USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘gay’
folk metaphor
Folk speech

“Does he go to our church?”

*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.

Folk speech


About the Interviewed: Davey is a student at the George Washington University double-majoring in English and LGBT Studies. His ethnic background hails from Spain. At the time of this interview, he was currently on leave at his home in Southern California. He is biologically male, but he identifies as gender-queer. Nonetheless, he prefers male pronouns. He is 20 years old.

Davey: “Because reading is what? Fundamental, darling.”

I have just opened up a can of worms. I have asked Davey Gonzalez about the LGBT art of ‘reading’, which is not the same thing as reading books.

Davey: “Okay, before we begin, we have to address these issues from a herstorical standpoint.”

We laugh; Davey and I both like to say ‘Herstory’ instead of ‘History’ when addressing LGBT issues. It’s something of an inside joke. 

Davey: “Reading is an art of poetic insult. When you read someone, you go into them, and you scoop out all of their flashy insecurities. You are reading people like a book. Gay people had it first. They used it as a way to be expressive. It was a way that we all got along. We just read the shit out of each other. This was before your time, or my time.”

I asked him to “read” me. For scientific purposes.

Davey: “I can’t read you David, you’re too nice. …Aw, I’m just kidding, you fickle bitch.”

We laugh.

Davey: “I mean seriously, you come to my place, my home, dressed like you’re going motha-fuckin swimming. [I was wearing a tank top and shorts] You came here to record me? To ask me questions? With my beautiful voice? I don’t think so! Make up your mind, darling!”

I’m in hysterics at this point. I ask him if he thinks that people sometimes take reading the wrong way.

Davey: “Well, there’s a difference between giving a read and being a bitch. When you read, it’s collaborative. Both people are in on it [the act]. Now if I called you a fat slut, that wouldn’t be a read, that would just be true.”

I hit him jokingly with my sandal. Hard.


The term “reading” in LGBT culture, refers to the spoken act of pointing out flaws in others for comedic or dramatic effect. Davey wanted me to envision it as the more artistic form of a “diss”.

“Reading” has seen a resurgence among people like Davey in circles of the LGBT community. The popularity of shows like “The New Normal” and “Rupaul’s Drag Race”, have made popular certain elements of LGBT culture that have existed since as far back as the 1970’s. 


Folk speech

“No T, No Shade” – Gay Slang

About the Interviewed: Davey is a student at the George Washington University double-majoring in English and LGBT Studies. His ethnic background hails from Spain. At the time of this interview, he was currently on leave at his home in Southern California. He is biologically male, but he identifies as gender-queer. Nonetheless, he prefers male pronouns. He is 20 years old.

I just asked Davey about slang terms used in the LGBT community.

Davey: “No T, No Shade. That’s a good one.”

There’s a bit of a pause here in the recording.

Davey: “It means like, ‘No offense, but…’ – only gayer. It’s like the Gay version of that. (Laughs)”

I ask Davey to use it in a sentence for me.

Davey: “Well, it is a sentence. You say it when you don’t wanna hurt somebody’s feelings. Like – ‘No T, No Shade gurl, but… you’re fat. (laughs)”

I ask him if he knows where the phrase originates from.

Davey: “Well, I don’t know where it’s from, but it has two parts: No T, and No Shade. ‘No T’ means no “Talk”, like you’re not holding anything back. And ‘No Shade’ means you don’t want to hurt their feelings. So the whole thing means, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, BUT-”

Now I’m laughing. I ask him to elaborate more on “The T” and “Shade”.

Davey: “Like I said, the T is like, what’s going on. It’s like gossip. When you ask someone what the T is, you wanna know the truth. So like, if I see someone, and I ask you what the T on her is, I wanna know her deal. Shade is when you wanna be nasty. (laughs) When you throw shade, you’re being mean, you’re being a bitch. I’m a shady lady.”

We both laugh.


Gay culture has a number of unique phrases and vocabulary. Davey broke down the term “No T, No Shade”, which roughly translates as a warning that the listener is about to hear something disparaging, yet truthful.

Davey couldn’t remember the first time he heard the phrase “No T, No Shade”, but I remember learning it from him a while back. LGBT culture is unique in that it contains it’s own vernacular and language, despite not pertaining to any particular ethnic background. Davey and I both come from different backgrounds ourselves, yet we’re both united by a culture that with a variety of folklore to share. 

Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

What is a Gay Bear?

My informant is a 20 year old gay film student who self-identifies as a bear. Gay bears are loosely defined as masculine, bigger, hairier guys who are into other masculine, bigger, hairier guys. Here he tries to define what a gay bear is:

“So the bear community if you don’t already know is a community of gay men who tend to be on the heavier side of life. And uh, weight, like, there’s no specified weight that makes you a bear, there’s a lot of schools of thought on it and the jury’s kinda out on it, but um, people tend to think that it’s just bigger guys. Muscular, heavy, just big. But really the biggest, uh, the biggest component is hair. Hairy men, hairy gay men, are bears. ….That’s not a good quote. But the bear flag is a nice little piece of folklore, it consists of uh, orange, black, brown, and uhm… orange black brown colors, more, and those are supposed to be the colors of, all the different colors of body hair, all the different possible colors of body hair on men.”

The informant knows about the bear identity and the bear flag through friends who are bears, but initially (especially in high school) gained most of his information about bears through the internet, because “nobody really talks about gay culture in high school, let alone bears.” As he said, the jury is out on what really defines a bear, and the definitions of the identity is in itself so diverse and numerous that anyone you ask will have a slightly different concept of it. However, here my informant references a semi-official (though born out of folklore) bear “flag” to identify gay bears more with hairiness.