feature image via shutterstock
Coding has always been a rich part of queer history. From clothing, gesturing, imagery and language, it’s been a invaluable tool meant to protect, to acknowledge, and to navigate. Gay men in the US, and probably other places, all types of places even, have been “a friend of Dorothy,” since the ’30s (depending on who you ask), and while it’s often credited to The Wizard of Oz/Judy Garland’s gay following, it’s most likely referring to 1930s writer Dorothy Parker who was known to keep the company of (and sometimes marry!) gay men. But that’s what’s great about language, it’s ability to bend with time and adapt with each user.
Since we’ve already covered queer slang of the past on the site, I wanted to amass a modern catalogue of queer slang by sourcing the staff, personal friends, the comments, and you! Here’s what we’ve heard gay people called in our lifetimes.
Kayla, Staff Writer, NYC/LA
Falcons – “It was a cool way of explaining them.”
Falcons, hawks, vultures, buzzards, shikras, kites, caracaras, hell, any bird of prey is going to sound cool and I’m fully on board. Thank you, Kayla, for the opening of this door.
“They wear a lot of hats.”
There’s not much I can add here.
Erin, Staff Writer, Tennessee
“They’ve got a wide sit.” or “They’ve got a hard sit.”
I don’t know when I first started saying this, but there’s a certain stance to me that undeniably pings. Let this young Jodie Foster show you what I mean.
The wing span, the leg span, the arm hang, the dropped shoulders, the foot out. Look, I don’t normally sit like this, but I know my body has morphed into this exact position in a primal moment. Jodie maintains this wide sit the entire interview, which makes the interviewer’s question of, “What kind of fellow are you into?” that much better.
“They’re a friend of Bettina.”
This is not something I say. YET! I was just thinking we need to be a friend to our own Dorothy, and Bettina is a hilarious name.
Hat, Autostraddle member/commenter, North Yorkshire
A Dungaree (4 or more lesbians) – “As far as I’m aware it originated with us one hazy night when myself, and 2 other lesbian housemates, had our girlfriends over. Our straight housemate wanted a collective noun. Have to wonder if anyone else has had the same thought in similar circs. We still use it on those shocking moments when in rural North Yorkshire we suddenly realise there’s a dungaree present.”
Okay, I love this so much. I remember reading “a dungaree” in Hat’s comment and it having such a good weight to it. If four lesbians constitutes a dungaree, then is A-Camp a rack?
Friends in North Carolina/South Carolina
“They can throw a tight spiral.”
In college my friend and her friends on a rugby team introduced me to this phrase and I immediately fell in love with it. I still use it! It’s got such flare. Eventually it evolved into “Tony Romos” for shorthand because at the time Tony Romo was a popular American football quarterback (2006?), and also, yes, Romo rhymes with homo. Congratulations, everybody!
Friend who grew up in Atlanta, Georgia
“They’re in the fur trade business.”
This one feels very sophisticated for someone to “grow up” using, but it has layers and I like it.
I know y’all have to have additions to this collection. I mean some of these are sort of to be expected, but the ones that are totally out of left field and still somehow make perfect sense have my changed my life. A tip of my many hats to you, falcon and dungaree. Due you have verbal cues among friends? Do you even care??
Pretty sure both Falcon and Hawk are the names of Ponr studios for queer men(and men aligned folks) out here Valley. Hawk also sounds like the name of a bisexual SoCal porn star who took his name after the skateboarder.
we’re on the right track!
I had to google when I got home, but I was right on both counts, kind of. There is a gay porn director who goes by the last name Hawk. He’s pro bareback gay porn, and became a porn director when he became HIV positive back in the mid 00’s. Also found out that bareback porn, before the condom laws LA county passed, paid less. Some of it had to do with many of men just wanted to have condom-less sex on camera and didn’t want to become porn stars. Some even took zero pay just for the fun. More power to them I guess.
I’m still personally in love with “light in the loafers” even tho i feel like it’s supposed to be a bit derogatory… i just love the image of happy queers traipsing around.
I usually just say “she’s one of us” because luckily almost all of my close friends are gay/queer so they know what that means. Although similar to the hats one, I’ve been know to say “She’s fond of flannel”
Same! I also love “she’s family.” ?
i also love light in the loafers for the same reason
I keep trying to make “Flannel of Lesbians” happen. However, given the use of “Dungaree” both in this post and in the Fun Home song, “Ring of Keys”, I would be open to switching my slang alliances.
I love “Flannel of Lesbians”! Flannel sounds like panel and therefore conjures up a delight mental image of ladies having a discussion group about wlw’s beloved fabric.
