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Gay Euphemism

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An issue related to homosexuality in the past has been to avoid directly using words such as "gay," "lesbian" and "homosexual." Common euphemisms have included "plays for the other team," "that way," and in some contexts "spinster"/"Old Maid" and "Confirmed Bachelor."

This has been more of an issue in the past due to societal changes regarding the acceptance of homosexuality, but still does pop up from time to time in contemporary works. Tends to be especially prevalent in period pieces set before the 20th century and in fantasy settings; in the latter's case, it's implied that these words just don't exist, and in the former's case, it might be an attempt at realism since homosexuality was quite taboo until recently (if not downright illegal). Use of these can sometimes result in an Unintentional Period Piece, as works produced when such terms were taboo to say can show the work's age.


A Sub-Trope of Unusual Euphemism. Relates to Never Say "Die" which is about avoiding direct references to death. See also Sexual Euphemism, Deadly Euphemism and Go to the Euphemism for other specific euphemisms.


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    Comic Books 
  • In Runaways, Karolina is very obviously into her teammate Nico and later confessed to liking girls when the Skrull prince Xavin demanded her hand in marriage, but the series repeatedly refused to actually use the word "gay" to describe her orientation until Joss Whedon took over. Curiously, Brian K. Vaughan had no problems having Chase use the word "gay" as a pejorative on several occasions.

  • In his show Monster, Dylan Moran jokes that he didn't know about gay people while growing up because his family employed unusual and baffling euphemisms including "still picking up twigs in the springtime", "one of Yul Brynner's hairdressers", and "likes his toast done on three sides".

    Films - Live-Action 
  • Remember the Titans: When Petey tries to explain to the girls ogling Sunshine that he's gay:
    Petey: I don't want to be the one to break y'alls hearts, but Sunshine's from California.
    Girl: Yeah, a California dreamboat.
    Petey: No. Sunshine is from California. He's a Californian.
  • In Slither, Mayor Jack Macready asks a deputy if his coworker Margaret is available. The deputy tells him not to bother because Margaret "packs a boxed lunch".
  • Anne's line in Gentleman's Agreement: "Tell me, why is it that every man who seems attractive these days is either married or barred on a technicality?"

