*Note: The informant, Laura, is my mother. She is a lesbian.
INFORMANT: “Because, being gay, we had to hide a lot, there were a lot of ways of describing or asking someone whether they were gay, without actually coming out, or describing someone as gay in a way that didn’t out them in case they weren’t out. So we said things like, you know, ‘Oh, is she a PLU?’ A person like us? They would also say ‘Does he go to our church?’ or ‘Is he a member of the tribe?’ but that’s also a Jewish thing.”
As a young gay person in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, when being gay was less widely accepted and could often even be dangerous, gay people came up with special terms to identify other gay people without outing others or themselves. These phrases and questions became sorts of secret passwords among the gay community, the most straightforward way to find gay comrades without overtly putting yourself in a potentially uncomfortable or dangerous situation.
At least in the parts of this country where I’ve grown up, it’s becoming a lot more socially acceptable to be an out gay person, so I assume in these parts that questions like these are becoming lesson common. However, there are still many parts of the country and many parts of the world where homosexuality is considered an abomination or a sin, and undoubtedly people in these parts still resort to the use of questions like the church question.
Secrecy is a recurring theme in gay folklore – everything must be discreet, from the foot tapping in the men’s bathroom to the church question and more. Folklore rooted in discretion is interesting because it cements the bonds of members within the group. Outsiders aren’t aware of these traditions and customs – a heterosexual person may not blink twice if a gay person asks another gay person if a third party ‘goes to their church’ – and the customs have a special meaning to those who understand.