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Word’s Out

Word’s Out: Gay Men’s English

William L. Leap
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Word’s Out
    Book Description:

    Do gay men communicate with each other differently than they do with straight people? If they do, how is “gay men’s English” different from “straight English”? In Word’s Out, William Leap addresses these questions in an entertaining account that looks at gay men’s English as a cultural and a linguistic phenomenon.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8507-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Examples
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Studying Gay Men’s English
    (pp. xi-xxii)

    My purpose in writing this book is to explore some of the ways in which gay men in the United States use English in everyday life and to demonstrate that Gay English is an important and valuable component of gay experience in those contexts. I am interested in the stereotypic varieties of Gay English: for example, the catty, bitchy dialogue associated with Matt Crowley’sBoys in the Band; the self-absorbed linguistic play during “cruising”; and the code words that confirm gay identity during informal conversations between strangers in public places. But I am also interested in gay men’s use of...

  6. 1 Can There Be Gay Discourse without Gay Language?
    (pp. 1-11)

    On a Friday evening in June, I was standing in a Dupont Circle bookstore-sidewalk café, near the center of what some people describe as Washington, D.C.’s “gay ghetto.”¹ This bookstore-café does not claim to be a “gay business,” though gay men are always a prominent part of the clientele. The place was crowded, as it always is on weekends, especially in the summertime. I was with friends that evening, standing in the foyer of the café waiting for a table, and I was listening to a forty-two-year-old man as he inquired about seating in the café for a mixed-gender group...

  7. 2 Gay English as Cooperative Discourse
    (pp. 12-23)

    The first time I reallylistenedto Gay English was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1969. I was sitting in a movie theater watching the film version of Matt Crowley’s playBoys in the Band. I had already learned a few things about the folklore surrounding gay speech from high school locker-room conversations and joke telling, late night college dormitory conversations, and my few gay encounters while in graduate school. But before I saw this film, I had not been party to any type of sustained conversation (however artificially constructed) between gay men.

    I was enchanted by the scenario displayed...

  8. 3 Ensuring Cooperative Discourse: Exaggeration, Turn Taking, Pauses, and Terminals
    (pp. 24-48)

    Cooperative discourse may be a desirable goal in Gay English text making, but other components in the speech event may compete with and even undermine speaker efforts in this area. Speakers use self-parody and mutual teasing to offset such distractions; this is what happened in example 1.3, where guest and host began to make fun of their initial disagreement over color terminology. Speakers can also ensure cooperative discourse through other text-making strategies, and I examine several of those strategies in this chapter.

    Gay English speakers regularly include in their text making features like exaggerated language, gay-oriented metaphor and innuendo, and...

  9. 4 The Risk Outside: Gay English, “Suspect Gays,” and Heterosexuals
    (pp. 49-73)

    In the preceding chapters, I discussed Gay English text making in instances where gay concerns were already in the foreground of the conversation. But in many settings, such foregrounding does not occur (at least, not initially): for example, when conversations occur outside of gay-centered environments, when coparticipants are strangers, or when the topics under discussion deal almost entirely with heterosexual themes. Establishing a common ground becomes a primary concern for text construction in these cases, and Gay English grammar and discourse skills give speakers several ways to address that concern.

    Gaydar provides a starting point for many Gay English conversations...

  10. 5 Claiming Gay Space: Bathroom Graffiti, Songs about Cities, and “Queer” Reference
    (pp. 74-108)

    Postmodern geographers (Cosgrove 1985; Jackson 1989) describe space as a product of interpretive process, as what de Certeau (1984: 117) describes as “a practiced place.” Language is one of the practices through which people transform place into space. In this chapter, I explore these connections between place, space, and text in Gay English discourse.

    Men’s restrooms at my university, as in many public settings in the United States, are richly decorated with graffiti — brief, hand-written commentaries, usually addressing a specific sexual or political theme.¹ In some cases, the comments contain explicitly heterosexual (and often heterosexist) references; in others, comments...

  11. 6 Language, Risk, and Space in a Health Club Locker Room
    (pp. 109-124)

    Washington, D.C.-area health clubs have given me great opportunities for studying Gay English discourse in action.¹ While these are not always necessarily gay-identified or gay-oriented facilities, some male clients still find ways to express erotic interests in men in these settings, and the practices they use for this purpose show certain similarities across sites. Initially, I assumed that Gay English was the language of erotic negotiation in these instances and that studying contrasts between “gay” and “straight” text making at these sites would help me identify and interpret other components of on-site erotic practices. As it turned out, language use...

  12. 7 Gay English in a “Desert of Nothing”: Language and Gay Socialization
    (pp. 125-139)

    I have assumed in the preceding chapters that Gay English is an accessible set of language skills and that learning Gay English does not present any particular problems to would-be speakers.¹ The time has come to look more carefully at the acquisition of Gay English grammar and discourse.

    At issue in this chapter are questions about language socialization and about connections between language learning and gender socialization in U.S. society. Even with the growing visibility of lesbian and gay cultures in recent years, compulsory heterosexuality (Rich 1980) continues to frame expectations about gender in this society and to promote fragmentary...

  13. 8 Gay English and the Language of AIDS
    (pp. 140-158)

    Allspeakers of English use language in special ways when they talk about the AIDS pandemic and its effects on their lives.¹ They draw on code words and phrases when identifying HIV illnesses, describing symptoms, and assessing treatment strategies. They adjust word order, disguise references to subjects and agents, and make other changes in sentence and paragraph form when discussing high-risk activities or commenting on the social conditions that encourage risk taking. Sometimes, when AIDS is the topic under discussion, people explore their thoughts and feelings in great verbal detail; other times, people make their thoughts and feelings known by...

  14. CONCLUSION: Gay English, Authenticity, and Performative Effect
    (pp. 159-164)

    I began this book by describing how I discovered Gay English, first as a young man coming to terms with my own gendered identity, and later as a middle-aged, tenured academician looking for ways to bring my personal and professional lives into close connection. Accordingly, each of these chapters combined ideas gained through a more formalized linguistic analysis of gay grammar and discourse with insights gained from my own experiences with gay text making.

    I am certain that some gay men will not agree with some of my subjective claims or will find fault with the technical analysis of my...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 165-172)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-178)
  17. Index
    (pp. 179-180)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 181-181)