Gay slang from the 1970s


While browsing recently through the available back issues of Oz magazine I noticed a guide to gay slang that I didn’t recall seeing before. The underground magazines and newspapers of the 60s and 70s were a lot more tolerant of the nascent gay rights movement than their “straight” (ie: non-freak) counterparts. Oz magazine published pieces about gay rights, notably so in issue 23 which ran an extract from The Homosexual Handbook (1969) by Angelo d’Arcangelo among a couple of other features; the UK’s first gay magazine, Jeremy, advertised regularly in Oz and IT; later issues of Oz carried ads for another gay mag, Follow Up, and there’s a letter in one issue from a gay freak complaining about the state of the few gay pubs in London where the clientele was apparently not freaky enough. (His solution was to try and persuade them all to drop acid.) Arguments which still circulate today, between those who want to assimilate and those who prefer to remain separate from general society, go back a long way.

The gay slang guide was extracted from The Queens’ Vernacular: A Gay Lexicon by Bruce Rodgers (1942–2009), published in the US by Straight Arrow Books in 1972. Straight Arrow was affiliated with Rolling Stone magazine, later publishing two volumes of Wilfried Sätty’s art, and Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon. Rodgers’ book was reissued in 1979 as Gay Talk: A (Sometimes Outrageous) Dictionary of Gay Slang (Formerly entitled The Queens’ Vernacular) but has been out-of-print ever since, unsurprisingly since so much of it is now completely outmoded. That doesn’t make the content uninteresting, however. The phraseology may be ribald, obscene and offensive (misogynist, especially) but the book has been described as “the first serious dictionary of gay slang and the definitive gay American jargon resource”. Rodgers was a serious researcher with an interest in all forms of slang. Just as the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) by Francis Grose gives a more-or-less unmediated insight into the lives of the working and criminal classes of 18th-century London, so Rodgers’ dictionary tells us something about the way gay people, especially gay men in the US, were talking to each other for much of the 20th century. What’s striking now about this truncated list is the degree to which so much of the language is obsolete—nobody under the age of 60 would use the term “queen” with such frequency—while the wider acceptance of porn has made once-esoteric terms like “golden shower” much more common. Notable by its absence is “queer” as a purely positive description (not reclaimed until the 1980s), and no mention of “twink” (which goes back to the early 60s) or “bear” (another term from the 80s).

There’s a tendency when looking at lists such as this to imagine a group of people using most of the terms all the time, but as with any form of slang this would be unlikely. The same goes for Polari or the handkerchief codes of the 1970s. As you’d expect from a document that’s 42 years old, some of the language that Rodgers collected tramples over many current sensitivities.


Illustration by Rod Beddall.


Gay slang has been coined and used by those within the gay subculture who themselves feel the most oppressed—the flagrant wrist benders, the screaming queens, the men who look like women, the women who don’t shave their moustaches.

It is a form of social protest, aimed at the establishment; it is also self-protective and self-defeating. Gay militants would like to see it go, and argue rightly that gay jargon is yet another link in the chain which holds the homosexual enslaved and oppressed—yet its widespread use and complex vocabulary indicate that gay liberation has still along battle in front of it. The selections which follow are taken from a Straight Arrow publication, The Queens’ Vernacular by Bruce Rodgers. The words are mostly American. Even the classic English phrase, “queer basher” is not included.

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advertising 1. to dress in a sexually provocative manner. Gay maxim: “It pays to advertise.” 2. (camp) to pluck and then paint the eyebrows.

army style (mid ’60s) beating the cocksucker after the act.

bumping pussies the embarrassment of two homosexual men who find themselves too passive, active, or in other ways too similar to create a sexual situation. “He thought you and I were carrying on together—what would we do, bump pussies?”

cash-ass (from cautious) cynically applied to hustler who feigns coyness until assured of material gain. “He’s not shy, he’s cash-ash. Mention money and watch his cheeks light up.”

catalogue queen homosexual who collects physique magazines for masturbation purposes.

cheesy having the foreskin lined with smegma. Stale and musky smelling. “The sailor was so cheesy that I felt like asking him where be hid his crackers.”

chic the latest craze. Cruising the busy streets after the bars close is chic. Getting invited to an orgy is chic. Sucking men off in a public lavatory is not chic. Wearing pearls with grey flannel is not chic either, unless one is serving tea in a closet.

