Homo History | ‘The Queen’s Vernacular: A Gay Lexicon’

Francis Bacon. Photo by John Deakin, via Wikimedia Commons.

“The Queen’s Vernacular: A Gay Lexicon” by Bruce Rodgers is fascinating not only for its breadth of coverage, including numerous and sometimes surprising sexual references, but also for the depth of inclusion of slang from decades of gay slang that many of us never have heard in common parlance.

It's a brilliant read for exploring the corners of the vernacular. It's liberal with humor and insight aplenty into gay life, and also into the frequent need for euphemisms that we have dealt with as closeted queens over many decades. A lot of this book's entries were in common parlance in gay circles as long ago as the 1940s. It's a great read and one of the most hysterical books ever written. Because almost every word has a handy sentence, providing a contextual and "sometimes outrageous" example of usage, every page is a laugh-out-loud introduction to wry observations, put-downs and the power of language. This book is camp, but most of all, this book is history and shows how the gay community employed wit as a humorous weapon against oppression and marginalization and as a means of self-expression and identity. Not many dictionaries give as much as this one.

Francis Bacon (28 October 1909 – 28 April 1992) was an Irish-born British figurative painter known for his raw, unsettling imagery. Focusing on the human form, his subjects included crucifixion portraits of popes, self-portraits, and portraits of close friends, with abstracted figures sometimes isolated in geometrical structures. Rejecting various classifications of his work, Bacon said he strove to render "the brutality of fact." He built up a reputation as one of the giants of contemporary art with his unique style. Bacon said that he saw images "in series," and his work, which numbers in the region of 590 extant paintings along with many others he destroyed, typically focused on a single subject for sustained periods.

He was thrown out of his family home following an incident in which his father found him admiring himself in front of a large mirror wearing his mother's underwear. At a time when being gay was a criminal offence, Bacon was open about his sexuality.

Bacon found himself drifting through London's homosexual underworld, aware that he was able to attract a certain type of rich man, something he was quick to take advantage of, having developed a taste for good food and wine. One was a relative of Winnie Harcourt-Smith, another breeder of racehorses, who was renowned for his manliness. Bacon claimed his father had asked this "uncle" to take him “in-hand” and “make a man of him.” Bacon had a difficult relationship with his father, once admitting to being sexually attracted to him.

He died of a heart attack heart on 28 April 1992.


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