Some LGBTQ Slang Terms from the Early '60s & Before: Revealing a Hidden Culture

posted by Madame Bubby

Cover of The Guild Dictionary of Homosexual Terms

In our archives, we carry a fascinating title called The Guild Dictionary of Homosexual Terms, which looks to be from the early to middle of the 1960s. Guild Press was a grounbreaking outfit as H. Lynn Womack was not afraid of being open about the audience of his diverse array of publications: gays and lesbians. He did not censor, he did not code, and by publishing this small book by one Dr. Albert Ellis, he claims that LGBTQ persons existed and still exist in history, and their cultural vocabulary developed under systemic oppression matters.

Now, some of the terms to a contemporary audience might seem degrading or even offensive or at least quaint, but that's part of the creative paradox of a vocabulary that is trying to linguistically interpret something as complex and fluid as sexual experience, and in this case, more so, as the persons who participated in non-heteronormative sexual experiences couldn't even speak of them or themselves.

Here are a few that I think give some insight into the hidden culture of that time, understanding that many of these terms were employed heterosexually as well, and used by heterosexuals to denigrate LGBTQ persons.

Abdicate: Forced to leave a public toilet by an attendant, said of male homosexuals who frequent public rests rooms. Thus, queens are forced to abdicate.
 

Central Park men's room, 1962
Central Park men's room, 1962 - Source: https://www.richlandsource.com/area_history/the-famous-central-park-underground-restrooms/article_16b1c4d2-c503-11e5-890c-6360a850aa28.html

Angel with a Dirty Face: A male homosexual who would like to indulge in homosexual practice but who is timid or hesitant about it. (Originated in mid-30s with motion picture Angels with Dirty Faces, a 1930s gangster film with James Cagney.)

Auntie: Middle-aged or aging male homosexual, usually (but not always) overly effeminate in character. The term can be applied either in a manner mildly derogatory or even as a term of slight affection.

Bugle Boy: Refers to the person who permits someone to perform fellation upon him. (Supposedly, according to the text, popular with the “sophisticated college set.”)

Checkers, Play: To move from seat to seat in a motion picture house in an effort to find a willing youth. A homosexual sits next to a likely “candidate” and makes some verbal or physical overture or “pass”; if rejected, he moves to another seat, and so on.
 

Chicago theater and other State Street theaters in Chicago, 1950

Fruit Picker: Term used to describe men who both think of themselves as “straight” and who are so considered by those who know them, but who seek out homosexuals for sexual gratification at the moment.

Motel Time: Can be used as a call to closing in a gay bar as part of “Suck up, everybody, it's motel time.” Now is the time to get down to sex and indicates where. Can also be used (alone) as a call to closing in a heterosexual bar.
 

Tampa, Florida gay bar, 1950s
Tampa, Florida gay bar, 1950s

Poundcake, To Eat: To lick the anus.

There's so much more in this little book, including some tidbits on some famous gay historical figures.

One wonders, not so much that some of the types of persons described above and even some of the scenarios are still part of the LGBTQ experience, but that we've developed new language for such persons and experiences in a markedly different social context. After all, what the book calls “green queens” still hang out in parks and forest preserves for public sex, but they often hook up via the ubiquitous smart phone.

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