The    Queer    Dictionary:    a    glossary    of    technical    terms,    slang,    slurs    .    .    .

Flashback: I was a child, making my way through third grade one year early. I sat crosslegged to munch and talk with a different group every day, or simply eat alone, content to find intelligent friends in a book from the library; even then, I was "different" . . . more openminded, perhaps; when a child thinks anything outside of the lines everyone else is thinking in, they're instantly a pariah. Anyway, the group I was sitting with that day didn't have the friendliest intentions. An older girl was getting a kick out of my relative naivete -- she asked me what gay meant.

I replied, as if she was a lunkhead not to know: "Happy. It means happy."

Of course, she brought over a whole gaggle of tittering older girls to listen to this terribly misinformed weirdo. It was a perfectly reasonable assumption, for someone who had grown up reading books of mommy's from when she was a little girl; gay did mean happy, or brightly colored in some cases. To these children, it meant something similar to the girl with her nose constantly embedded in a book (me) or the boy with a funny accent: weird.

Which brings me to the point: where did all these terms for homosexuals come from?

Let's start at the beginning.

Homosexual: This one is pretty easy. The prefix homo- means same, alike. Thus homosexual refers to sexual desire, activity, etc. applying to one of the same sex. That's pretty basic.

Gay: Here begins the confusion. Gay, as has been stated previously, means happy; I have analyzed this one, however, and it seems that "gay" can also mean given to social pleasures; licentious, "loose", leading an immoral life. Here the outdated prejudice in this archaic term comes out of the closet.

Lesbian: This word is much kinder in origin, stemming from the home of the Greek lyric poet Sappho of Lesbos. Apparently this Sappho was an earlier female homosexual, and thus the term sapphic originates with her as well.

Queer: This one is obvious . . . I'm sure it started as an epithet, but it doesn't seem to be one anymore, having separated from its original "abnormal" meaning to become a catch-all term for gay, lesbian, bi, trans, whatever. And of course, it still means simply strange in certain venues. (Not all G/L/B/T people are weirdos, of course, and vice versa. Being a proud freak and straight grrl myself, I think this is fairly obvious.)

Fairy: This term originates in a commonly held belief that isn't always, but is sometimes, accurate; the term brings to mind effeminate characteristics and mannerisms supposedly common to gay men. Queen is also apparently of this origin.

Dyke: I see absolutely no evolution from the original meaning -- an alternate spelling of dike, which is like a dam. Not a damn. Ironically, both words -- dike and dam -- have lost use because of their homophones. (Another homo- word.)

Faggot: Literally, a bundle of sticks. Now, it has been pointed out to me more than once by a variety of people that this term evolved from the ugly practice of bigotry in its harshest form: the burning of gay people. Homosexuals, just as books and witches, do not take well to fire. Hmm, at that, a fire extinguisher would make a nice anti-hate symbol . . .

Straight: Implies the “normality” of being heterosexual; its root makes sense, in a twisted, homophobic sort of way.

Most of these words have divorced their roots . . . use your own judgment in using them. Now “gay” no longer means happy, in most sources; nor “faggot” a bundle of sticks. These words are now the property of the queer community, and the implications -- as wildly diverse and incongruous as they can be -- have lost much of their meaning.

This section has been edited and may be in the future -- please send me anything you might think or any information you may have about this topic.

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Well, of course, only people have been edified here so far, but there's always tomorrow.