Advocate: Old Timey Names for Gay People

Wikipedia: Sissy

Queer Terminology: LGBTQ Histories and the Semantics of Sexuality

Info: LGBTQ Historical Perspectives

Wikipedia: Uranian

18th Century Homosexual Terms

Wikipedia: Terminology of Homosexuality

Info: Offensive Terms and Language

Larry Houston: Gay Research


Old Timey Terms


Today we use terminology to describe homosexuals and homosexuality that is clinically appropriate and socially acceptable. We are sensitive and respectful in defining groups of people as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex, asexual, gender non-conforming, and more. And we intentionally use the acronym LGBTQ to refer to a broad range of people.  


It can be instructive, and sometimes entertaining, to consider the past and the archaic terminology (reflective of the attitudes and norms of the time period) once used to describe homosexuals and homosexuality. The derivations and original meanings of these older words, sometimes insensitive and derogatory, trace back to ancient tales and have oftentimes have a basis in superstition and ignorance. 



In the past, there were a variety of terms, now archaic, that were in popular use when discussing homosexuals and homosexuality…  Homophile, Invert, Pederast, Catamite, Sodomite, Sapphist, Tribade, Bardash, Uranian.


In modern times, terms like "gay" or "queer" are used regularly, and with civil tones.  In the past, there were many slang and pejorative expressions among American, British, and French speakers that referred to homosexuals and homosexuality…  Homo, Fairy, Faggot (Fag), Gay Blade, Dyke, Lesbo, Fruit, Queen, Swish, Flit, Bent, Pansy, Camp, Auntie, Molly, Nancy (Nance, Nancyboy), Mary, Nellie. Other descriptors included Limp Wrist (American), Shirtlifter (Australian), Poof (British), Light in the Loafers, and Friend of Dorothy (Reference to Wizard of Oz).  Sissy referred to feminine men and boys. Tommy (Tom Boy) referred to masculine women and girls.  Pillow Biter (for gay men) and Carpet Muncher (for lesbians).


Wikipedia: Camp

Thought Catalog: Gay Slang Phrases

Gay Dictionary

Encyclopedia of Homosexuality

Queers, Fags, Hussies and Catamites

Info: LGBTQ Slang and Jargon

Wikipedia: Ganymede

Old Timey Film: Beware of the Homosexuals

Researching LGBTQ Ancestors

Info: Offensive Terms and Language

Wikipedia: Tribidism



Antique Origins


The word “homosexual" appeared in 1869 in a pamphlet published by Karl-Maria Kertbeny. The word “homosexual” appeared again in 1892 in CG Chaddock's translation of Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis.


“Homosexual” was first used in general discourse as a noun in 1907 in French, in 1912 in English.  The slang shortened form “homo” first appeared in 1929. The alternative “homophile” was coined in reference to the homosexual as a person of a particular social group, rather than a sexual abnormality, in 1960, but it didn't catch on.  The term “homophobia” dates from 1969.


What about the word “gay?” 1951 is usually given as the earliest date for this slang term meaning "homosexual."  Homosexuals, among themselves, used the word “gay” in this sense since at least 1920.


“Lesbian” dates to 1591, from the Greek “Lesbos.”  Lesbos is a Greek island in northeastern Aegean Sea.  Lesbos was the home of Sappho, the great lyric poet of erotic and romantic verse.  The meaning, "relating to homosexual relations between women," dates from 1890. 


“Lesbianism,” on the other hand, dates from 1870 and the noun “lesbian” in this sense was first recorded in 1925.


History of Gay and Other Queer Words

NY Times: Decline and Fall of the H Word

Info: LGBTQ Slang and Jargon

Iconic Same-Sex Couples Throughout History / Part 1

Wikipedia: Pederasty

LGBTQ Nation: Old Timey Words for Gay and Lesbian

Info: LGBTQ Historical Perspectives

Stanford Encyclopedia: Homosexuality



Outdated Terminology


Pederast (Pederasty): Describes an erotic or homosexual relationship between an adult male and a pubescent or adolescent male. The word pederasty derives from Greek meaning "love of boys.” In French, it has been used as a synonym for homosexuality between adult males.


Dyke: 1931, American and British. Probably a shortening of “morphadike,” a dialectal garbling of “hermaphrodite.”  Bulldyke as a noun dates from 1926.  A source from 1896 lists “dyke” as slang for "vulva."


Faggot: Reference to male homosexuals, dates from 1914. The shortened form “fag” dates from 1921.


Swish: The sense of "effeminate homosexual" dates from the 1930s in homosexual slang. Imitative of the sound made by something brushing against something or the sight of a dramatic arm gesture or body movement.


