History of the word "gay"

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Timeline of "gay" used in reference to same-sex acts, desires, persons, relationships:


Stein, Gertrude. "Miss Furr & Miss Skeene". Written: 1911. (See below: 1922.)


Stein, Gertrude. "Miss Furr andMiss Skeene". Written: 1911. First published in Stein's book Geography and Plays, in 1922, page 17-. Reprinted in Vanity Fair magazine, July 1925.

Sample excerpts: "Helen Furr and Georgina Keene lived together then‥. They were together then and traveled to another place and stayed there and were gay there‥not very gay there, just gay there. They were both gay there."
They were ... gay, they learned little things that are things in being gay, ... they were quite regularly gay."
A passage from Gertrude Stein's "Miss Furr & Miss Skeene" (1922) may be the first published use of the word to refer to a homosexual relationship. In 1951, literary critic Edmund Wilson suggested that Stein's use of "gay" referred to a homosexual relationship (quoted by James Mellow in Charmed Circle (1974).
Discussed by Martha E. Stone, "Who were Miss Furr and Miss Skeene?" The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, Sept–Oct, 2002.
According to Linda Wagner-Martin (Favored Strangers: Gertrude Stein and her Family (1995), the portrait "featured the sly repetition of the word gay, used with sexual intent for one of the first times in linguistic history."

1925, July

Vanity Fair magazine reprints Gertrude Stein's "Miss Furr and Miss Skeene", written: 1911, first published in Stein's book Geography and Plays, in 1922, page 17-. Reprinted in Vanity Fair, July 1925. (See above 1922.)


Coward, Noel. "Green Carnation" (song) in B. Day Noel Coward: Complete Lyrics (1998) 114/3

Lyric: "Art is our inspiration, And as we are the reason for the ‘Nineties’ being gay, We all wear a green carnation."

1934, October 25

"Gertrude Stein Arrives and Baffles Reporters by Making Herself Clear; Expatriate Declines to Be Abstruse in Explaining Why Most of Her Writings Are -- Does Not Wish to Influence Others, Saying, 'It Is Enough if You Influence Yourself.'" New York Times, October 24, 1934.

In reporting Stein's return to America after thirty-one years, the paper called her "a square-shouldered woman" and used the word "gay" in reference to Stein's hat, and perhaps as a coded reference to her relationship with her "secretary and companion" Alice B. Toklas. The report included the comment: "Her feet were in . . . round-toed, flat-heeled oxfords." It also described her "mannish shirt". And it said: "The hat was a Stein hat . . . . it roamed backward tightly about the close-cropped head to a fold in the rear; a gay hat . . . ."


Nichols, D. and H. Wilde. "Bringing up Baby" (film script, final revision), page 35.

David‥comes on‥.in negligee‥. Aunt: Why are you wearing these clothes?‥ David: Because I just went gay, all of a sudden.


Coward, Noel. "I went to Marvellous Party" (song) in B. Day N. Coward: Compl. Lyrics (1998) 195/2.

Lyric: "Everyone's here and frightfully gay, Nobody cares what people say, Though the Riviera Seems really much queerer Than Rome at its height."


'Boucher, A.’ Case of Solid Key. pages xiii. 235,

"I had deliberately changed my manners, my mannerisms. I had ‘gone gay’, as we say in Hollywood.


Legman, G. "Language of Homosexuality in G. W. Henry Sex Variants II. 1167.

"Gay, an adjective used almost exclusively by homosexuals to denote homosexuality, sexual attractiveness, promiscuity‥or lack of restraint, in a person, place, or party. Often given the French spelling, gai or gaie by (or in burlesque of) cultured homosexuals of both sexes.


Painter, T. "Homosexual" (typescript) in G. Chauncey Gay N.Y. (1994) 18.

"Supposing one met a stranger on a train from Boston to New York and wanted to find out whether he was ‘wise’ or even homosexual. One might ask: ‘Are there any gay spots in Boston?’ And by a slight accent put on the word ‘gay’ the stranger, if wise, would understand that homosexual resorts were meant."


Ben, Lisa (pseudonym of ??????????) Vice Versa in Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), page 624.
"Homosexuality is becoming less and less a ‘taboo’ subject, and‥I venture to predict that there will be a time in the future when gay folk will be accepted as part of regular society."


Williams, Tennessee. Diary 22 Aug. (1993), page 32.

"Met a charming young RAF fellow there obviously gay who played Debussy's Bergamasque with more understanding than I've heard for many a day."


Vidal, Gore. The City and the Pillar (novel), page ix, 246.

[In New York] the words ‘fairy’ and ‘pansy’ were considered to be in bad taste. It was fashionable to say a person was ‘gay’.


De Forrest: "The Gay Year: A Novel".

For earlier and later uses of the word "gay" see the Oxford English Dictionary