Gay is an adjective referring to those with an enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to people of the same gender. This is most commonly associated with men, as a gay woman may prefer to use the term "lesbian" instead. Queer and bisexual are also among the terms used for those who are attracted to members of the same gender. In a broader sense of the word, gay can also be used as an umbrella term to identify any LGBTQIA+ individual, though some note that doing so excludes other sexual orientations and gender identities and should thus be avoided.
"Gay" as an identity is defined by the attraction and self-identification as such rather than having had any sexual experience with people of the same gender. Thus, having had sexual intercourse with someone of the same gender does not make anyone gay by definition. There is not just one way to experience same-sex attraction, nor is there a set period in life to discover that you experience it. While some may know that they experience same-sex attraction from a young age, it can take others decades to figure it out or be comfortable enough with their identity to acknowledge it to themselves and others.
Being gay is also referred to as "homosexuality" and thus forms the counterpart of "heterosexuality", the sexual attraction to individuals of the opposite gender. However, controversy has arisen surrounding the use of the word "homosexuals" to refer to gay people, as it has been considered an outdated term that is derogatory and offensive to many lesbian and gay people due to its usage by anti-LGBTQIA+ individuals to imply that gay people are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered.
The word "homosexuality" comes from the Greek homos, which means "the same".
The word "gay" has had many meanings over the years. Dating back to the 12th century, it came from the Old French word "gai", meaning "joyful, happy; pleasant, agreeably charming; forward, pert; light-colored" and was a commonly used term within literature.
It was not until the 1600s that the term took on a sexual meaning. By then, the "carefree" nature of the word became used to refer to people with unrestrained morals and prone to decadence and promiscuity; as such, a prostitute became known as a "gay woman", a womanizer as a "gay man", and a brothel as a "gay house".
This trend continued, as in the 1890s, the term "gey cat", which is a Scottish variant of gay, was used to refer to a "vagrant who offered sexual services to women or a young traveler who was new to the road and in the company of an older man." This marked one of the first times that "gay" was used to imply a same-gender relationship.
By the 1960s, gay men had taken to the term to refer to their own sexual identity, and by today's standards, it is the acceptable way to refer to homosexual people.
The rainbow flag and its variations is one of the most well-known and used symbols for the entire LGBTQIA+ community and frequently flown during Pride events. Originally created by Gilbert Baker with 8 stripes in 1978 to be used for the first time during the June 25, 1978, Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco, Baker dropped the pink and turquoise due to fabric shortages toward the end of 1978 and a desire to split the motif in two with an even number of stripes flanking each streetlamp along the parade route in 1979, respectively. It is this version that became the standard for future production as well as the symbol for gay men.
Gay Men Pride Flag
Much lesser known than its rainbow companion, the modern gay men's pride flag was posted in 2019 on the Tumblr blog gayflagblog as an update of a prior gay men flag. It features an array of green, blue, and purple shades to be representative of a wide range of gay men, regardless of their gender, thus also including, but not being limited to, gay men who are transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming, aromantic, or asexual. This version replaced the original one that only used blue tones, as it was regarded as a stereotypical representation of the gender binary and lacked meaning for the colors used. Inspired by Gilbert Baker and the responses to the blue flag, the individual stripes used by gayflagblog mean:
- Green: Community
- Teal: Healing
- Light teal/green: Joy
- White: Gender non-conforming, non-binary, and trans men
- Light blue: Pure love
- Purple: Fortitude
- Indigo: Diversity
The combination of green and teal also represents nature, in defiance of the perception of love between men as "unnatural". Green also draws upon the use of green plants and flowers, specifically carnations and hyacinths. The use of white was derived from the Trans Pride Flag to explicitly represent identities that are often erased and the need to address and resolve transphobia, internalized homophobia, and toxic masculinity. The light blue leading into purple was inspired by criticism of the blue flag ("oh blue for boy? bleh") and symbolizes how gay men may or may not be stereotypical, in-between, or fluid. The purple and indigo together represent diversity in presentation, relationships, and life experience; not fitting into neat categories, "especially by those who choose to fetishize us & by non-MLM, but in reality there are so so many different ways to be a man and so many ways to be a man who loves or who is in a relationship with other men, and this needs to be emphasized".
