Gay (Homosexual) - What is it? What does that mean ?

Discover the meaning and understanding of the concept of homosexuality (gay) in this article. Immerse yourself in an exploration of the different dimensions and experiences of queer identity.

Written by Alain VEST

Last published at: January 19th, 2024

What is this ?

The word gay refers to homosexuality or same-sex attraction. This is the sexual orientation of people who have sexual interest in the same sex.

The word gay refers to homosexuality or same-sex attraction. It is the sexual orientation of people who have sexual interest in the same sex.

What does that mean ?
Homosexuality, as opposed to heterosexuality, describes romantic and/or sexual relationships between people of the same sex.

Being gay means being attracted to people of the same sex rather than the opposite sex. This attraction can be sexual, emotional, physical and/or romantic in nature.

Other terms

Gay Lesbian – A woman who is sexually attracted to other women. Someone whose gender identity is female and whose sexual orientation is homosexual.

Queer – An umbrella term used to refer to all people who do not identify as heterosexual. Someone who doesn't feel (exclusively) attracted to the opposite sex.

Bisexual – Someone who feels attracted to both the female and male genders.

Homophobia – Prejudice against homosexual people.

Before evolving towards the meaning that is familiar to us today, the term gay was used, from the 12th to the 19th century, as a synonym for happy, cheerful, imperturbable.

Her face was sad and lovely with shiny things, bright eyes, and a bright, passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that the men who had cared for her found it hard to forget: a compulsion to chant, a whispered "Listen," a promise that she had been doing gay and exciting things just now and that gay and exciting things were looming in the next hour.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925 (extract from chapter I)

In the 17th century, the term was associated with promiscuity and immoral behavior, such as prostitution and, by extension, homosexuality.

The definition of the term changed towards the end of the 19th century, but homosexuality did not become the main description until the 1960s. Initially, it was a common adjective for men to describe their sexual orientation, but currently, gay is used by the entire LGBTQ+ community, regardless of gender.

Likewise, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word in two ways:

of, relating to, or characterized by sexual or romantic attraction to people of the same sex.

of, relating to, or intended for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc.


In a deeply homophobic Western society, as soon as the phrase was associated with homosexual men, it immediately acquired a pejorative connotation. Until the 20th century, the word "gay" was used as a synonym for "unmanly", "loose" or "unclean".

All this time, homosexuality was considered an illness and was even listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a reference work of the American Psychiatric Association.

In the United Kingdom, performing homosexual acts was also illegal. In 1967 it was partially decriminalized by the Sexual Offenses Act, but the "gay crime of gross indecency" has still caused mass convictions over the years. At the time, the police were highly homophobic.

Soon after, the studies used to classify homosexuality as a mental illness were questioned and found to be flawed, with the result that it ceased to be considered a mental disorder in the United States and the United Kingdom. . However, growing AIDS stigma continued to fuel prejudice and discrimination against gay people.

It was only with the sexual revolution that homosexuality began to be normalized around the world, along with masturbation, contraception, pornography, abortion, premarital sex and much more. other things widely considered acceptable today.

The gay liberation movement accompanied the sexual revolution, promoting gay pride and encouraging gay people to speak openly about their sexual orientation. The most notable moment of the Gay Liberation Movement was the Stonewall Riots, which occurred in response to police violence against the gay community.

The first gay pride march took place in 1970 to celebrate the events of the Stonewall riots. With each major event, more cities hosted the parade, and in 2019, Pride was celebrated worldwide by more than 10 million people.

Gay flags

The official Gay Pride flag has undergone very few changes since its creation in 1978 and is flown around pride marches around the world. More than a gay icon, the rainbow flag has become the symbol of the LGBTQ+ community.

First Gay Pride flag (1978)

The original eight-striped flag was replaced the following year due to logistical problems with the hot pink stripe, which was removed. The second flag contained only seven tripes.

Second Gay Pride flag (1978–1979)

The same thing happened with the blue-green stripe, and so that flag was once again replaced by the six-striped pattern seen around pride marches today.

Current Gay Pride Flag

Gay symbols

In the 1970s, several symbols of the gay community appeared.

The most common identifiers were generated from the masculine and feminine gender symbols, which were based on the astronomical symbols for Mars – ♂ – and Venus –♀. The main gay symbol is the union of two masculine gender signs - ⚣ -, and the symbol for gay or lesbian women follows the same logic - ⚢.

The Greek letter lambda (λ) was also used as a symbol for the Gay Activists Alliance and became associated with gay liberation. In 1974, at the International Gay Rights Congress, it was announced as the official symbol of gay and lesbian rights.

Several other things, from flowers to animals, have also been associated with gay symbolism. These include violets, carnations, rhino lavender, unicorns and the sweet flag plant.

