General Question

playthebanjo's avatar

How did Gay turn into Homosexual?

Asked by playthebanjo (2944points) May 16th, 2008

Does anyone know the when and how of the term gay becoming synonymous with homosexual?

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14 Answers

trogdor_87's avatar

I think you should ask when did homosexual become gay.
Homo means same and I am pretty sure you get the sex part.

Sloane2024's avatar


It is a more politically correct term than just simply referring to them as gay. I don’t see the point. All means the same thing….

marinelife's avatar

Wikipedia says: In earlier and in literary usage, the word means “carefree”, “happy”, or “bright and showy”. From the 1890s, it had begun to carry a connotation of promiscuity, as in a “gay house” referring to a brothel. It began to be used in reference to homosexuality in particular from the early 20th century, from the 1920s at the latest.

The more technical answer and a very complete one can be found here:

Here are a couple of excerpts:

There are two, not necessarily mutually exclusive, commonly proffered explanations that are plausible.

Perhaps the most commonly touted one is that the modern use of gay comes from a clipping of gaycat, a slang term among hobos and itinerants meaning a boy or young man who accompanies an older, more experienced tramp, with the implication of sexual favors being exchanged for protection and instruction.

The second possible explanation is that the homosexual sense is an outgrowth of an earlier sense of gay meaning addicted to pleasure, self-indulgent, or immoral. This sense dates to at least 1637, when it appears in James Shirley’s play The Lady of Pleasure:

Lord. You’le not be angry, Madam.
Cel. Nor rude, though gay men have a priviledge [sic].

By the early 19th century, this sense had developed into a euphemism for prostitution. From John Davis’s 1805 The Post-Captain:

As our heroes passed along the Strand, they were accosted by a hundred gay ladies, who asked them if they were good-natured. “Devil take me!...there is not a girl in the Strand that I would touch with my gloves on.”

This could easily have transferred to male prostitutes and then generalized to mean homosexual writ large.

Bub's avatar

Who is Gay and why do you care about her sexual preference?

playthebanjo's avatar

@marina. Thanks so much. That’s just what I was looking for.

@bib. What?

wildflower's avatar

It’s all about being PC and using impersonal, factual descriptions. It’s not acceptable to use a word like gay in a PC world as it may be perceived as a description with a slant, hinting at a stereotyped lifestyle.

loser's avatar

@bub: thank you! I needed that laugh!!!

gailcalled's avatar

Doesn’t “homo” mean “man” in Latin and “same” in Greek?

Homo Sapiens; homonym.

@Play; Bub (sic) was commenting on the fact that you capilalized “Gay,” thereby making it a proper name instead of the adjective gay. There is some logic to rules of usage in english.

stateless's avatar

Language is constantly evolving.

Zen's avatar

@gailcalled That’s English, dear.

PattyAtHome's avatar

Gay is about fashion and glitter and wearing outrageous costumes and just having fun and being a free spirit. That is why gay became associated with homosexuality in the first place. It was a stereotype that homosexual people are all like drag queens.

But even straight people can feel gay too. Gay is about feeling free spirited, and not about sexual orientation. There is a new website that discusses why we should have different words for sexuality that aren’t about stereotypes.

go check out the website

Join the Crusade!!!
Heterosexual and homosexual people alike,
should all work together to restore gay to its proper place in our language.

Get the word out.
Tell everyone you know,
I Want My Gay Back!!!

PattyAtHome's avatar

I did have another answer on here but it was deleted by moderators.
It cited a source that gave more complete information than the citation given by marinelife. It explains not just how gay came to be one of the words used refering to homosexual people, but what happened in the 1970s causing it to become the politically correct term even though before then it wasn’t the most commonly used term. I don’t know if it has finally become politically incorrect for anyone to suggest it would be good for people to still use the word gay in its original context. If I wasn’t offended by the site when I came across it I don’t know why it would bother a moderator. Or maybe since the site promotes homosexuality as being equally as acceptable as heterosexuality it can’t be linked to here? I’m pretty dissapointed in the moderators.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] @PattyAtHome Since you’re new, and posted the link in a couple of places, it looked like spam. That’s the only reason it was removed. We’re good with equal rights, here. :)

PattyAtHome's avatar

The reference isn’t my own site. My mom used to tell me that when she was young gay was used to mean bright and cheerfull a lot more than people today think it was. I never gave much more thought about it until I found that site. After reading it I found myself agreeing with what the website is suggesting. So now I reference it when i find the subject discussed. I think everyone whatever their sexuality should go to that website/book and read it with an open mind. It is one of the few places that talks about sexuality matter of factly without trying to be PC and presents all sexuality as equally valid. Thanks for taking the time to check the link and see that it is pertinent to this question. You’ve restored my faith in moderators. :)

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