All tea, no shade

By Patience Kelly

An aspiring linguist’s guide to drag/gay lingo

This article contains profanity especially in connotation with reproductive organs, this article does not intend to offend, merely inform and entertain.

You ready for this extravaganza eleganza? Well, you betta werk. Even before I was less obsessed with the wonderful world of languages as I am now, I loved RuPaul’s Drag Race. I can’t do make up, I’m not that good at fashion, but throw a man into a dress, wig, and cha cha heels and I’m sold. What’s more is this show delves into the soul of not only it’s contestants (look no further than Katya’s admissions of drug addiction, Roxxy Andrew’s emotional break down about being left at a bus stop by her mother, or last week’s honest conversation about the Pulse massacre on the gay community.) But it also reaches into the caverns of gay society itself, bringing it’s icons, music, and language into the limelight.

Coined “lavender linguistics” by Gershon Legman in 1941, the speech patterns many of those in the LGBT community are in reality, it’s own language and show that how we speak is not necessarily tied  to gender, but rather sexual orientation, and of course others we identify with. Through shared ideas, and struggles, many gay men and lesbians have created speech communities which also share patterns of speaking.  Membership into these communities is usually based on stereotypes but speakers resist the dominant language using their own to protest, in a way. These differing patterns, and protest lead to a wider grasp of language within gay men and lesbians as parodies imply gay men speak “like girls” when actually, they are using more varied speech than a stereotypical straight or “manly” man. Like many other social communities, specific vocabulary can be used to include or exclude outsiders, and establish identity.

In addition, lesbians and gay men differ in that when lesbians speak, more emphasis is on being a woman than being gay, and this is reflected in speech, however, both have distinctive slang.

For lesbians, ‘dyke’ now has a positive connotation within the community whereas previously it was an insult. For transgender people, clitorises may be referred to as ‘cocks’ and penises as ‘girl dicks’ thus helping the transitioning person cope with parts that may not match gender identities, but as this is about drag lingo specifically, I’ll also be giving you some examples of drag words and words used typically amongst gay men. I know there’s a lot of articles out there like this at the moment but this will be my take, along with some historical information I’ve gained through the documentary Paris is Burning. So, lets get to werk.

‘Werk, is really an inflection of work, particularly implying some sort of achievement, ‘you betta werk’ means, you have to show them what you’ve got. Or ‘serve’ it ‘serve’ in this sense means to present yourself.  With any luck, you’ll be serving ‘fish’ which usually implies vagina, or looking like a biological woman. And you’ll have others ‘gagging’ gag in this sense usually implies critics choking on the vomit of their jealousy, or reacting intensely. You do not want to get ‘read’ which usually implies to insult, although it’s important to note ‘shade’ ‘tea’ and ‘reading’ are all forms of insulting, or gossiping and usually seem to be in a loving manner although it is not unlikely to be ‘read to shreds’ or ‘throw major shade’ which is usually negative. ‘Tea’ is the gossipier of these, usually reading someone you’re not speaking to or who is not around, gathering information and spreading gossip of others. It’s also important to know that reading is considered an art form one should not attempt unless an expert at the shady arts.

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