There’s room for Flannel and Dungaree IMO, like maybe they could indicate different numbers of lesbians, like one means 4-10 and another 10+. Personally, I’d favor Dungaree for the higher number because of its similarity to jamboree, like some kind of gay denim party.
I’m partial to “Flannel of Lesbians” myself
“Flannel of Lesbians” sounds so cozy! I envision gal pals bundled in flannel around a campfire. Maybe they’re cuddling in a fleece blanket. Maybe they’re sharing ghost stories at a-camp.
Also relevant, some of my FB camp friends shared photo of this flannel scented candle on FB. It’s a thing.
I was sad you didn’t refer to Lost and Delirious as “One of the best ever lesbian *tv shows*”, but I’m guessing Heather Hogan either didn’t edit this one, or we can’t keep our in jokes going forever…
It did say TV show earlier today!
IT WAS ME WHO CHANGED IT AND WILL CHANGE IT BACK
this entire exchange has made my thursday so much brighter.
YAAAAAAAY I LOVE YOU AUTOSTRADDLE WRITERS!
I found a tumblr post that suggested “werewolf” as a lesbian equivalent of “bear.”
I heard that bisexual people claimed werewolf. Something about confused (straight) ppl saying sometimes we’re a wolf, and sometimes we’re human, depending on who we’re dating. But no: we’re 100% werewolf, 100% of the time. ^..^__/
Raptor, from the Actual Lesbians subreddit. The background is Jurassic Park (a bunch of female raptors figuring out how to have families).
SCREAMS INTO THE NIGHT
Oh wow, I never realized that was why AL’s mascot is a raptor. I always thought it was one of those “we’re on the internet so we must talk about how we like quirky stuff like dinosaurs” things, but that actually makes so much sense.
Lightbulb just went on over here
I know it’s old-fashioned, but Bosom Friends is the 19th century’s Gal Pal and I can’t think about romantic friendships in literature without it.
Anne of Green Gables!!! She was always going on about how beautiful her friends were
YUP, and all the lesser-known Louisa May Alcott I read as a kid. (Rose & Phoebe forever)
YES! (And now I know why I loved Anne of Green Gables so much as a child…)
It was Autostraddle that introduced me to the term alternative lifestyle haircut.
Same! I still say this all the time
I liked this article. I stopped to read it because of my fondness for words and etymology. In China there is no “otter/wolf” debate…all thin, gay men (hairy or not) are referred to as “Monkeys”
PS> The last time I stopped at AS was the piece about Pagan Queers/Wicca etc…and I roared my praise but I have yet too another post about…a little more support for LGBTQ Pagans please?
*yet to see
There’s once a month round up column, Anna’s posted a link of it.
Also monthly horoscope by Corina and Fool’s Journey, a column on the tarot by Beth.
Lastly there’s always something popping up about the “witch” in pop culture, in history, or queer theory and how queer people are finding themselves in witchcraft or paganism that are of interest and get put it Also.Also. or Things That Read That I Loved.
Oh and that time Follow Your Arrow (also by written by Beth) covered a
So support, it is there or here rather.
I have a “Circling of Kites” in the sky above where I live! Yay!! Brunch mates!
My grandmother always refers to queer people as “looking to the left”.
Years ago, I taught at a catholic school one of my friends/coworkers found out I was queer, and his response to being asked if he had figured it out already was “I just thought she was a casual dresser.” Needless to say, ‘casual dresser’ is now go to code mostly because it is hilarious and partially because we’ve promised never to let him live it down. To his defense, I am a very casual dresser.
fav so far!!
wait oh my god a former boss of mine told me I was a ‘casual dresser’ once! It seemed kind of weird and out of place at the time but this definitely put a new spin on that comment.
Whoops-whistle: When you think a boi on the street is really attractive and it turns out they’re actually a man
I hate those “boyish lesbian? No, actual boy” moments
Pants with REAL pockets aka/or “Man Pants”
Sensible (ie not pretty) shoes; which was something noted by people with side eye from specific* concerned people about me and my childhood bestie.
Man Pants; something I introduced said bestie into when she complained about her pants not having enough pocket space at work when they stopped letting employees putting their bags behind the custy service counter. Around the same time she started her coming out process…not saying there’s direction correlation, but we’ve joked about it. xP
*Her mom who was concerned about her being able to attract a man and as feminine Reaganite woman who just didn’t understand her tomboy daughter’s disinterest in stuff that was paramount in her teenhood.