chicken any boy under the age of consent.
—chicken dinner sex with a teenager.
—chicken pox (Las Vegas slang, mid ’60s) the urge to have sex with young boys.
—chicken rustler homosexual placed in charge of boys who abuses members of the group.

clean queen (late ’60s) homosexual who does his wash and cruising at the laundromat. Related term: bubble palace—any laundromat.

crabs crab lice infecting the pubic areas. “The wind is strong enough
to blow away my dead crabs.” Related term: family—(from prostitute’s slang, late ’40s) “Sleep with that pig and you’ll probably end up with a family to feed.” Other syn.: love bugs, social dandruff, crotch crickets (late ’60s).

dairy queen 1. gay milkmen “Are you sure that your sweet petunia hasn’t been having an affair with the dairy queen?” 2. gay farmer. 3. early morning liaison (San Francisco, ’71) “Get a good start, have a dairy queen in the morning.”

damaged goods (from hobo slang, early ’50s) former virgin.

daisy chain (early ’50s, from an analogy with a woven chain of daisies)
an orgy of men. Men linked anus to penis, anus to penis simultaneously. Synonyms: chain gang, floral arrangement, ring around the rosy. Related term: Fugitive from the chain gang (’40s) one of the links in a daisy chain.

deliver baby (Los Angeles, late ’60s) to remove the pants and expose a hard-on.

dinge queen (in white slang) white homosexual who prefers black men sexually. White gays will sometimes state that dinge queen is not meant to be derisive, but black homosexuals reinforce the term with a stinging double entendre such as “Why do I hang aroun’ wif only my black sistuhs? Why sugah, you know I’m a dinge queen at heart.” Synonyms: chocolate lover, coal burner (prison slang), midnight queen (Midwest hustler slang, late ’60s) “You’ll never get near him. He’s a midnight queen and you’re not even seven thirty.”

do social work (San Francisco, ’70s) to date a member of another race. To strive to be constantly hip by showing one’s broadmindedness.

easter queen (’70) homosexual who ejaculates prematurely. He comes as quick as a rabbit.

electric queen (San Francisco hip gay slang late ’60s) homosexual following hippie lifestyle.

eye fuck (late ’60s) 1. to undress someone visually. 2. to stare holes through someone.

fairy hawks those who take pleasure in harassing and terrorising homosexuals. Synonym (England) queer basher.

fairy’s phone booth lavatory cubicle occupied by a cruising homosexual.

fairy’s wand any phallic staff carried by a homosexual. Fairy wands
include cigarettes stuck into rhinestone studded cigarette holders, umbrellas carried when there is no possible chance of rain, pencils, long-stemmed American beauty roses or even joss sticks, The hand holding a fairy wand usually performs wildly exaggerated gestures. Synonym: pixie stick.

fall off the roof 1. to menstruate. “She can’t answer your call buddy. She fell off the roof last night.” 2. to be irritable, over sensitive, cranky.

fish pond vagina.

fish queen (dated) 1. one who sucks cunt. 2. (pejorative) any heterosexual man.

frozen fruit frigid homosexual.

fruit boots (dated) Throughout the ’50s, these were white tennis shoes or white suede shoes. Into the ’60s the term became the Beatle boots or any Italian sharp-toed shoes which heightened the so-called effeminisation of American youth. Since almost everyone now wears fruit boots, the viciousness behind the term is all but lost.

fruit fly (pejorative) woman who enjoys the company of gay men. Synonym: fag hag.

golden shower a stream of piss. Golden shower queen is a urine
fetishist who enjoys being pissed on. 2. (camp) one who has disregard for the feelings of others; one who pisses on people. Related term: golden screw anal intercourse with urine instead of semen released into the rectum.

gorilla salad thick, hairy pubic area.

Grand Canyon loose-fitting anus, as complained about by an active partner. Synonym: Lincoln Tunnel, Grand Canyon Suite, noisy, sloppy sounding intercourse.

