Part of the fun of researching 1920’s and 1930’s Queer subculture in New York City was coming across a wide variety of specialized slang and coded terms that flourished among homosexual men and women of the time. Some of these terms are solely of their time, some have survived into the modern era, albeit often with modified meanings.
Not surprisingly, for a social group that for the most part did not conduct themselves openly in society, a lot of these terms constitute a kind of secret language available only to those “in the club”. They describe sexual preferences and types, as well as particular places and activities important to homosexuals of the time.
Folding these terms into the libretto of “Speakeasy – The Adventures of John and Jane Allison in the Wonderland” was a lot of fun. For the most part the meaning of the words should be clear in context. However a little confusion can be fun too, as in this moment, when John Allison eavesdrops on a trio of Gay Florists and Julian Carnation:
You can keep 42nd Street. Give me the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
You and your seafood, Violet!
That’s my crowd, Lily. When I promenade there, no flag’s at half mast!
Excuse me, fellas.
They still don’t see or hear him.
I prefer Central Park. The Fruited Plain. Vaseline Alley. Always good for a holiday.
Delicious. All those Muzzlers and Jockers milling about in nature. Smack in the middle of Manhattan.
Rose, please! Only punks and gonsils there! You want a true Jocker, pick a sailor!
Violet, I’m afraid you’re mixing metaphors now. Or at least, professions.
They all laugh.
It sounds like English, but it’s all Greek to me…
So, to continue the fun, below find a Glossary of the slang terms of the Prohibition era that (so far) have found their way into Speakeasy:
GLOSSARY of slang in SPEAKEASY, as used in 1920’s/1930’s New York City
Basketeering – visually appraising men’s crotches (like eggs in a basket).
Belle – young man
Browning – anal sex
Bulldagger – Harlem term for lesbian
Dropping pins – making hints about one’s homosexuality, usually to other gay men (comes from “letting one’s hair down”).
Faggot – term for homosexual man, used only pejoratively.
Fairy– term for homosexual man, could be used both positively and pejoratively.
Flapper – young woman who wears short skirts, loves jazz, drinks booze, is sexually active and otherwise flouts conservative conventions.
Fruited Plain – Open lawn at north end of the Rambles in Central Park; popular meeting place for gay men.
Gonsil – man who is receptive partner in anal sex.
Jazzer – a jazz musician or specialist in jazz styles.
Jocker – man who will only assume active, insertive roles in sex with other men, usually to retain their “status as men”, generally doesn’t think of himself as homosexual.
Letting one’s hair down – acting in an obvious gay manner, not wearing the mask.
Mask – The face/demeanor a gay man will adopt in straight society to conceal his homosexuality.
Muzzler – Gay man who services jockers orally.
Nance – term for homosexual man, could be used both positively and pejoratively.
Paddywagon – police car where those arrested during a raid are put and driven to the station.
Pansy – term for homosexual man, could be used both positively and pejoratively.
Playing Checkers – moving from seat to seat in a darkened movie theater in search of interested sex partners.
Punk – young man who is receptive partner in anal sex.
Queen – homosexual who wants a “real man.”
Queer – odd, unusual; also term for homosexual, used both positively and pejoratively.
Seafood – sailor
Trade (also Rough Trade) – (Ostensibly) straight men, generally soldiers, sailors or working class, willing to have sex with men, usually only as the insertive partner.
Twilight Aristocracy – metaphor for how gay men saw themselves within wider society (also Cognescenti, Fraternity, Presbyterians).
Vaseline Alley – also known as Bitches Walk; unbroken line of benches from the southeast corner of Central Park to the Mall; another popular meeting place for gay men.
Wolf – sexually aggressive type, top; often drawn to punks.
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