The original use of the word “Gai” for homosexual

The first illustration of Archy seen in an advertisement in the
New York Tribune on September 11, 1922, introducing the new column called ʺArchy and Mehitabelʺ

May 2009

by Mike Zonta, BB editor

From an email correspondence with Prosperos Mentor Billye Talmadge, weʹve been able to piece together an interesting history of the use of the word ʺgayʺ as a synonym for homosexual.

Early in the forties, Billye read a book of short essays written by Don Marquis called ʺArchy and Mehitabelʺ, and she fell in love with Mehitabel, the amorous, promiscuous alley cat whose motto was ʺtoujours gai, toujours gai.ʺ Mehitabelʹs story was written by Archy, the cockroach, who wrote his epistles by jumping one key at a time on his masterʹs typewriter. Archy wrote of Mehitabelʹs fabulous and numerous love affairs with the different toms of the neighborhood, each one ending on the note of ʺtoujours gai.ʺ ʺToujours gaiʺ is the signature for Mehitabel, whose life style and life motto was exactly that ‐‐‐toujours gai.

Some close friends (one of whom majored in French literature) and Billye were just beginning to figure out where they stood in the scheme of things and decided if they were going the ʺqueer route,ʺ then by golly, they would make up our own rules and adopted the motto ʺtoujours gai,ʺ spelled with an ʹiʹ. So the term became their motto as well, and they used it whenever they communicated with each other. The term ʹgaiʹ was spelled with an ʹiʹ for a long time, but time passed and the term ended up with the Americanized spelling of ʹgayʹ.

In the ʹ20s, both Gertrude Stein and Noel Coward used the term ʹgayʹ to refer loosely to homosexuals. “They were …gay, they learned little things that are things in being gay, … they were quite regularly gay.” —Gertrude Stein, 1922

“Pretty boys, witty boys,
You may sneer
At our disintegration.

Haughty boys, naughty boys,
Dear, dear, dear!

Swooning with affectation…
And as we are the reason
For the ʺNinetiesʺ being gay,
We all wear a green carnation. ”

—Noel Coward, 1929 , Bitter Sweet

But it may have been Billye and her friends who first used the term to specifically refer to specific homosexuals, i.e., themselves.

(from the May 2009 issue of the Bathtub Bulletin)

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