Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Social Status [II, 44]

All advanced societies show differences in social status, with the appropriate descriptors. In gay and lesbian life these descriptors are sometimes annexed as analogies. Some, of course, would like to think of gay relationships as egalitarian. Usually they are not, reflecting a complex mix of power relations.

There is an additional issue. A few gays, possibly through the effects of internalized homophobia, view all homosexuals as inherently inferior to heterosexuals. The nagging suspicion that this might be so leads to defensive attitudes, including posturing derived from the realm of social inequality.

The commonest term deriving from the social hierarchy is of course queen. In the gay sense most queens are quite democratic, though they may pretend otherwise. (Some hold that a more convincing etymology is from the old word quean, a hussy.)

A step above queen is the rank of emperor, as in the ephemeral phenomenon of the imperial courts in San Francisco. A princess is an ingenue, with “queen potential.” Contemporary Spain offers a whole range of such terms, including condesa, duqesa, faraona, princesa, and reina, not to forget diva and diosa. A reina's closest friend is a prima dama.

In the UK a group of gay men who associate together may be called a monarchy.

Some words allude to the lower rungs of the social ladder. Thus the term berdache (borrowed from French bardache) originally meant a “young slave” (Arabic, which in turn derived it from Persian).

Master and slave (or top and bottom) represent a major element in the dynamic of S/M. In prisons there is the contrast of pitchers and catchers.

The prince-and-pauper syndrome (a term proposed by Timothy d’Arch Smith ) occurs when an older, often well-to-do gay man finds sexual partners among the working class. Some perceive this link as a matter of exploitation. Yet A. J. Symonds and Walt Whitman saw it as a democratizing element, bringing the classes together.

The targets of envy by the less fortunate are A-list gays; similarly, the power lesbian.

See also FAMILY, above.


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