She understand now tho and hey there could still be a wedding in the future. So it’s alright.
YES TO SENSIBLE SHOES
There’s even a movie, Saving Face I think it was, that brings up the sensible shoes.
It was gramma praising her grandaughter while at the same time insulting her daughter for being frivolous/not sensible after the shoes were subjects of you’ll never catch a man wearing those criticism by mom to daughter.
Grams knocking mom down a peg after mom tries to knock you down a peg thing.
Like hmm why does mom feel the need to knock me down a peg…oh yeah because her mom did the saaame thing. Enjoy moment or feel sympathetic…
I love that movie
The women’s chorus my honey used to be in which is super gay has a special ensemble called sensible shoes.
That is fantastic.
Pants without sufficient pockets are just obnoxious. Where am I supposed to put my hands? Or my keys? Or my phone? Or random rocks and seashells and other nature-findings?
Excited to induct:
“she’s a casual dresser,”
& “she wears sensible shoes”
to this running list
In the movie Good Morning Vietnam, Robin Williams has this line: The Mississippi River broke through a protective dike today. What is a protective dike? Is that a large woman standing near the river going [in Butch voice] “Don’t go near there!” [in Girly voice] “But Betty-” [in Butch voice] “Don’t go near there! Get away from the river! Stay away from there.” I know, we can’t use the word “dyke.” You can’t even say “lesbian”, it’s “women in comfortable shoes.” Thank you very much.
Lesbify = interpreting or re-interpreting something as being lesbian, eg. a pair of old ladies walking next to each other on the street REALLY being a couple. A lesbified Titanic would have had a happy ending (because if Jack had been a woman she’d been allowed in the rescue boat with Rose).
She has swag = she’s a dyke
Creepy lesbian = shorthand for when you feel like a predatory lesbian simply due to the fact that society sets you up to think ANY feelings of attraction you have towards another woman is you overdoing it. Me and my friend use this a lot, because it refers to a particular, double feeling of sexual guilt: one because you’re a woman with any desires at all, second because you’re desire is not only existent but also aimed “wrong”. We’ve also concluded that it’s possible to be a ‘creepy lesbian’ in your own lesbian relationship.
She’s a Pink fan/she follows women’s soccer/she plays roller derby = self-explanatory
Cut your nails = We’re having sex, get ready
I once tried to explain the “creepy lesbian” feeling to a straight male friend. Oftentimes I feel like checking women out, especially if they don’t already know I’m gay, is invasive and violating, especially if they’re in a women-only space like a changing room or slumber party (when I was younger) that they might presume to be “safe”. This has gotten so bad that I get flustered and avoid attractive straight girls, only to find out later that they were bi and I should have been bringing my A-game :(
Forgot why I started that story. Basically, I explained all this to my guy friend, and he was just completely non-plussed and didn’t understand why I felt entitled to stare at people and flirt with them, even presuming they were totally straight.
Creepy lesbian is the reason I barely even do women’s only spaces anymore unless they’re for lesbians or queer women, in order to even avoid the POSSBILITY of being caught ~staring too long~ (and when does that even happen????) and accidentally freaking someone out. Even in changing rooms I’m like, staring down my locker or shower handle or whatever I can possibly look at that isn’t human. The height of creepy lesbian was, of course, having a crush on a female friend I didn’t know was straight at the time, actually making a move, and getting rejected. We’re still friends but I am 99% sure that she actually DID view me as predatory that time. I don’t think straight women experience similarly added shame over their entire sexual orientation based on rejection? Whatever complex they develop from it will still never be anything like “creepy heterosexual” haha
oh dang i get this
i didn’t know it was a thing, and I’m actually ace, but i just stare at girls a lot because they’re pretty, and my friends know because they’re all queer. My *wife* (not actually in a relationship but we’re gay together) always knows I’m just staring at her eyeliner because it’s perfect, so it’s cool.
but before I knew I was even remotely gay i felt gross and perverted just accidentally glancing at another girl in the locker room. eeeehhhhh….
anyway, school’s started up again for me, so I’m spending all my time creepering and being distracted in class because GIRLS ARE SO PRETTY WOW
See, I always liked “Gaggle” as s term for a group of lesbians, like a gaggle of geese.
I’m not sure why…
Handy or “good with her hands” maybe?
The movie Bound, all the comments about Corky; her hands and what she can do with them
How your brain totally thinks “seeexxx” when the phrase “good with her hands” comes up. Search your feelings you know it to be true.