Grand Central Station (from narcotic usage tracks = needle marks) scarred arm of a die-hard heroin addict.

grope to fondle another person’s genitals through their clothes. “You shouldn’t grope—didn’t your mother ever tell you it wasn’t polite to play with your food!” Synonym: to read braille.

happy valley the cleft separating the buttocks.

have a cup of tea to use a public toilet for having sex.

hung estimating cock size—especially used of long penises. “Is he well hung?”
—like a doughnut having a vagina. Being a woman.
—like a field mouse to possess a small penis. “It was dismal. He was hung like a field mouse and I wasn’t in to being tickled to death.”
—like a horse, bull, old mule, showdog, stallion, stud equipped with a large penis.

jack off to masturbate.
—dishonourable discharge coming home and jacking off after failing to score.
—the housewives’ hour (San Francisco ’70) mid-afternoon. A masturbation period enjoyed by housewives, shut-ins, stay-at-homes as an interruption to boredom.

lace (curtains) dangling foreskin of uncircumcised penis. Synonyms: blinds, curtains, drapes. “My dear, there was so much dust on those drapes that I’d sneeze when I got near him.” Opera capes, onion skin, goat skin. Related terms: Draw the blind to pull back the foreskin. Ride a blind piece to fellate an uncircumcised man.

meals on wheels teenagers cruising in automobiles up and down the main thoroughfares of town on a weekend night.

muff 1. (from muff = warm enclosure for the hands / from French moufle = mitten) the vagina when erotically licked. Synonyms: bush dinner, down, furburger, hairpie. 2. to tongue the clitoris and vulva. Synonyms: dive (in the bushes), go South (dated), pearl dive, sneeze in the cabbage, whistle in the dark, yodel (in the canyon of love). Related terms: boating mutual cunnilingus, bumper sticker tongue of a cunnilinctrice, lawnmower the mouth of a cuntsucker.

put on a few hesitation marks “hesitation marks” = scars on wrists of attempted suicides. Gaining weight is enough to make some queens suicidal, so instead of saying “putting on a few pounds, dear?” one may subtly dig the knife deeper with a “putting on a few hesitation marks, precious?”

ribbon clerk homosexual with a desk job.

scenery general word for anything admired lustfully. “I didn’t care for the steam room though—fogged up the scenery.” Related term: have a lot of scenery to be cruisy, ie: packed to the roof with eligible men.

show tunes copulative grunts and groans. Sex noises.

skin queen (’71) one who regards his sex partners as objects rather than people. A gay sexist. “You’re such a skin queen—all you think of is how tight the asshole gotta be.”

sad-ass (camp) sadist. “You know what Santa the Sad-ass sings at Yuletide: ‘Sleigh bells sting.'”

small meat a little penis (usually under five inches) symbolised by holding the little finger erect. To a size queen anything under ten inches is small meat. “Only nine inches? Sorry to hear about your deformity.” Related term: drip-dry lover (mid-’60s) man with a small penis. “He’s a drip-dry…his joint is too short to shake.”

snap somebody’s bra straps (camp) to break somebody’s back.

spray somebody’s tonsils to come in his mouth.

spray starch the psychic substance keeping heterosexual wrists straight.

triple treat queen one who’ll fuck a mouth, anus or armpit.

trojan horse manly facade.

trout rich, vulgar old woman in mink.
—fishing describing a hustler’s hunt for a rich old woman to keep him.

twirl the pearls to dance.

two dots and a dash male genitalia.

underwear (camp) a drag queen’s five o’clock shadow. “Your underwear’s showing = you need a shave.”

van dyke 1. lesbian with traces of a moustache on her upper lip and, though rarely, her chin. 2. (San Francisco, ’70) lesbian truckdriver.

Vaseline Villa a gay YMCA.

vegetarian man who does not suck cock.

wall queen 1. homosexual who supports himself against a wall (in an elevator or alleyway) while he has sex. “That wall queen was as warm as a nap.” 2. (San Francisco, ’70) homosexual who reads lavatory walls; by extension, one who locks himself in a toilet stall for hours.

wear a red (green) sweater (tie) to be obviously gay. “He wore that red sweater to the grave, man—that’s one sweater you can’t take off.”

xerox queen (’71) one whose sex life is so narrow that he treats all lovers alike—as if they were copies of each other.

Zelda (Cape Town gay slang) pure-blooded Zulu. Betty light-skinned Bantu. Colora (from coloured person) one of mixed blood, mulatto, quadroon, etc.

zipper dinner hurried fellation.

Previously on { feuilleton }
City of Night by John Rechy
William E. Jones on Fred Halsted
A hustle here, a hustle there…
California boys by Mel Roberts

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