Flame: The meaning "sweetheart" is attested from 1647. The figurative sense of "burning passion" was in Middle English. “Flamer” and “flaming” (glaringly homosexual) are slang terms from the 1970s, but “flamer” as "glaringly conspicuous person or thing" (1809) and “flaming” as "glaringly conspicuous" (1781) are much earlier in the general sense.  Perhaps also shorthand for “flamboyant.”


Sodomite (Sodomy): Generally refers anal or oral sex between people or sexual activity between a person and an animal (bestiality).  It may also mean any non-procreative sexual activity. Originally, the term “sodomy,” which is derived from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Biblical Book of Genesis, was commonly restricted to anal sex.



Info: LGBTQ Terminology

Wikipedia: Sissy

1950s Film: Education on Homosexuals

Homosexuality in London Criminal Courts 1674-1913

Iconic Same-Sex Couples Throughout History / Part 2

Vintage Photos of LGBTQ Couples

Advocate: Old Timey Names for Gay People

Queer Terminology: LGBTQ Histories and the Semantics of Sexuality


Sapphist (Sapphism): Term applied to lesbians. Reference to the Greek poet Sappho. The female equivilent of "sodomite." 


Flit: 1951. Term used to refer to homosexuals. From JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.


Poof (Poofter): c 1850, British. Used as a disparaging term for effeminate or gay men.


Nancy (Nance, Nancyboy): 1904. Used as a disparaging term for effeminate or gay men.


Bardash: French. Homosexual male. A kept male in a homosexual relationship. (Similar to catamite)


Ponce: 1872, British.  Pimp. A man supported by women.  Meaning "male homosexual" by WH Auden in 1932.


Pansy: 1929. Used as a disparaging term for effeminate or gay men.


Fairy: The meaning "effeminate homosexual male" is first recorded in 1895. Originally means “enchantment, magic.” 


Fruit: "Odd person, eccentric," 1910.  "Male homosexual," 1935.


Queen: Male homosexual, especially a feminine and ostentatious one. First recorded in 1924.


Tranny: Transgender person.



Bugger (Buggery): 1533, British. Very close in meaning to the term "sodomy." Often used interchangeably in law and popular speech. It may also be a specific common law offence encompassing both sodomy and bestiality.

Camp: 1909 slang term for homosexual style. It is an aesthetic style and sensibility that regards something as appealing because of its bad taste and ironic value. It is also considered a performance identity for types of entertainment that include cabaret, burlesque, parody, mockery, lampoon, and drag. Where high art necessarily incorporates beauty and value, camp necessarily needs to be lively, audacious and dynamic.  As an art form, “camp” or “campy” may be described as kitschy, cheesy, ostentatious, flamboyant, exaggerated, affected, theatrical, or excessive.


Catamitus: Corrupt Latin spelling of Ganymedus, who was Jupiter's beloved cup-bearer.  It came to mean the younger partner in a pederastic relationship between two males. In Greek mythology, Ganymede is a divine hero from Troy. In one version of the myth, he is abducted by Zeus, in the form of an eagle, to serve as cup-bearer (wine-pourer) in Olympus. Homer describes Ganymede as the most beautiful of mortals. The myth was a model for the Greek social custom of paiderastía, the socially acceptable erotic relationship between an adult male and an adolescent male. The Latin form of the name was Catamitus (and also "Ganymedes"), from which the English word "catamite" is derived.


Calamus: This word derives from the Greek “kalamos,” meaning “reed,” and by extension a flute, fishing rod, and a reed pen. From the latter usage stems the Latin “lapsus calami,” meaning “a slip of the pen.” Walt Whitman entitled the most overtly homoerotic and self-revealing section of Leaves of Grass, "Cala­mus." He was thinking of one particular variety of plant, the sweet flag (acorus calamus), as a symbol of male-male affection. It must have appealed to him also because of the traditional association of the calamus (reed pen) with the writer's profession. Yet, from Greek mythology he may have known the story of Calamus, the son of a river god, who was united in tender love with another youth, Carpus. When Carpus was accidentally drowned, the grief-stricken Calamus was changed into a reed.



Uranian (Uranism, Uranist, Urning): 19th-century term that referred to a person of a third sex.  Originally it referred to someone with a female psyche in a male body who is sexually attracted to men, and later extended to cover homosexual gender variant females, and a number of other sexual types. It is believed to be an English adaptation of the German word “urning,” which was first published by activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825–1895) in a series of five booklets which were collected under the title Research into the Riddle of Man-Male Love. Ulrichs developed his terminology before the first public use of the term "homosexual.” The word “Uranian” (and “Urning”) was derived by Ulrichs from the Greek goddess Aphrodite Urania, who was created out of the god Uranus' testicles. Therefore, it stands for homosexual gender, while Aphrodite Dionea (Dioning) represents the heterosexual gender.