And once upon a visit after my SIL & brother finally bought a house, but he didn’t magically know how to fix stuff like her dad/dads just do. My mom suggested to her they just send me because I’m HANDY with tools and had more free time then my dad. SIL did that “totally a lesbian” side eye thing straight people do that they think we don’t notice with the mmhm that says “you poor woman your daughter’s a lesbo how to you not notice when you say stuff like that”
Just watch Bound okay.
Reminds me of Mad Men when Betty said that Sally “took to (Don’s) toolbox just like a little lesbian” Not sure if that was period-accurate or not, but if so, long-standing stereotype
Ehhh I do not think her using the word lesbian would be historically accurate, but Betty did go to Bryn Mawr. Probably class of ’55.
Could be wrong but handiness with tools and “man jobs” would be kinda recentish (40’s at the earliest) at that point the previous stereotype was too serious academic or reformer type of girl doomed or dedicated to spinsterhood.
Annnd um Betty wouldn’t likely of had exposure to a woman low class enough to know tools. I could be wrong about that too.
Definitely, hands hold totally different connotations for us. When I’m low-key interested in someone I always check out their hands. And nails! If I describe a woman to another dyke and finish the description with “…and reeeaaally short nails” that’s a wink-wink one of us one of us type thing to say, and she’d get it. Whereas a straight woman would just be like wut
I call things deep lez sometimes when referring to anything super gay that also happens to be old fashionedy gay or whenever folks are talking about like, aura cleansing or whatever.
I also refer to myself as a SHF which is just short hair femme.
DEEP CUTS oh i like both of these
I don’t know if this is just a Missouri thing or if it was just something my friend and I made up, but we always referred to someone, male or female, add having “too much sugar in the tank.” I think it referred to gay boys being super sweet. It always made us laugh. Didn’t realize I would one day be referring to myself.
i might faint
People in TX say this as well.
Here in South Texas, as well as in other Spanish speaking areas, it’s common to hear Tortillera. For example, “Jane es una tortillera.” For a couple, you might hear Compañeras.
I usually just use ‘family’ when speaking with other queers. ‘Is she family?’ ‘I met this cool girl, I hope she’s family.’
The first time a woman asked me if I was family, I didn’t know what it meant. We were playing pool with a mutual friend and I was like “Family? Me and Brian? Nah, we’re just friends”.
Now I use the term all the time, for anyone who is gay. It’s one of my favorites. Sometimes my blood family sucks, but my chosen family is awesome.
Likewise. I actually used it in conversation earlier this week to find out if someone was queer (she was, and she immediately recognized the term).
I’ve never heard “family” before but i LOVE IT and will definitely be using it from now on.
I often say, if I see someone on the gay side, that they go to the Tuesday night meeting, as in the social meeting night of the local gays.
This tracks, Tuesday is the night Buffy used to be on my TV.
She’s a member of the book club.
Originally a reference to the first couple episodes of The L Word.
I feel like there needs to be a word for when you think you see a hot masculine-of-centre queer in public and then are faced with immediate disappointment they’re a guy with an unusually clean-cut aesthetic. Living in London with barbershop/lumbersexual culture, this is especially prevalent and soul-destroying. D:
My friends and I use “Whoops-whistle” as in “I don’t think I can take another trip to Wicker Park, if I whoops-whistle another damn guy I’m gonna give up on love”
Or when you realize they’re actually a 16-year-old boy and just feel gross in all the ways
Aw man, this has happened to me way too many times (with cis dudes in general and especially teenage ones). Haha
Yes to this. I need brain bleach.
I once overheard the following conversation at a Pride parade:
GIRL #1: Do you realize that Justin Bieber could walk among us at this very moment and be like, totally incognito.
GIRL #2: Oh my god! Can you imagine! And you’d start making out thinking he was just this really hot chick and then he’d speak and you’d be like…
GIRL #1: “..fuck! I just made out with Justin Bieber!”
Sometimes I don’t really feel like I’m “on the team” as a newly out bi woman, but when my meetup group decided to use “What’s your favorite aisle in the Home Depot” as an icebreaker question I was like YES, YOU GET ME, I GET YOU
So cute! And a big hug of welcome to you–welcome to the family!
A negative one, heard in trans circles in Eastern Canada: “CML” (Cis Moderate Lesbian), referring to a woman who supports trans and nb people, particularly trans women, only superficially and in theory.
“People like us” shortened to “plu” is Malaysian slang :)
Also aahhh please no photo of mel gibson in this article, he’s one of the worst humans (violent against women, racist).
