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For many gay men, using these words with their friends is a way of embracing femininity and showing vulnerability or affection to others who share their identities.

Creating a shared culture — including language — around femininity can be a way of reclaiming the bases for oppression many gay men have experienced, as well as disrupting the harmful gender binary. But few if any linguistic practices are all one thing, all the time. In a culture where women and femininity have long been denigrated and belittled, there is a danger that cis men using these words can perpetuate some of these negative tropes.

Historically, queer men and women switched their use of gender pronouns so that they could openly communicate with one another in times when it was not safe to openly have same-sex relationships.


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This practice — sometimes called "she-ing" — has a centuries-long history around the world, including England, Peru, the Philippines, and South Africa. Gay men calling each other "she" or "girl" was historically a way of protecting themselves as well as building community in the context of homophobic and violent mainstream culture. Leap has traced many of the roots of American queer linguistics to the Harlem Renaissance. One of the things that you get there is incredible playing with pronouns. Black queer people of all genders played with their use of pronouns and gendered language during the Harlem Renaissance.

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Leap pointed to s blues music — including artists such as Ma Rainey and Ethel Waters — as a place where examples of Harlemese gender play can be found. In the s, military censors were on the lookout for evidence of homosexuality, which could provoke a military investigation. Leap also stresses that there are usually multiple reasons a linguistic practice is used, and the history of certain words does not necessarily form a linear path to their use today.

Using words like "she" and "girl" can be a way for cis gay men to bond and embrace femininity. RuPaul has also been widely criticized for his transphobic views on drag. Other aspects of identity, particularly race, also provide important context for this practice.


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