  • The Puppet Masters. Mary, a very attractive female agent, mentions how the men she encountered chose to Ignore the Fanservice as proof that they were being controlled by aliens. The US President points out that they could have been "harem guards".
  • Temeraire: The closeted Captain Granby tells a confidant in the seventh book that he is an "invert". Justified since the series is set in The Napoleonic Wars, before the word "homosexuality" was coined or "gay" gained its modern-day meaning. "Invert" was a real term for a gay person, though it wasn't commonly used as such until later in the 19th Century either.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played for all its worth with Lieutenant Gruber in 'Allo 'Allo!. He is "one of them" rather than "one of us", according to René, the object of his unrequited affection.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Faith (disguised as Buffy) is surprised to see Willow dating Tara and says, "Ah, Will doesn't drive a stick shift anymore, huh?"
  • Dance Academy: When Sammy is talking to his friend Kat about his first crush on a guy, they pick some Line-of-Sight euphemisms to talk about it because using the real words is more than Sammy can handle at the moment.
    Sammy: For the first time in my life, I finally get a mate whose a guy friend who I can hang out with. And then I... I get... I get these...
    Kat: Struggling for clarity right now.
    Sammy: I'm trying to say "feelings", but it's too weird.
    Kat: Right. Ugly word. Let's call them... "muffins". And I'm glad we're finally talking about this.
    Sammy: Ok, so, you know how I get these muffins when I'm around...
    Kat: Christian? Let's call him... "Mouse Ears".
    Sammy: Right. Mouse Ears. You know, before I started getting these muffins, I... I thought I knew exactly who I was. And now I can't stop thinking it means that I'm a... well...
    Kat: A labrador?
    Sammy: What?
    Kat: Friendly, cuddly, bouncy labrador?
    Sammy: [sarcastic] You're right. I'm so glad we're talking about this.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the episode "The Unicorn and the Wasp", Donna meets Roger Curbishley, a handsome aristocrat from the 1920s, and seems quite taken by him. However, it soon becomes clear that Roger only has eyes for his family's footman, prompting Donna to mutter:
      Donna: Typical. All the decent men are on the other bus.
    • In the episode "Evolution of the Daleks", Martha is complaining about the Doctor's lack of interest in her to Tallulah, leading Tallulah to believe that the Doctor is "into musical theatre".
  • In Downton Abbey, Mrs. Patmore calls Thomas "not a ladies' man" and "a troubled soul" in an attempt to explain to Daisy that she's barking up the Incompatible Orientation tree. Naive Daisy misses every euphemism, and Mrs. Patmore, unable to just come out and say it, gives up.
    Mrs. Patmore: He's not the boy for you, and you're not the girl for him!
  • In The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Midge alludes to Shy Baldwin's homosexuality during a performance by referring to his "Judy Garland shoes". As it's 1960, Shy — the singer Midge is opening for — is very much in the closet; Midge's remark is subtle and it seems to go down well with the audience (she was riffing on his flamboyance), but Shy's manager Reggie decides to fire her from the tour as a result. Garland was known for her LGBT Fanbase back in the day, to the point that “friend of Dorothy” was a standard Gay Euphemism, making the joke in question about as transparent as a crack about Ellen Degeneres today.
  • In M*A*S*H, "one of those" is the go-to euphemism during The Korean War. It's used by the Politically Incorrect Villains Frank Burns and Colonel Flagg, which should tell you what the writers think of the phrase.
  • Poirot: In "Death on the Nile", Tim Allerton answers Rosalie's flirting by quietly telling her she's "barking up the wrong tree". Justified as discretion and euphemism would have been necessary in that time period.
  • Played straight, then comically averted in the Saturday Night Live skit "I Took a Gay Guy to Prom":
    Old Woman: The year was 1927. And I was scheduled to attend the Rhode Island Fruling Cotillion with a one Mr. Skip Swerengen. And I remember my mother called me aside, and said, "Dear, that boy of yours has one hand on the maypole." And I said, "Mother, whatever do you mean?" And she said, "That young man buzzes with the fruit flies." And I said, "What do you mean?" "He buggers men," she said. I didn’t know what that meant, and finally she yelled, "He has sex with men!" But it still wasn’t clear, "He’s gay! He’s homosexual! He doesn’t like women!" And I didn’t get it. And as it turned out, I had a very severe learning disability. But mother was right, that boy was homosexual. And that boy was Robert Mitchum.''
  • In the pilot episode of White Collar, Peter tries to explain to Neil that Diana is gay and not reciprocating his flirting.
    Neal: [about Diana] Harmless flirting. It's like a dance.
    Peter: No, there is no dance. You're not even on her dance card. No dancing for you.
    Neal: Um...she digs the hat.
    Peter: Um...she'd rather be wearing the hat.

  • Lil Nas X's "MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name)" alludes to the romantic subject's gayness with the line "If Eve ain't in your garden".
    I'm not fazed, only here to sin
    If Eve ain't in your garden, you know that you can

  • She Kills Monsters: When the in-game Tilly reveals that the real Tilly was gay, she phrases it thusly:
    Tilly: […] I'd venture to guess that maybe the author of this world was into wearing tanktops and The Indigo Girls.

  • Parodied in an episode of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, in which one businessman describes a potential employee of another using a variety of unlikely phrases like "in his farmyard the geese are all swans" and "he parts his hair in the middle", but when he gets the reply "Oh, I see. He's homosexual" replies with a baffled "Is he? I wasn't suggesting there was no bell on his bicycle." The second businessman never figures out what he was trying to say.