Sissy: Effeminate boy or man, with connotations of being homosexual or a coward. Pejorative term for a boy or man who does not conform to standard male gender stereotypes. Generally, "sissy" implies a lack of courage, strength, athleticism, coordination, testosterone, male libido, and stoic calm, all of which have traditionally been associated with masculinity and considered important to the male role in Western society. A man might also be considered a "sissy" for being interested in traditionally feminine hobbies or employment (being fond of fashion), displaying effeminate behavior (using hair products or displaying limp wrists), being unathletic, or being homosexual. (Similar to pansy, nancyboy, poof)



Info: LGBTQ Slang and Jargon




Invert is a psychological term referring to a person displaying sexual inversion. Sexual inversion was a term used by sexologists, primarily in the late 19th and early 20th century, to refer to homosexuality. Sexual inversion was believed to be an inborn reversal of gender traits: male inverts were, to a greater or lesser degree, inclined to traditionally female pursuits and dress and vice versa. The sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing described female sexual inversion as "the masculine soul heaving in the female bosom.”


Initially confined to medical texts, the concept of sexual inversion was given wide currency by Radclyffe Hall's 1928 lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness, which was written in part to popularize the sexologists' views. Published with a foreword by the sexologist Havelock Ellis, it consistently used the term "invert" to refer to its protagonist, who bore a strong resemblance to one of Krafft-Ebing's case studies.


In its emphasis on gender role reversal, the theory of sexual inversion resembles transgender, which did not yet exist as a separate concept at the time. According to this theory, gay men and lesbians were sexual "inverts", people who appeared physically male or female on the outside, but felt internally that they were of the "opposite" anatomical sex (according to the binary view of gender). Therefore, same-gender desires and attraction were explained as "latent heterosexuality", and bisexual desire was known as psychosexual hermaphroditism. In other words, gay men and lesbians were really just heterosexuals who were "born in the wrong body", and "bisexuals" were what modern-day sexologists would call “intersex” persons (formerly hermaphrodites).





Historically, the term "hermaphrodite" has been used to describe ambiguous genitalia in animals and human beings. The word “intersex” has come into preferred usage for humans, since the word “hermaphrodite” is considered to be misleading, stigmatizing, scientifically specious, and clinically problematic.


The term derives from the Latin “hermaphroditus,” from Ancient Greek, the name of the son of Hermes (messenger god) and Aphrodite (goddess of love) in Greek mythology. He was said to possess the physical traits of male and female sexes. He was born with a physical body combining male and female sexes. The word “hermaphrodite” entered the English lexicon as early as the late fourteenth century.



Important LGBTQ Moments in US History

Cheesecake and Beefcake

A Movement Caught Hold and Has Never Let Go

Info: LGBTQ Historical Perspectives

APA: History of LGBTQ Social Movements

Wikipedia: Ganymede

Info: LGBTQ Slang and Jargon




"Tribade" is a term applied to lesbians, as in “one who engages in tribadism”. Sometimes translated as “rubster.” The terms “tribadism” or “tribbing,” commonly known by its scissoring position, is a sex act in which a woman rubs her vulva against her partner's body for sexual stimulation, which may involve female-to-female genital contact. The term “tribadism” is usually used in the context of lesbian sex. In modern times, the term typically refers to various forms of non-penetrative sex (or frottage) between women.


The Greek term for lesbian, “tribas,” comes from the verb “tribein,” meaning "to rub,” implying that the women so designated derive their sexual pleasure from friction against one another's bodies.


Based on the Greek expression, the Latin language formed its own word “frictrix,” from “fricare,” meaning "to rub.”


In the mid 19th century, the term “lesbian” gradually supplanted “tribade” (and “sapphist”) in learned and popular usage, so that today the word occurs but rarely as a deliberate archaism or classical allusion.





Transvestism is the practice of dressing and acting in a style or manner traditionally associated with the opposite sex. Though coined as late as the 1910s (by Magnus Hirschfeld), the phenomenon is not new. Today, the term “transvestite” is commonly considered outdated and derogatory, with the term “cross-dresser” used as a more appropriate replacement. The term “transvestite” was historically used to diagnose medical disorders, including mental health disorders, and “transvestism” was viewed as a disorder, but the term “cross-dresser” was adopted. The word “transvestite” derives from the Latin “trans,” which means “across, over" and “vestitus,” which means "dressed.” It was used to describe persons who habitually and voluntarily wore clothes of the opposite sex.


