According to Herdt, “homosexuality” was the main term used until the late 1950s and early 1960s; after that, a new “gay” culture emerged. “This new gay culture increasingly marks a full spectrum of social life: not only same-sex desires but gay selves, gay neighbors, and gay social practices that are distinctive of our affluent, postindustrial society”

The association of gay men with opera, ballet, couture, fine cuisine, musical theater, the Golden Age of Hollywood and interior design began with wealthy homosexual men using the straight themes of these media to send their own signals. In the heterocentric Marilyn Monroe film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a musical number features Jane Russell singing “Anyone Here for Love” in a gym while muscled men dance around her.

After the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, gay male culture was publicly acknowledged for the first time. A group of seven gay men formed The Violet Quill in 1980 in New York City, a literary club focused on writing about the gay experience as a normal plotline instead of a “naughty” sideline in a mostly straight story.

Elements identified more closely with gay men than with other groups include:

Pop-culture gay icons who have had a traditionally gay-male following (for example, disco, Britney Spears, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Judy Garland, Cher, Lady Gaga, Kesha, Kylie Minogue, and Diana Ross)
Familiarity with aspects of romantic, sexual and social life common among
gay men (for example, Polari, poppers, camp, fag hags and—in South Asian LGBTQIA culture—”evening people”)

There are a number of subcultures within gay male culture, such as bears and chubbies. There are also subcultures with an historically large gay-male population, such as leather and SM.

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