13 March 2011

Gay language

Should gay language be considered a different language?  The difference between English as used by homosexuals and English as used by heterosexuals is not obvious, but for other languages, the difference is enormous.  For example, in the Philippines, gay language (known as swardspeak) has a totally different vocabulary (not used by heterosexuals) and sometimes even a different grammar.  A poem mixing straight Tagalog and gay Tagalog can be treated the usual way we read multilingual poems.  In English, however, the difference can be pretty subtle.  Here is an excellent account of a gay poem mixing gay and straight vocabularies.  Since the gay words also have meanings in straight language, it is easy to miss the interplay of registers:

“Slang words may be deliberately adopted – with all their power to disturb – in order to insist on the difference between gay and straight love poetry.  Here, their function is that of a consciously liberating discourse.

“Poems that take this line often overtly mix register, as we can see in the following example:

I love your eyes;
in my dreams
my breath is on your pants
fluctuating seashell
my hand is on the zipper
starfish opening a shell
my hand petting your jock
blue sun warming a salty ocean (R. Daniel Evans, ‘I Praise’)

“This extract describes a rapid and – in a naturalised reading – bathetic shift from eyes to groin as the addresser prepares to suck the addressee.  Although it adopts a register familiar to love poetry, with its use of expressions like ‘I love your eyes’ and ‘dreams’ and the construction of an almost mawkisly romantic scenario with such trappings as ‘seashell,’ ‘starfish’ and ‘sun,’ the juxtaposition in lines 2-3 of two grammatically parallel phrases ‘in my dreams’/’on your pants/ neatly undercuts the potentially hackneyed romanticism of the opening couplet.  The same technique is used in the next two lines, where ‘my hand’ is implicitly compared and contrasted to ‘starfish’ and ‘the zipper’ to ‘a shell.’  The final couplet resorts once more to the use of structural equivalence:  the semantically connected verbs ‘petting’ and ‘warming’ oblige a reading in which ‘my hand’ and ‘blue sun,’ and ‘your jock’ and a ‘salty ocean’ are related both grammatically and metaphorically, exploiting the sexual implications of the second phrase to the full.”  (Charles Lambert)

No comments:

Post a Comment