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literature

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Folklore  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  

Language is often a key to learning the culture. Sutherland, a gay character in Andrew Holleran's Dancer from the Dance (1978), serves as instructor for a young man relatively new to the gay subculture:

   "I find it a perfect symbol of the demise of America," said Sutherland in that low, throaty voice that always seemed breathlessly about to confide something undreamed of in your wildest dreams, "that dinge are the only people who take hats seriously!" . . .
 "Dinge?" said the boy in a cracked, earnest voice. . . .
 "Blacks, darling. Schvartzers, negroes."

Sponsor Message.

Lesbians and gay men generally learn the folklore of their cultures in such casual ways. Since there are as yet no finishing schools for gay men and lesbians, they must learn appropriate ways of interacting with other homosexual people through informal means.

Coming-Out Novels

This process of acculturation lies at the heart of the extensive body of gay and lesbian coming-of-age and coming-out novels.

Novels of this sort relate the struggles of gay men and lesbians as they come to terms with their homosexuality--whether they come out or are "brought out"--that is, guided by another person to recognize their own homosexuality.

This rite of passage is possibly the quintessential experience of "out" lesbians and gay men. Indeed the coming-out story is so much a part of homosexual culture that it constitutes a genre in its own right.

Such stories, often related in gay and lesbian novels, are a type of personal experience narrative. In Rubyfruit Jungle, for example, Holly tells of being brought out:

   I'd been sleeping with guys since I was eighteen, but it took me four more years to get to women. . . . One night my roommate unblocked me. . . . She threw me in bed, really. I kicked and took a chunk out of her arm but that didn't last long. She wouldn't let go and I didn't want her to, secretly. Then I spent the next three weeks running away from her and telling her I didn't like it at all and I only gave in because I was tired of fighting. . . . She knew, and I didn't.

The roommate has not tried to "convert" Holly to homosexuality; rather she has recognized Holly's innate lesbianism and led her to awareness.

Like Holly's roommate, gay men and lesbians sometimes claim to have a sort of sixth sense, or "gaydar," that allows them to identify other homosexual people through nonverbal cues.

The narrator of John Reid's The Best Little Boy in the World (1973), visiting a divorced man whose wife is out of town, has no problem decoding messages about sexuality:

 His $500-a-month (I'm guessing) one-bedroom apartment sent gay bleeps into my radar, bleeps that would probably not show up on a straight screen, like the tube of K-Y in the medicine chest or the Barbra Streisand albums among his record collection. I wondered: Could Esquire be gay? I remembered the time we had played handball on his membership at the New York Athletic Club . . . and what remarkable [sic] good shape he was in. I wondered why he had separated from his wife and why they had had no children.

The narrator's awareness of the use of K-Y jelly as a sexual lubricant and Streisand's immense popularity among gay men cause him to look for other clues to Esquire's sexual orientation: an apparent concern for remaining physically fit, unusual among heterosexual men of the period, and his marital and (non)parental status.

Humor as a Communication and a Coping Strategy

Humor is an important communication strategy in the lesbian and gay subculture. By inverting the symbols of the straight world, homosexual people can find humor in situations that would otherwise be painful to endure. Playing with heterosexual values, turning them around and using them against the oppressors, takes the sting out of the majority culture's weapons and underscores how silly stereotypes and are.

Humor suffuses the argot, serving to express delight or hostility, to entertain or to insult. Noretta Koertge relies heavily on humor throughout her 1984 book Valley of the Amazons:

   "Well, I said there were gay Christian alternatives. I told him about the Dignity meetings on Thursday night over at the rectory."
   What she hadn't mentioned to TJ and wouldn't discuss with Helen was the undignified atmosphere at those meetings. Father McCawley always drank too much wine and after the book report and formal discussion period he would turn raunchy and start talking about how he'd been down on his knees all night long.
   "Were you praying, Father," someone would shout.
   "No, but I sure had my mouth open," would come the reply.

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