify gay language. This only becomes more confusing when words change meaning over time. It appears that linguists are trying to catch up in a world that is constantly changing. This needs to change before any definition can be assigned to gay and lesbian language.
Work Cited and Additional Sources
Brady, Steven, and Wilma J. Busse. “The Gay Identity Questionnaire: A Brief Measure of Homosexual
Identity Formation.” Journal of Homosexuality 26.4 (1994): 1-22. Print.
Childs, Rebecca. Development of the English Language. Coastal Carolina University. Conway, SC. Spring
Childs, Rebecca. Language, Gender, and Power. Coastal Carolina University. Conway, SC.
Fall 2010. Lecture.
Kulick, Don. “Gay and Lesbian Language.” Annual Review 85th ser. 29.243 (2000): 243-85. Print
Parks, Janet B., and Mary Ann Roberton. “Explaining Age and Gender Effects on Attitudes toward Sexist
Language.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology 24.401 (2005): 401-11. Academic Search
Premier. Web. 1 Nov. 2010.
Queen, Carol, and Lawrence Schimel. “Introduction.” 1997. PoMoSEXUALS: Challenging
Assumptions about Gender and Sexuality. San Francisco, CA: Cleis, 1997. 19-25. Print.
Rudder, Christian. “Gay Sex vs. Straight Sex « OkTrends.” Oktrends. OKCupid.com, 12 Oct.
2010. Web. 30 Oct. 2010..
Rudes, B. A., and B. Healy. “Is She for Real? The Concepts of Femaleness and Maleness in the
Gay World.” 1979. Enthnolinguistics: Boas, Sapir, and Whorf Revisted. 49-61. Print.
Travers, Peter. “Burlesque.” Rolling Stone Movies. Rolling Stone, 24 Nov. 2010. Web. 26 Nov.