A queer buddy of mine recently wrote me an e-mail. I was able to appreciate most of what he had to say. He wrote about his birthday celebrations, of how he was awake at an ungodly hour and told me how much he missed me (naturally).
However, I was left with a stupefied look on my face when he wrote that he had his “salad tossed.”
What kind of salad did he have, I wondered? Why should I care if his appetizer had been tossed?
Using my keen journalistic senses, I was able to read between the lines. Though I was unclear what having your “salad tossed” truly meant, I had a general idea of what it implied. Now I can’t get unsavoury images of ranch dressing out of my head.
It occurred to me that this was not the first time I had been stumped by such an expression. Lately I have been paying more and more attention to the way the human race (and in particular the gay community) takes great creative liberties with the English language. Words, expressions and phrases are constantly being redefined, retooled and thrown into everyday speech.
Sometimes I will peruse personals websites and be left with a blank stare of incomprehension. Nothing can make you feel more out of it than having no idea what a guy is trying to communicate to you.
It is as though I have fumbled into a foreign country without a translator. What is this bareback you speak of? Do I enjoy PnP? Why, I have not the slightest…
After some investigation, I found there is a bit of history linked to what I have come to think of as gayanese.
In the 1950s and ’60s, a new mode of speech gained popularity in the gay subculture of the United Kingdom. Known as Polari, it was conceived in an attempt to disguise queer activity. At a time when homosexuality was criminalized, it became a covert language that allowed gay men to identify each other.
To prevent any threat of persecution from perceived outsiders, gay men adopted something of a secret code.
Imagine yourself standing on a corner with a friend in this bygone era. A particularly fetching guy walks by. The moment he crosses your path you say to your friend, “Oh vada the bona eek on the omi.”
You share a quiet laugh. You have cleverly disguised the fact that you want your friend to check out the nice face on that chap over there.
The passerby might look at you disconcertingly, but chances are he will have no idea what you just said.
Linguist Paul Baker, author of Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang, comments that it might be less of a separate language than it is an attitude.
He discusses how gay men “reconstruct their world and themselves from new perspectives, making sense of experiences that have no existing labels in mainstream culture.”
While some words and their usage have gone the way of the beehive, others have taken up permanent residence in even mainstream slang. Such classics as camp, butch and fruit have remained untouched by the sands of time.
Others such as baloney (referring to an erect penis) and banana car (a car owned by a homosexual) have sadly seemed to slip from common usage.
Polari seemed less relevant in the politically charged arena of the sexual revolution, and by the 1970s it was viewed by some gay activists as degrading and divisive. However, it never truly went away. On the contrary, Polari evolved into the culturally specific slang we use today.
I have found myself making utterances without even realizing what I am doing. It seems I’ve adopted a new vocabulary of euphemisms from the company I keep.
Which brings me back to the matter of having one’s salad tossed.
I made a few inquiries into this expression, but so far have found nothing concrete. Various websites tell me a few things, friends tell me another. Not even my pal Bob could give a definitive answer and he is perhaps my tightest link to the gay world!
I know “tossing the salad” involves some anal play, but to what extent I may never know.
Still, I’ve enjoyed my crash course in “gay speak” or gayanese this past month. Did you know that manscaping is the act of removing unsightly hair from one’s body? Or that a mitten queen is a man who likes to masturbate other men, and a blumpkin is something I do not feel comfortable even typing?
Or that a stromo is a gay man who has the style and demeanor commonly associated with straight men? I even learned that the essential differences between a bear and a wolf is a matter of waist size.
With this newfound wealth of knowledge, perhaps I am one step closer to being one with homokind. I realize this may be stretching a rather thin point. At least, I might have some idea what an attractive guy is saying to me.