International Bear Brotherhood Flag
One of the many gay subcultures, a "bear" is generally speaking a large-build, hairy man over 30 years old. Hunky, chunky, often with bellies, big legs, big butts, and almost always with a full beard or facial hair, "bears" are often attributed the general stereotype of "traditional masculinity", a notion that is strengthened by some bear clubs and bars not being open to women, twinks, transgender people, etc. However, being a bear is about appearance and has thus nothing to do with identity and mannerisms.
To represent this subculture of masculine-presenting gay, bisexual, and trans men who embrace facial and body hair and may have larger bodies, the colorful bear flag was created by psychology undergraduate Craig Byrnes in 1995. As opposed to other flags representing a gender identity of sexual/romantic orientation, the colors of this flag are reminiscent of the fur color from the different bear animals, thus consisting of varying shades of brown, white, and black.
Twink Pride Flag
As with all identities, the definition depends on the person asked, but broadly stated, a "twink" can be defined as a thin, smaller-built, and pretty smooth person with little to no body hair and usually someone in their late teens-early twenties or someone who looks younger than their age. Due to their built, twinks are often wrongfully assumed to be camp and effeminate, shy and insecure, and clueless when it comes to sexual acts. This often leads to a hypersexualization of people fitting the mold and a problematic media representation as playthings and not-to-be-taken-serious sexual objects.
This sub-community has no physical flag representation, though a design has been made and is circulating online. There is no concrete definition, though the general assumption is that the pink is a celebration of the effeminate nature many twinks are attributed with, and the pastel is reminiscent of a youthful, bright aura. While the twink culture is large and popular, the flag has not received that same popularity and has not received much attention as for example the bear pride flag has.
Gay is generally used to define a man being attracted to another man, or a woman to another woman if she does not prefer to use the term lesbian, whereas queer is a broader term to refer to people who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender.
However, since gay can also be used as an umbrella term for the LGBTQIA+ community, gay and queer are sometimes used as synonyms by some, despite having a distinct meaning for others.
When used in the broad sense of the word, whether one identifies as gay or queer, it is up to them. Some reasons to prefer one over the other:
- Just like "gay", queer has a negative history, and while it is a reclamation for some, it is still a slur for others that means "strange" or "peculiar" and is used to describe non-heterosexual desires and behaviors in a derogatory way.
- There is still a lot of erasure of people of color, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and other in either "gay" or "queer" places.
- Gay and queer have a different connotation when it comes to sex, as being gay in the sexual sense refers to the activity with someone of the same sex and thus implies a defines idea about one's own gender and that of their partner. Queer does not necessarily imply that.
There has been controversy surrounding the use of the word "homosexual" to refer to gay people, as it has been considered an outdated term that is derogatory and offensive to many lesbian and gay people.
Before "homosexuality" became a word, same-sex relationships were referred to as "sodomy", derived from Latin Sodoma, the name of the town in the biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Book of Genesis (19), these cities were said to be depraved, so their destruction by fire was seen as a divine judgment from God. Since "sodom" became synonymous with "homosexuality", it resulted in a long history of criminalization of the gay sexual activity, especially between men; punishments went as far as death sentences.
The biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah also left some people to consider that being gay is a sin, even though the relevant passages never explicitly identified gay sex as the reason the cities were destroyed. Conservative Christians also believe that God created men and women to, among other things, procreate, which is biologically impossible with gay sex and therefor forbidden. There are several passages in the Bible that some deliberately interpret to corroborate this belief, though this interpretation is already challenged by the fact that it is only the modern translations, starting from 1946, that explicitly refer to gay people, as the original words do not. These modern translations gave "homosexuality", a term which did not emerge until 1869, when it was used by Hungarian journalist Károli Mária Kertbeny, a negative connotation, turning it into a slur.
