[Ads-l] Antedating of "Come Out of the Closet" (Homosexuality)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jan 23 21:18:35 UTC 2018

Frustratingly, Bruce Rodgers’s _Gay Talk (1972, but appearing earlier pub. as _The Queens’ Vernacular_) has a relevant entry including 

closet case, queen, queer
closet dyke
in the closet
closet name
come out of the closet

--but unlike with other entries Rodgers does not provide dated cites or any dates whatsoever for these.  In fact, the entry noted here includes a raft of (now somewhat quaint) synonyms and related terms with dates, for whose reliability I cannot vouch:

cover fag (man, punk, sissy] (40’s-mid 60’s) 
canned fruit (late 50’s)
dry queen (kwn Albuquerque, late 60’s)
cedarchest cissy (kwn Midwest, late 60’s)


> On Jan 23, 2018, at 3:22 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> Just to further complicate the chronology, the metaphorical gay "closet"
> does extend further back in the compound form "closet queen/fag." HDAS has
> this as the earliest cite for "closet queen":
> 1959 ISR Graffiti: You closet queens are full of shit.
> (Jon, what's "ISR"?)
> And Green's Dictionary of Slang has:
> 1961 A. Reiss in Cressey & Ward _Delinquency, Crime, and Social Process_
> (1969) 994: In the organized ‘gay world,’ they are known as ‘closet fags’.
> On Tue, Jan 23, 2018 at 2:39 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
> wrote:
>> One issue is how to fold in the metaphorical “closet”, which isn’t part of
>> these earlier cites below.  Is it possible that there was a reanalysis
>> involved, so that “come out” is now seen as parasitic on/truncated from
>> “come out of the closet”, even though the historical trajectory was
>> different?
>>> On Jan 23, 2018, at 2:34 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
>>> On Tue, Jan 23, 2018 at 2:01 PM, MULLINS, WILLIAM D (Bill) CIV USARMY
>>> RDECOM AMRDEC (US) wrote:
>>>>> come out of the closet (homosexuality) (OED 1972)
>>>>> 1968 _Berkeley Barb_ 15-21 Mar. 12/1 (Independent Voices)  HAY FRUITS!
>>>> Come out of the closet long enuf to attend the East Bay Gay
>>>>> Discussion Group Fridays.
>>>> It would be nigh-on impossible to search for, I suspect, but I wonder
>> when
>>>> "of the closet" started being dropped, and when "come out" started being
>>>> applied to characteristics other than homosexuality ("come out as a
>>>> Republican", etc.).
>>> See OED3 senses 12 and 13 of "come out" (s.v. "come" -- June 2017
>> update).
>>> ----
>>> 12. intr. With complement. To make a public declaration in support of or
>>> against something specified; to declare oneself a supporter of, or act as
>>> an advocate for, a particular cause.
>>> See also _to come out in one's true colours_ at _colour_ n.1 Phrases 5a.
>>> 1836   New-Yorker 26 Mar. 9/2   James B. Gardiner..was then a supporter
>> of
>>> Mr. Van Buren's claims for the Presidency.—Since that time, he has come
>> out
>>> as a partisan of Gen. Harrison.
>>> [...]
>>> 13. intr.
>>> a. slang. Among homosexual men and women: to become socially or sexually
>>> active within homosexual circles; to realize that one is homosexual. Now
>>> rare except as passing into sense 13b.
>>> Perhaps influenced by the idea of social debut in sense 8c.
>>> 1941   G. Legman in G. W. Henry Sex Variants II. 1161   Come out, to
>> become
>>> progressively more and more exclusively homosexual with experience.
>>> 1949   ‘Swasarnt Nerf’ in H. Hagius Gay Guides for 1949 (2010) 48   Come
>>> out, to be initiated into the mysteries of homosexuality.
>>> [...]
>>> b. To acknowledge or declare openly that one is homosexual. Also in
>>> extended use with reference to other sexual or gender identities. Cf. _to
>>> come out of the closet_ at _closet_ n. and adj. Phrases 2a.
>>> 1971   Observer 17 Jan. 3/1   ‘I enjoy my double life,’ said a delicate
>>> youth wearing a gold chain belt in a Chelsea pub, ‘I don't want to come
>>> out.’
>>> 1974   Win 3 Oct. 10/2   The conference..was a very special occasion for
>>> me. It was the time when I came out as a bisexual.
>>> [...]
>>> ----
>>> So "come out as a Republican (etc.)" long predates the coming-out-as-gay
>>> usage, though latter may inflect the interpretation of the former these
>>> days.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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