  • Gunnerkrigg Court: When Paz mistakenly thinks that Kat is flirting with her, she stammers that "I'm not... like that...", which takes Kat a moment to understand her meaning.

    Web Original 
  • Discussed in this reddit post (which may be based on a tumblr post) showing some off-brand cereals. Tell me "marshmallow mateys", "honey nut scooters", "tootie fruities", and "roasted minispooners" don't sound like gay euphemisms.

    Western Animation 
  • Bender from Futurama has no problem using the word "gay", but he's quite happy to talk about it using euphemisms and double entendre. In "Love's Labors Lost in Space", after Leela turns down a date with a sentient cloud of pure energy, Bender suggests that he probably comes from "a dimension that's big on musical theatre."
  • In The Simpsons episode "Homer's Phobia", Marge says that she suspects John's flamboyancy is because he "prefers the company of men". Homer doesn't get it, so Marge has to pull a Euphemism Buster on herself and say, "John is ho–mo–sexual!".
  • While South Park usually has no problem saying "gay" in both a pejorative sense (though not as frequently in the later seasons) and just to describe gay people, this has been used in the show.
    • In "Tonsil Trouble," Cartman gets HIV and deliberately infects Kyle through a needle. When they venture out to find the cure and Kyle tells the clerk that Cartman gave him AIDS, the clerk asks if the boys are "like that" while sticking his left finger in and out of his right fist. Later in the episode, an announcer makes the same mistake and refers to Kyle and Cartman as "lovers."
    • Played with in "Trapped in the Closet," due to Executive Meddling where the show was not allowed to call Tom Cruise gay. Instead, they set up a metaphor where Cruise gets literally trapped in a closet and refuses to come out. This metaphor continues in "200," where the boys fight with Cruise over whether he's a "fudgepacker"... because he's literally working at a candy factory packing fudge into a box.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Played with in "Something Smells". When people start avoiding Spongebob due to his bad breath, he erroneously concludes that they are acting this way because of his appearance. To overcome his insecurities, Spongebob starts yelling that he is "ugly and proud", prompting Squidward to sardonically ask if that's what he calls "it".
  • A metaphorical variant in the Steven Universe episode. Ruby and Sapphire's permanent fusion as Garnet is used throughout the series as a homosexuality allegory, and Homeworld Gems will sometimes use derogatory expressions in place of calling Garnet a fusion, such as Jasper calling her a "shameless display" and Peridot mocking Garnet by saying, "She's not even fighting, she's just...[bangs her fists together] you know!"

    Real Life 
  • Invoked by George Takei by lending his name as an Unusual Euphemism to teachers in Tennessee to get around the state's "Don't Say Gay" bill (which, since it was his own name he used as a substitute, certainly didn't hurt from a self-promotion standpoint).
  • A 1950s U.S. term for a gay man is "light in the loafers" or "light in his loafers" ("loafers" are shoes which don't have laces or fasteners and are slipped onto the feet).
  • A "friend of Dorothy", used in Britain, has multiple levels of meaning: Judy Garland's status as an icon of adoration for gay men, All Gays Love Theater, and this bit of Have a Gay Old Time from Road to Oz:
    Polychrome: You have queer friends, Dorothy.
    Dorothy: The queerness doesn't matter, so long as they're friends.
This led to a bit of hilarity as the Naval Investigative Service in Chicago were Literal-Minded, believing that this "Dorothy" was at the center of a massive ring of gay military personnel, and subsequently tried to track her down for questioning in the '80s.
  • During The New '10s, various celebrity gossip articles drew mockery for referring to women showing physical affection to each other as mere "gal pals"—even when discussing openly lesbian and bisexual women. This has led some sapphic women to use the phrase "gal pals" (sometimes "live-in gal pals" in reference to a Daily Mail article about Kristen Stewart and her then-girlfriend Alicia Cargile) as a less ambiguous reference to women in love with each other.

Is he, y'know …