With the freezing temperatures and shorter days, radio stations have begun to play holiday music to put us all in the mood for a nice winter break. When one plays close attention to some of the older songs, one may be shocked to hear the word “gay” being used, though not in the way we are typically used to. This may lead some to wonder: how did the definition of word change so abruptly or what are the consequences of this change? Well, look no further as this raging queer will explain to you.
The English word first came into use during the 12th century, and it is derived from the Old French word “gai,” which probably came from a Germanic language. For a long time, “gay” was defined as “cheerful”, “joyful”, or “bright and showy”.
In 1862, the Scottish poet Thomas Oliphant wrote the lyrics to arguably one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time, Deck the Hall. When Oliphant wrote “Don we now our gay apparel,” the poet most likely meant its optimistic definition and not the current one we know today.
The word was not associated with homosexuality in the 20th century. The first traceable time “gay” was published to refer to a homosexual relationship was in Gertrude Stein’s Miss Furr & Miss Skeene, which was in 1922. The first film to use it as a reference to homosexuality was 1938’s Bringing Up Baby by Cary Grant’s character.
The earliest reference of the word’s use by self-described homosexuals was in 1950 by Alfred A. Gross, executive secretary for the George W. Henry Foundation, in the June 1950 issue of SIR magazine. He was quoted by saying: “I have yet to meet a happy homosexual. They have a way of describing themselves as gay but the term is a misnomer. Those who are habitues of the bars frequented by others of the kind, are about the saddest people I’ve ever seen.”
It was by this time in the mid-20th century that the word gay was being widely adopted as interchangeable with “homosexual;” it was seen as the antonym of “straight” which was associated with heterosexuality. Many preferred to use the term gay as they felt that “queer” was too derogatory. At the time, homosexuality was considered a mental illness diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM); however, we now know that it is a sexual orientation.
The latest Christmas controversy with the word happened in 2013, when the retailer Hallmark released an ornament with a lyric to Deck the Halls. However, they drew attention by replacing the word gay with fun in “Don we now our gay apparel.” Many, including the infamous Ellen DeGeneres, were quick to draw criticism. Despite the outcry, the company defended its choice and continued to sell the ornament.
In my opinion, the Hallmark company is full of cowards that fear LBGTQ+ individuals, as well as the word “gay.” Admittedly, seven years have passed since this incident, though I would be cautious if I were you. Be careful where you spend your gay money this holiday season.
By Angélique Chu