“Transvestite” should not be confused with “transgender” or “transsexual.” Transvestites are often happy with their gender and have no desire to change their sex, but simply enjoy being able to cross-dress from time to time. The term should also not be confused with “drag queen,” which refers to a male who wears women’s clothing for public performance and entertainment.


Info: LGBTQ Terminology

LGBTQ Historical Overview

Fight for LGBTQ Rights Throughout History

Info: Offensive Terms and Language

Gay History Quiz


Transgender Terms and Labels

Let's examine some outdated, inaccurate, or offensive gender identity terms. Although some people may use the following terms to describe their own gender, most of the labels below range from out-of-date to offensive.


Archaic terms for transgender people included Tranny and Shemale.  And terms like Transgendered and Transsexual are consider inaccurate and out-of-date.

Archaic: Gender Identity Disorder (or GID)
Preferred: Gender Dysphoria

Archaic:  Hermaphrodite
Preferred: Intersex

Archaic:  Sex Change Operation
Preferred: Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) or Gender Affirming Surgery

Sexual Aberration


The notion of sexual aberration had some currency in the literature of psychiatry during the first half of the 20th century. Although the expression encompassed a whole range of behaviors regarded as abnormalities, it is probably safe to say that it was used more with reference to homosexuality than for any other "disorder." In due course it yielded to less negative terms like “deviation” and “deviance.”


The term “aberration” derives from the Latin “aberrare,” which means "to go astray, wander off." For 19th alienists and moralists, the word aberration took on strong connotations of mental instability or madness. Thus, in its application to sexual nonconformity, the concept linked up with the notion of "moral insanity," that is to say, the nonclinical manifestation of desire for variant experience. The proliferation of such terms in the writings of psychiatrists, physicians, moralists, and journalists in the first half of the 20th century reveals a profound ambivalence with regard to human variation, in which prescriptive condemnation struggles with, and often overcomes, descriptive neutrality.





In contemporary usage the terms “abomination” and “abominable” refer in a generic way to something that is detestable or loathsome. Because of Old Testament usage, however, the words retain a special association as part of the religious condemnation of male homosexual behavior: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination (Leviticus 18:22)."


In Elizabethan English they were normally written "abhomination" and "abhominable" as if they derived from Latin “ab” and “homo,” meaning, "departing from the human or inhuman." In fact, the core of the Latin word is the religious term “omen.”


In any event the notion of abomination owes its force to its appearance in Jerome's Vulgate translation of the Bible, where it corresponds to Greek “bdelygma” and Hebrew “tó'ebáh.” The latter term denotes behavior that violates the covenant between God and Israel, and is applied to Canaanite trade practices, idolatry, and polytheism. The aversion of the religious leaders of the Jewish community after the return from the Babylonian captivity to the "abominable customs" of their heathen neighbors, combined with the Zoroastrian prohibition of homosexual behavior, inspired the legal provisions added to the Holiness Code of Leviticus in the 5th century before the Christian era that were to be normative for Hellenistic Judaism and then for Pauline Christianity. The designation of homosexual relations as an "abomination" or "abominable crime" in medieval and modern sacral and legal texts echoes the wording of the Old Testament.



Advocate: Old Timey Names for Gay People

Wikipedia: Sissy

Queer Terminology: LGBTQ Histories and the Semantics of Sexuality

Info: LGBTQ Historical Perspectives

Wikipedia: Uranian

18th Century Homosexual Terms

Wikipedia: Terminology of Homosexuality

Info: Offensive Terms and Language

Larry Houston: Gay Research


Contrary Sexual Feeling


The expression “contrary sexual feeling” is the English rendering of the overarching term adopted by the German physician Karl Friedrich Otto Westphal (1833-1890) for the condition that he had abstracted from two case histories under his observation, one of a lesbian, the other of a male transvestite.


Westphal judged the condition (which came to be designated as homosexuality) as inborn, a symptom of a neuropathic or psychopathic state, as an alienation from the feeling proper to the anatomical sex of the subject. He drew the forensic distinction between exclusive and occasional homosexuality, but his failure to separate the two psychological entities that he had encountered was not corrected until fifty years later, when Havelock Ellis formulated the differential concept of eonism and Magnus Hirschfeld that of transvestism, the latter on the basis of 17 cases of heterosexual transvestism that he had isolated from the 7,000 homosexual case histories he had taken until that time.


The English abstractors and translators of European psychiatric literature were never able to decide upon a uniform equivalent for the awkward German expression, "contrary sexual feeling" or "contrary sexual instinct."


