Earlier Underground Gay Literature

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Wed Feb 25 23:51:26 UTC 2004

>What does NOT make sense to me is the idea that the occasional parallelistic
>references in Victorian England to GAY BOYS = male prostitutes would then have
>resurfaced in the 1920s tramp slang as GEYCAT (where homosexuality was not
>even a part of its ordinary meaning) and that from there it leapt to1930s Gay
>Urban Males ....

It doesn't seem likely to me either.

"Gay girl" and similar expressions where "gay" = "engaged in prostitution"
apparently were used in the US as well as in Britain in the 19th century
(several US citations in HDAS, right?) ... then I would suppose that "gay
boy" would be a plausible extension (anywhere), meaning "male prostitute"
(or "gigolo", or "pimp") (whether it actually had wide currency in any
sense, I don't know). So if somebody were to assert (I do not assert it
myself) that male homosexuals were called "gay" in -- say -- 1915 or 1920,
I would not find it unbelievable or inexplicable (one would still want
documentation of course).

As for "gaycat", I have no idea of its origin, but the first citation in
HDAS where it means "homosexual" is dated 1933, I believe, and I believe it
is plausible that the "homosexual" meaning was grafted onto the previous
"sidekick" sense on the basis of "gay" having some sexual meaning --
possibly like the modern "gay" = "homosexual", possibly a little more
general/ambiguous -- before 1933.

AFAIK, "prushun" (various spellings) was the word typically used
specifically for a tramp's catamite (or boy-companion-and-likely-catamite).
I have no very good idea of the etymology of this word either. I have seen
several speculations which did not strike my fancy.

-- Doug Wilson

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