Query: Gay Self-Appellations in 20s, 30s? (Modified by Grant Barrett)

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Tue Feb 24 17:00:22 UTC 2004

Russo is much given to anachronistic readings of GAY, and of course he had an
agenda to do so. Since GAY meant 'happy, carefree, a little zany', that would
be an appropriate word to use for two men dancing together in 1895. The same
word could have been used for two women dancing together, or a man and a
woman. At it means is that they are happy and carefree.

What is totally impossible is that Edison meant that two men dancing together
were GAY in the sense that they were men who preferred to wear the clothing
of women (Russo's erroneous "transveste") or that they were men who were
particularly inclined to have sex with other men.

The idea of tow men having sex with other man was such an abomination in 1895
that for Edison even to SUGGEST it in the title of the movie would have been
too shocking for the public to stand for. Indeed, the fact that Edison felt
free to use the term GAY in this way is a very strong argument AGAINST any
reading of GAY as referring to 'homosexual' in 1895.

Russo also makes much of Cary Grant's use of the word GAY in the 1938
American Movie BRINGING UP BABY. I argue against this reading in my DICTIONARIES
article; again, the fact that Cary Grant, a closest bisexual, used this term in
self-reference in an ad-lib in a film is something of an argument AGAINST
construing GAY to mean 'homosexual'. Moreover, given the context of utterance, Grant
could at best have been associating GAY with transvestitism (which is NOT
what Grant himself would have thought of as homosexuality), not homosexuality.
More likely, Grant would have thought of GAY in connection with GAY FOLLIES,
i.e., women in scanty garments appearing in public (a common use of GAY in the
1920s and 1930s).

In a message dated 2/24/04 11:36:32 AM, jdespres at MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM writes:

<< I checked Vito Russo's book The Celluloid Closet and
found some confirmation that "gay" was used of homosexuals well
before the 20s and 30s.  Here, for example, is a statement I found
on page 6:

The idea of homosexuality first emerged onscreen . . . as an
unseen danger, a reflection of our fears about the perils of
tampering with male and females roles.  Characters who were less
than men or more than women had their first expression in the
zany farce of mistaken identity and transvestite humor inherited
from our oldest theatrical traditions . . . An experimental film
directed by William Dickson at the Thomas Edison Studio in 1895
shows two men dancing a waltz.  It was titled _The Gay Brothers_.

Joanne M. Despres, Senior Editor
Merriam-Webster, Inc.
jdespres at merriam-webster.com
http://www.merriam-webster.com >>

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