To the English-speaking lay public, of course, the word "contrary," like "perverse" conveyed a notion of the rebellious, refractory, and antithetical, though such connotations were not overtly recognized by specialists. In any event the expression was not destined to survive. As early as 1870 an American psychiatrist preparing an abstract of Westphal's article had used "inverted sexual feeling." With appropriate modifications this term, simplified to “sexual inversion,” was adopted in all the Romance languages and in English as the medical designation for what journalistic style was later to dub “homosexuality,” a term invented by the apologist Karoly Maria Kertbeny in 1869 and taken up by Gustav Jaeger in the book Entdeckung der Seele in 1880.


Since the term “homosexuality” fit perfectly into the international nomenclature of Greek-Latin expressions and allowed for a triptych with bisexual and heterosexual, it drove the clumsy and eccentric coinages that had been proposed in earlier decades out of use. So "contrary sexual feeling" is the linguistic remnant of the first, uncertain psychiatric attempt to grapple with the problem of homosexuality.


[Source: Warren Johansson, Encyclopedia of Homosexuality]





Historically, “perversion” may be the most affect-laden, ambiguous, and misleading term in the whole lexicon of the study of sexual behavior. Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1961) defined it as "Some form of sex gratification preferred to heterosexual coitus and habitually sought after as the primary or only form of sex gratification desired."


Although the original negativity of the word has weakened in recent decades, it still retains the connotation of a departure from the norm. Fortunately, most serious researchers recognize the problematic character of the word and use it, if at all, with caution.


“Perversion” entered the semantic field of sexuality only in the last third of the 19th century. Until then it had meant simply "any qualitative alteration of a function in disease." Against this background, "perversion of the sexual instinct" meant a change in the direction of the sexual desires, as opposed to a quantitative change (satyriasis and nymphomania on the one hand, impotence and frigidity on the other). The medical criteria for perversion were its involuntary exclusiveness and fixation. It was never asserted, as many laymen were to assume, that all "perverse" behavior stemmed from pathology, but only that certain individuals were in the grip of an abnormal sexual orientation beyond their control.


It was Richard von Krafft-Ebing's ill-fated notion that the etiology of perverse (non-procreative) sexual acts could be ascribed to either pathology or to vice. This novel distinction was important for the forensic psychiatrist because it separated persons accused of sexual offenses who were unwilling victims of inner compulsions from others who willfully embraced illicit behavior and were therefore responsible for their actions.


Though popularized in Krafft-Ebing's best-selling Psychopathia sexualis (1886), the distinction eluded the public mind, all the more as there had been in classical Latin the phrase “perversio morum” that left its imprint on the modern languages in the form of "moral perversion."


Worse still, in English the word “pervert” had from the middle of the 17th century possessed the meaning "religious apostate," so that in the mind of the English speaker the word easily took on the sense of "one who willfully and obstinately departed from the moral norm of sexual behavior."


Important LGBTQ Moments in US History

Cheesecake and Beefcake

A Movement Caught Hold and Has Never Let Go

Info: LGBTQ Historical Perspectives

APA: History of LGBTQ Social Movements

Wikipedia: Ganymede

Info: LGBTQ Slang and Jargon


Abnormal and Deviant Behavior?


Even in the academic world, it can be somewhat shocking to discover the archaic terminology that was once used to describe homosexuals and homosexuality.  “Abnormal Psychology” was the name once given to the category of psychology under which homosexuality was discussed.  “Deviant Behavior” was the name of the category of sociology under which homosexuality was discussed.


Those in the field of abnormal psychology study people's emotional, cognitive, and behavioral problems. Abnormal behavior may be defined as patterns of behavior that are unusual, disturbing (socially unacceptable), distressing, maladaptive (or self-defeating), and often the result of distorted thoughts (cognitions), which may or may not be understood as precipitating a mental disorder. It seeks to understand behavior deemed to be aberrant or deviant (statistically, functionally, morally).


In sociology, deviance describes an action or behavior that violates social norms, including a formally enacted rule (crime), as well as informal violations of social norms (rejecting folkways and mores). Norms are rules and expectations by which members of society are conventionally guided. Deviance is an absence of conformity to these norms. Viewing deviance as a violation of social norms, sociologists have characterized it as any thought, feeling, or action that members of a social group judge to be a violation of (or departure from) their values or rules or group conduct, that violates definitions of appropriate and inappropriate conduct shared by the members of a social system.


In modern times, researchers are sensitive to the LGBTQ population and are careful in their use of such terms as "abnormal" and "deviant."



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