In the last few years, gay slang, mostly from black drag queens, has gone mainstream. This is due to middle-class white straight people appropriating the terms for themselves to sound edgy, clever and funny. But the terms have important history and definitions that many people do not realize.
These are some of the slang terms originating mostly from the black and latino gay community.
Spill the tea, sip the tea
This phrase originates from black American drag culture. It means to tell or to listen to gossip or the truth. But most people know it from the meme of Kermit the Frog sipping tea from a few years ago.
To insult someone by stating facts and flaws about them. Specifically, it must be insults between gay people. NOT between gay and straight people or between straight people.
Reading is the ultimate art form of the insult. Basically, you insult someone just by telling them simple facts about themselves in a derogatory way. It was born in the Harlem drag scene of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It was popularized in the 1990 documentary “Paris is Burning.”
Watch the iconic reading scene from “Paris is Burning” to understand.
To throw shade means to subtly insult someone in a clever way that often goes over their head. It is a pointed form of reading. Drag queen Dorien Corey explains what it means to throw shade at someone:
“I don’t tell you you’re ugly, but I don’t have to tell you, because you know you’re ugly. And that’s shade.”
Shade is NOT merely insulting someone or being disrespectful. It has to be subtle, witty, and a little nasty.
The term “kiki” originated in the 1930s. It was a term for gay men who preferred both the passive and active role during sex. In the 1940s and 50s, it also became a term for gay women who switched between butch and femme identities. In the 80s and 90s, black and latino drag queens in the ballroom scene used it to describe the sound of laughter; it also meant a group chatting or gathering. It evolved into a term for a party.
See also: the song “Let’s Have A Kiki,” by The Scissor Sisters
A style of dance in which the dancer strikes several poses as if posing for a photo shoot. It is also way to throw shade at another dancer.
There are two origin stories for voguing. One involves black gay inmates who would dance instead of fighting each other. The other involves the drag queen Paris Dupree striking poses to music as if he were in Vogue magazine.
Voguing became popular in the New York ball scene of the 70s, where black and latino drag queens would compete against each other. Madonna
Listen to voguing icon Willi Ninja explain it:
A close friend; short for sister. “Sis” may have originated from black women in the south in beauty shops. Gay men and trans women in the same drag houses would call each other sisters, or “sis” for short. It became a term of endearment between gay friends.
A combination of “cunt” and “honey,” this is a friend who’s also kind of a bitch. Again, it originated in the black and latino drag community, though I could not find specific examples.
This origin of word is actually debatable. It became popular in 2012, when a fan took a video of Lady Gaga and yelled, “YES! Gaga, you look so good!” but it sounded like he was saying, “YAS!” This circulated around gay Tumblr, then the rest of the internet.
But members of the black gay community say that when queens at balls would yell encouragement to other performers, it would sound like “YESSSS” or “YAAASSSS.”
Either way, YAS! truly became mainstream in 2016, when the show Broad City used “YAS QUEEN!” and exposed a wider audience to it.
“Work” probably originated among sex workers on the streets as code or slang for prostitution. Many gay men, particularly black or latino gay men, had to use sex work to survive, so the term probably then seeped into the gay community.
In the roaring 20s, to slay meant to tell a funny joke or perform well in a show, as in, “That joke slayed me! That comedian slayed!” The word gained traction in the black and latino gay community, where it applied to clothes, makeup, slaying a crowd, slaying a show, and just doing something really well. Beyonce used the term in her song “Formation” in 2016, and it crossed the line into the mainstream.
Using the word “fierce” to describe makeup, outfits, or beauty came from—surprise—the black and latino drag scene in New York. It entered the mainstream on America’s Next Top Model. Jay Alexander, a judge on ANTM, also participated in the ball scene. Tyra picked up the term from him, and mainstream America picked up the term from Tyra.
“Gagged” now means surprised or stunned. Or, if you are “gagging” to do something, you are very eager to do it. But a “gag” was originally a joke; something put in someone else’s mouth to silence them; or the act of retching. These definitions probably morphed into the current meaning in the gay community (probably in the ball scene, but I can’t find evidence of this).
Serving _____ realness
“Serving realness” originally meant a black or latino gay man who could blend with straight men or a black or latino drag queen or trans woman who could blend with cisgender women.
Now, many people use “serving” as in “wearing,” ____ realness to describe an outfit: “Taylor Swift is serving sparkly realness on the red carpet, hunty!”
Other terms that apparently come from black and latino drag queens, but I can’t find the origins: Beat, don’t come for me, face crack, busted, gives me life
Do you use words that came from black gay slang?
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