This association with anti-gay attitudes led gay people to reject the term and especially its negative implications. The word was further demonized due consisting of the prefix "homo", which was used as a slur, and the word "sex", thus placing the emphasis of gay relationships on having sex.
Furthermore, the word "homosexuality" appeared in medical journals where it was pathologized as a "disease", "sickness", "defect", "disorder", and/or as a mental illness. Same-sex attraction has been labeled a danger to society, traditional family values, and children in particular, as well as associated with several sexual perversions. There was a predominant idea that homosexuality has a neurological cause and could therefore be "cured". "Treatments" ranged from psychiatric treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral techniques, electroconvulsive therapy, and even a lobotomy, to surgical attempts to change sexual orientation with hormone treatments and subjecting people to invasive surgical procedures such as hysterectomy, vasectomy, and castration. It was not until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association removed "homosexuality" from its list of mental disorders in the second edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. However, until this day, some of these misconceptions still persists in some communities.
The LGBTQIA+ community was also one of the many victims of Nazi Germany, as gay men had a downward-pointing pink triangle sewn onto their shirts in the concentration camps. It was not until the 1970s that the symbol was reclaimed as a symbol of gay pride.
Due to this loaded history and its aggressive use by the anti-LGBTQIA+ people that still maintain that homosexuality is a sin or a disease or a psychological/emotional disorder, it is GLAAD's recommendation to forgo the use of "homosexual" except in direct quotes. However, some uphold that the term has been reclaimed by the LGBTQIA+ community and can be used colloquially within the community though non-LGBTQIA+ people should avoid using the term.
Living in a heteronormative society, not falling within the societal norms often gives people the impression that they need to "come out", which is defined as a "lifelong process of self-identifying and self-acceptance." There are many different degrees of being out and the journey of self-discovery can take a lifetime. Coming out can be an incredible personal and transformative experience, allowing the person to develop as a whole individual and make it easier to foster a positive self-image, as they no longer need to hide whom they really are to others.
However, since heteronormativity still rules society, it is only the members of the LGBTQIA+ community who feel this need, as they are otherwise perceived to be heterosexual and/or cisgender until proven otherwise, and there are still some risks involved with coming out, as not everyone will be understanding and accepting. As such, it is not always easy and no one should feel pressured to come out if they are not ready. If and when, or even at all, and to whom someone comes out is entirely up to each person individually to decide.
Perceptions and discrimination
Despite being the accepted term to refer to homosexual people, by the 1990s, it took on a more derogative meaning of "stupid" or "undesirable" and can be used to refer to people as illicit, counterculture, or behaving unrespectable to societal norms, thus carrying a history of negative judgment. However, there is an ongoing effort by the LGBTQIA+ community to reclaim the word "gay" as positive. Anyone can help this effort by simply refraining from using the word "gay" themselves when they wish to denote something negative.
The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia is held each year on May 17 with the first celebration having been in 2004. This date was deliberately chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization's decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. The goal of this day is to draw the attention of decision-makers, the media, the public, opinion leaders, and local authorities to the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTQIA+ people, as homophobia often stems from a lack of knowledge and has thus led to the spreading of harmful myths to discredit the community, such as:
- LGBTQIA+ members make bad parents
A study from 2014 has indicated that there are few differences in family structure or social development between same-sex parent households and opposite-sex parent households.
- Being gay is a choice and can be fixed
Sexuality has been commonly accepted by most scientists to be the result of several factors, including biology and environment, and thus any effort to change one's sexuality through conversion therapy or any other "treatments" is potentially harmful for the individual. Being gay is not a mental disorder or anything that the individual can control.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic is a worldwide health crisis involving the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a virus that attacks the immune system, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a severe phase that may occur when the immune system is badly damaged by HIV. AIDS was first officially reported on June 5, 1981.
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