My 60-something gay uncle uses mentioned “PLU’s” and he reference was lost on me so he had to spell it out. It is awesome. I also generally appreciate those terms that are older and highlight our shared experience with other queers– “family,” “one of us,” etc.
Whenever my mom and I are talking we seem to use the phrase “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home. Depending on the context it can mean anything from just a general term for a lesbian identified woman or more specifically an “old school butch” as Alison Bechdel describes. It can be a noun or an adjective, as in she was very “Ring of Keys”. ??
My wife and I say “Hark!” when we’re in public to alert each other to queer girl sightings. Obvs as in, hark, a lesbian!
This is so sweet! Me and my gf just raise eyebrows and the other goes “YEAH.”
Actually honey, being an English teacher, I’d probably have to correct you by saying “yeah” would be less funny and/or indicative of understanding than saying “”Indeed!” or “Foresooth!” ;)
… I think us understanding each other is already pretty indicative of understanding, so we’re good, thanks.
Sorry, wasn’t trying to be rude…I just thought foresooth would be a funnier response.
Gay as/gayer than a maypole, is one I’ve always known. I’ve never known what made maypoles particularly gay, but I *did* do maypole dancing as a child, so maybe it’s that.
Update: I googled it, and that appears to have originated with the film Love Actually. I am okay with this association. Presumably it comes from the same scene that has “let’s get pissed and watch some porn” in the post-watershed cut, and “let’s have some drinks and watch a movie” in the pre-watershed cut. (Why do I remember this? I don’t know.)
I think the idea is that maypoles are gay in the sense of happy/carefree. Like “gay as a summer’s day”.
Here in the Deep South my friends and I often use “going to the same church.” As in, a woman with short hair will acknowledge you out in public and a straight acquaintance will ask if you know her. “No but we go to the same church.” Down here we still need some code talk.
THIS is the one that I am stealing! I’ve been at lunch with coworkers before and didn’t want to explain how I knew another woman – this is perfect for your conservative, southern busybodies!
I go to a drag king show, me and my friends call it church.
I go to a Unitarian church with a lot of other queers, so this can be both literal AND figurative. I dig it!
“On the team” – are you on our team? Also “family.” My ex and I also saw kids who seemed gay and would say “future homo of America.” Although maybe that’s being a little CL (creepy lesbian).
Just gonna leave this here: http://the-toast.net/2015/02/24/code-words-lesbianism-classic-films/
wow, “a gal with her own library card” is pretty much perfect.
I like how some of these phrases are suggestively sexual especially this one, “She’s an evening girl, fond of the twilight hours”.
I also get the feeling that most of these were written by a heterosexual man or woman because of their tone.
My group of friends sometimes calls other queer women primas (cousins)–as in, “did you see your prima over there by the bar?” Pretty sure this is something we made up.
My ex’s grandma once used the term “fruit lady” to refer to a lesbian she met in the grocery store. We all thought she meant the woman who cuts up the fruit in the deli.
I think fruit / fruity has been used to describe queer men but it was the first time I’d ever heard it applied to a woman.
There’s a famous lesbian bar in my town that was written up in a blog post on Effing Dykes. They described the common-place act of patrons walking the path around the bar as a “fruit loop.” heheheheh.
yep it was a thing in the 30’s and 40’s mostly
fruit salad = a group of queers
I know it probably started off as a derogatory thing, but I’ve always liked “queer as a 3 dollar bill”. I guess it kind of has some old world charm to it.
My Southern grandmother uses, “Well, you *know* they never married” as code for totally queer but not out because it’s Mississippi
I recently worked for an older queer woman who used the word “sister” to refer to other queer women and “brother” for queer men. I had never heard it before! It has now become apart of my lexicon.
I read “she pinged my gaydar” somewhere and I use that a lot when talking about someone I think may be queer.
Whenever my best friend and I wanted to talk about lesbians around my homophobic mother or elsewhere, we referred to them as “gardeners.” “Do you think she is a gardener?” “Totally…look at her nails”
See how it works? Cuz we gardeners aren’t afraid to get a little dirty… And plant some flowers too maybe?
Sitting at Lilith fair with my daughter and her friend years ago(they were young, maybe 10 years old), the friend didn’t have vocabulary to define the opposite of “straight ” so she called them “crooked.” It stuck and we have used it ever since.
too much sugar in the tank
they go to the tuesday night meeting
they go to the same church
I use “Schrodinger’s Gay” to refer to those situations where a gay person acts in an extremely stereotypical ~gay~ way but the straights are too afraid to seem rude to actually think they’re gay, causing the paradox.