Gay: A recent history…from Arthur Evans

Whatever happened to the word “Gay”? If you go down to the Community Center on Market Street in San Francisco, you’ll have to look long and hard until you find it. Likewise if you visit the Historical Center on Castro Street. Not to mention that it fell out of the term “Pride Week” a long time ago.

The situation reminds me of the pre-Stonewall era. Many in our community in those days were embarrassed by the word. They balked when new groups appeared calling themselves the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. But these were the groups that triggered the Gay revolution.

Rainbow Flag After Stonewall, politicians eventually deigned to talk to us, but some still choked on the word “Gay.” I remember how this reticence infuriated Chris Perry, a founder of the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club.

In the late 1970s, Chris got the club to go after Quentin Kopp, a local politician, because he couldn’t bring himself to utter the word in public. Ironically, that group today calls itself the San Francisco LGBT Democratic Club. The word has shrunk to a letter, and in second place.

The taboo on the word “Gay” developed because lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people saw the word as referring only to homosexual males. However, such a limitation was never intended. In effect, we let the popular media take a word away from us and redefine it for their own purposes, diminishing us all in the process.

Ganymede - Rubens Some academicians have added to the problem. They claim that the word with its present double meaning of both cheerful and homosexual doesn’t go back before the 19th century. Apparently, they never heard of the myth of Ganymede, the beloved of Zeus. In ancient Greek, the word “Ganymede” (Ganumedes) means both cheerful and homosexual, just like our word “Gay.” Both words come from a common Indo-European root (ga-).

The word “queer,” which has supplanted “Gay” in some quarters, is an insult. It means odd or unnatural. But there is nothing odd or unnatural about being Gay. Homophobia is the thing that’s odd and unnatural.

I acknowledge the right of other people to call themselves GLBT, or G, or queer, if they want to. But please don’t dump any those terms on me. I’m still Gay and proud.

Yours for gay liberation, Arthur Evans

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