USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘gay’
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Softball Apparel Signs and Sexuality

Informant: “In high school playing softball there was this secret code to show if you were lesbian. I know how ridiculous that is now, but if you wore ribbons in your hair, it meant you weren’t. Every girl on the team would put ribbons in their hair because they didn’t want people thinking they were lesbian.”

Context: This collection of folklore was done while the informant was home from Boston. We spoke with the intent to collect this piece of folklore when prompted with what are the sorts of folklore found in softball. The informant played softball for 4 years in high school, but does not play in college currently.

Informant Analysis Transcript:

Collector: “Where did you first learn this, or from who?”

Informant: “I think I first heard about the whole ‘lesbians play softball’ in middle school. My mom would always tell me that. The whole ribbons thing I only heard in high school. I think people on the softball team told me and I just assumed that I might as well join in.”

Collector: “Why do you think this folklore is used in high school softball, or like, your analysis of it?

Informant: “Uhm, I don’t know. I guess in high school you care a lot about what other people think of you, especially if you are female. The idea of someone thinking you are lesbian when you are not if you play softball was just a fear that many girls had. The whole ribbon thing kind of gives a little piece of mind, like, ‘ok! I’m ready to play now, put me in coach’ *laughs*

Collector Analysis: I believe that there is a fear in high school in girls of being perceived wrongly by their classmates. The use of ribbons is integral to the analysis of this folk sign. Ribbons seem closely tied with femininity in American culture, where as most people assume lesbian culture to be more masculine. This is a generalization of course, but the stereotype that cisgendered girls would are more likely to wear ribbons in their hair as apposed to their gay counterparts allows for people to assume the sexual orientation of another without having to ask. Especially at a time in life where many people are still figuring out their sexual identity, the whole topic of gender is painted with strict contrast.

Adulthood
Humor

Haitian AIDS/HIV Medicine Joke

“So, back when I was doing HIV work I used to hear this joke all the time from my gay patients. It would go something like, ‘What’s the hardest part about having HIV?’ and the gay guy would say, ‘Convincing my mom I had sex with a Haitian. *laughing* ”

Context: This joke was performed at a dinner party whose guests were primarily family, with the informant being the father of the collector. The joke was said midway into dinner while the guests and informant had been drinking wine.

Informant Analysis: The doctor who said this joke had done much work during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s and 90’s. At the time, it was more of a secret for men to be gay since it was largely deemed “deplorable” by the average American. Today, this sort of anti-gay rhetoric has decreased. Many of the doctor’s patients were gay, had HIV, but also had a wife and children. They kept their sexual orientation hidden to their families and friends. However, when the HIV epidemic began to ravage America’s gay population, it was often difficult to hide the fact that you were gay since getting AIDS was considered a sign. Along with being gay being a sign of having AIDS, it was also common belief that Haitians also had it since there was and still is a high percentage of HIV positive people in Haiti.

Collector Analysis: The joke seems to play on the taboo topic of  coming out as gay to one’s mother. It seems to show that, especially during the 80’s, being considered gay was completely out of the question for many homosexual males. Instead of coming out as gay after being diagnosed with AIDS, the patient would rather say they got it from sex with a Haitian. The joke itself hinges on the fact that the highest percentage of HIV is found in homosexuals and Haitians. The humor also makes light of a situation which, especially during the 80’s, was considered a death sentence. Medical humor, including this joke, often contains this sort of dark humor to try to lessen the pain involved with such terrible situations.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Signs

“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
Humor

Reading

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.

Summary:

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.

Summary:

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. 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
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.

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