What is Gay? Definition and Meaning of Gay
The term "gay" may be confusing and even foreign to some, forcing people to ask, "What is gay?" or "Am I Gay?" And while some might think the definition of "gay" is simple, to many, it actually isn't. While "gay" can be thought of as a synonym to "homosexual," there is more to the meaning of gay than that.
Definition of Gay
Homosexuality is considered to be same-sex sexual attraction and behavior and "gay" is a synonym of homosexuality. The term "homosexuality"1 was first used by Victorian scientists who considered same-sex sexual attraction and behavior a "moral deficiency."2
Homosexuality is still the correct term clinically, but even though homosexuality is no longer considered immoral, some people feel there are still negative overtones to the word given its origin. The term "gay" was initially a slang term developed to overcome some of these negative associations. It may have come from a nineteenth century French slang word, "gaie."
What is Gay?
Gay is a term that is not gender specific, so men or women can be termed "gay." When identifying people as gay though, it's important to consider three things. According to Avert.org, an international charity, these things are:
- Sexual attraction
- Sexual behavior
- Sexual identity
For example, a person may feel same-sex sexual attraction but not identify as "gay" whereas another person who behaves sexually towards men and women may identify as "gay." Moreover, it is not uncommon for people to identify as "gay" at some times in their lives, while straight (not gay) at other times.
In other words, correctly identifying someone as "gay" is as often a personal choice as much as it is a textbook definition. Overall, it's the self-identification of being "gay" that is the most accurate.
Last Updated: 18 August 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD