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How did a male homosexual come to be called "gay"?

Updated: Aug 27, 2022

Gay's the Word is an independent bookshop in central London,

and the oldest of its kind in the United Kingdom.

The word “gay” seems to have its origins around the 12th century in England, derived from the Old French word ‘gai’, which in turn was probably derived from a Germanic word, though that isn’t completely known. The original meaning of the word "gay" meant something to the effect of “joyful”, “carefree”, “full of mirth”, or “bright and showy”.

However, around the early parts of the 17th century, the word gay began to be associated with immorality. By the mid 17th century, according to an Oxford dictionary definition at the time, the meaning of the word gay had changed to mean “a person addicted to pleasures and dissipations, that is acts of excessive self-indulgence such as in drinking and sex. Often euphemistically: a person of a loose and immoral life.” This is an extension of one of the original meanings of “carefree”, meaning more or less uninhibited.

Fast-forward to the 19th century and the word gay referred to a woman who was a prostitute and a gay man was someone who slept with a lot of women (ironically enough!), often prostitutes. Also at this time, the phrase “gay it” meant to have sex.

With these new definitions, the original meanings of “carefree”, “joyful”, and “bright and showy” were still around; so the word was not exclusively used to refer to prostitutes or a promiscuous man. Those were just accepted definitions, along with the other meanings of the word.

Around the 1920s and 1930s, however, the word started to have a new meaning. In terms of the sexual meaning of the word, a “gay man” no longer just meant a man who had sex with a lot of women, but now started to refer to men who had sex with other men. There was also another word “gey cat” (a Scottish term and spelling) at this time which meant a homosexual boy.

By 1955, the word gay now officially acquired the new added definition, meaning a homosexual male. Gay men themselves seem to have been behind the driving thrust for this new definition as they felt (and many still do), that “homosexual” is much too clinical, sounding like a disorder. As such, it was common amongst the gay community to refer to one another as “gay” decades before this was a commonly known definition. Reportedly, homosexual men were calling one another gay as early as the 1920s.

At this time, homosexual women were referred to as lesbians, not gay. Although women could still be called gay if they were prostitutes as that meaning had not yet 100% disappeared. Since then, gay, meaning a homosexual male, has steadily driven out all the other definitions that have floated about through time and, of course, also has gradually begun supplementing the word ‘lesbian’ as referring to women who are homosexual, hence, a gay female.

Call me gay. I can't deny it.

Here is a youtube video to click on:

History of the Word "Gay"

I recently sent a letter to the Branch regarding the use of the word "gay" in a talk. I appreciate any comments. Thank you!

August 24, 2022

Dear Brothers,

In a word the convention was totally awesome! So much preparation and work went into presenting the convention! And in this world so lacking in peace, it was very appropriate for us who can be targeted with such peace-wrecking situations fomented by our own imperfections and by Satan and his demons. Thank you, dear Brothers, for giving us this precious spiritual food at the proper time!

I especially loved all the dramatizations and all the fine counsel about pursuing peace. And the drama made Bible characters so current to our times, characters that we can identify with and imitate their pursuing of peace. And I sobbed tears of joy and appreciation for the new original song and video! Thank you! Again, I thank all who participated in producing that song and video and for all who had a share in producing such an upbuilding convention!

May I refer to something about a talk, though, that maybe could have been vetted or explicitly explained a bit differently? When the young sister was confronted by a couple classmates asking if there were any "gays" among the congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses, she said "no." It can be simply a matter of semantics, and even picky, but me being "gay," I could perceive that gays hearing that, gays maybe even attending for the first time, or even current gays who are studying, it may have been a bit disheartening.

For example, Paul mentions that drunkards will not inherit God's Kingdom. So strictly speaking, we can say that there are no "drunkards" in our organization. But there could be a number of our brothers and sisters who are alcoholics, and that are even reformed "drunkards." So we might say, although we have no practicing "drunkards" as part of our congregations, there are alcoholics that are no longer drunkards. They still may crave drinking and even getting drunk, but they exercise self-control so as not to return to practicing drunkenness. This propensity to drink may persist through the end of this system of things. So, are there "alcoholics" in the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses? Yes. Does that seem a bit more clarifying and palatable to one who has that problem? And can’t the same be said about extortioners, thieves, or greedy persons that may still fight those tendencies?

But we have to think of the term “gay” in a bit different, yet similar light. We can rightly and technically say there are no "gays, homosexuals" in our congregations. But we mean no gays, no homosexuals, that are practicing a gay lifestyle, including gay sex, not doing as Paul wrote, "[no] men who submit to homosexual acts, [no] men who practice homosexuality." But for many former practicing gays, they are still "gay," that is, they still have a persisting homosexual orientation and attraction that they control so as not to commit homosexual acts, in order to be found acceptable to Jehovah God, an orientation and attraction that they may have to fight daily even to the end of this system of things. And yes, an extortioner, thief, or greedy person may even lose the desire to engage in such behavior, but not always, but a possible biological factor causing homosexuality may never wane or go away.

As one of the Branch's articles on homosexuality stated, there are persons who have a same sex attraction or infatuation that does not go away with time, and which strong attraction may never go away in this system of things. So couldn't the sister have answered in clarification, "We don't have any 'gays' who still live a gay lifestyle and practice homosexuality, but we have many brothers and sisters in our worldwide organization who were former practicing homosexuals, but as the apostle Paul wrote, "but that is what some of you were." And, yes, we have former extortioners, thieves, greedy persons, and other sinners, but they, too, have stopped those former behaviors and have been washed clean in order to please God.

I understand the point that the term "gay" can imply and encompass a lifestyle. But may we consider this thought: When a person is asked about his or her sexual orientation, "straight" (heterosexual) or "gay" (homosexual), these 2 such options are often given. If I say, "I'm straight," (heterosexual), should that immediately imply that I'm having heterosexual relations or does it simply indicate an orientation, an attraction, male attracted to female, female attracted to male?

On the other had, it seems, and totally unfair, if someone says, "I'm gay" (homosexual), often the person asking assumes the person responding "gay" is having homosexual relations, living that gay lifestyle, rather than simply indicating their sexual orientation or attraction, male attracted to male, female attracted to female. So if the person responding being "straight" is not assumed to be having heterosexual sex, why, then, is the person answering "gay," unfairly assumed to be living a gay lifestyle, having homosexual relations, rather than simply indicating the person has an attraction to the same sex, an attraction that has never subsided or gone away?

That's why a gay person hearing that among JW's there are 'no gays,' could understand that there are no JW's who even once were gay and no longer live a gay lifestyle, no longer are committing same sex sex acts, or that there are no JW's who even have a same sex attraction or orientation. So could the term "gay" be more thoroughly vetted, more explicitly explained? The Branch thoroughly vets news or other items before printing them, so should words like “gay” then, too, be thoroughly vetted and explicitly explained? So, again, when a person says, "Oh, I'm straight," does that automatically indicate that that person is having heterosexual sex? Likewise, the person answering, "I'm gay," shouldn't immediately be assumed as having gay sex. In the end, then, can’t we say that we technically have “gays” in our organization, simply ones that still fight same sex attraction? Personally, I would acknowledge that I have a same sex attraction syndrome, that I’m gay, not straight, but not living a gay lifestyle, not committing gay sex acts.

Your brother,


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