Do gay men communicate with each other differently than they do with straight people? If they do, how is "gay men's English?" different from "straight English"? This work addresses these questions and looks at gay men's English as a cultural and a linguistic phenomenon. This text focuses not on items of vocabulary, word history and folklore but on linguistic practices - co-operation, negotiation and risk-taking - which underlie gay men's conversations, storytelling, verbal duelling, self-description and construction of outrageous references. The author "reads" conversations for covert and overt signs of gay men's English, using anecdotes drawn from gay dinner parties, late-night airplane flights, restaurants, department stores and gourmet shops, and other all-gay and gay/straight settings. He incorporates material from other interviews and discussions with gay men, life-story narratives, gay magazines, newspapers, books and material from his own life. The topics addressed include establishing the gay identities of "suspect gays", recollections of gay childhood, erotic negotiation in health club locker rooms, and gay men's language of AIDS.
The text shows how gay English speakers use language to create gay-centred spaces within public places, to protect themselves when speaking with strangers, and to establish common interests when speaking with "suspect gays". It also explores why learning gay English is a critical component in gay men's socialization and the acquisition of gay culture.
Introduction - studying gay men's English; can there be gay discourse without gay language?; gay English as co-operative discourse; ensuring co-operative discourse; exaggeration, turn taking, pauses and terminals; the risk outside - gay English, "suspect gays", and heterosexuals; bathroom graffiti, songs about cities, and "queer" reference; language, risk and space in a health club locker room; gay English in a "desert of nothing" - language and gay socialization; gay English and the language of AIDS; conclusion - gay English, authenticity and performative effect.