Differences between gay terms and other terms

Gay and Queer

While the word gay is used to describe someone's sexual orientation, queer is a broader term, applying to gender identity, sexual identity, or both.

Queer is an umbrella term used by people who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender, meaning that queer people can also be gay, and vice versa.

Gay and lesbian

The adjective gay can be used by both men and women, but as it began to be more associated with homosexual men, the term lesbian emerged to refer to homosexual women.

Although they are technically synonyms, the word lesbian does not apply to men. The word gay also has a somewhat broader application, since the use of the lesbian label only makes sense if the person identifies as a woman and is attracted to other women, contrary to popular belief. goes with the word gay.

Homosexuals and heterosexuals

The distinction between homosexual and heterosexual people was the first sexual identity distinction to be made, and the word heterosexual was actually created to oppose the word homosexual.

Likewise, the word gay is opposed to the word straight, because the first refers to attraction to the same sex, and the second to attraction to the opposite sex.

Gay and bisexual

Both being sexual orientations, the term bisexual refers to a person who experiences attraction to their own sex as well as the opposite sex. Conversely, being gay means being attracted exclusively to your own sex.

Some people may actually fluctuate between the two labels as they discover their sexual identity over time, or they may truly experience variations in their sexual orientation over the course of their lives.

Gay and transgender

A transgender person is someone who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, making them a gender identity.

Being gay, on the other hand, is entirely linked to sexual identity, meaning the two words refer to completely different things. However, the same person can perfectly well be transgender and gay if the gender they identify with is the same as the one they are sexually attracted to.

Gay and non-binary

A non-binary person is someone whose gender identity falls outside of the male and female binary. As it describes a person's relationship with their own gender, it cannot be confused with that same person's sexual and/or romantic interests.

Because the terms used to describe sexual orientations do not seem to correspond to non-binary entities, some people still identify as non-binary and gay, sometimes for lack of a better designation.

Gay and pansexual

These words describe two different sexual orientations, yet we could say that the adjective pansexual absorbs the adjective gay. This means that if someone is pansexual, they are also gay, but if someone is gay, they are not necessarily pansexual.

Pansexuality is a label someone uses to describe the fact that they are capable of feeling romantic and/or sexual interest in any person, regardless of gender. This includes same-sex attraction, opposite-sex attraction, and attraction to non-binary entities, and everything in between.

Gay and Drag Queen

Although homophobia served to promote the idea that all drag queens were gay men, drag queens are simply male performers who dress in the manner of women. Cross-dressing or dressing as a drag queen in no way defines a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

As their performance moments do not define their gender identity, they do not define their sexual identity either. One person can cross-dress and identify as heterosexual, and another person can also cross-dress and identify as homosexual.

Cross-dressing or flirting are not forms of gender expression or examples of same-sex attraction; it is simply a performance for entertainment purposes.

Gay and asexual

A person is asexual when they do not experience sexual attraction towards other people. She may, however, experience romantic attraction, and often only toward specific gender identities.

Although asexuality can be considered a sexual identity in itself, it is not uncommon for a person to use the asexual label while claiming a romantic orientation for themselves. For example, if a person is asexual and gay, it means that they feel romantic interest towards the same sex.

Gay and aromantic

Aromanticism is the word that describes people who do not experience romantic attraction. Many aromantics are also asexual, but for those who are not, they may still use a label to describe the gender they are sexually attracted to.

That said, if someone describes themselves as gay and aromantic, it means that they do not feel romantic interest in other people, but are capable of being sexually attracted to the same gender.

Gay and demisexual

For some people, the desire to engage in sexual activity with someone only comes after they have formed an emotional connection with that person. This is called demisexuality.

When a person uses the labels gay and demisexual to describe their sexual identity, they are saying that they feel romantically attracted to the same sex, but will only feel sexually interested once a relationship has been built .

Gay and polyamorous

Unlike homosexuality, polyamory is a romantic lifestyle and not an orientation in itself.

Polyamory is the opposite of monogamy. So it is a lifestyle in which a person has several open relationships with different people at the same time, instead of just one romantic partner.

If the polyamorous person's orientation is gay, it means they are willing to have several different open relationships with people of the same sex.

Gay and polysexual

These two terms designate sexual orientations, but the second is broader than the first. While being gay means being attracted to the same gender, being polysexual means being attracted to many, but not all, genders.

Although the description may seem redundant, a person can call themselves polysexual and homosexual if they have interest in different genders, including their own.

How do I know if I'm gay?

Exploring your sexuality has to come from within - no one but you can tell you if you're gay or not. However, it may not be so simple. Discovering your orientation can take time, patience and introspection.

Maybe you can start by asking yourself if you've ever been attracted to someone of the same sex. Attraction can take many forms, not just sexual. Maybe just the idea of being with someone of the same sex romantically is a pleasant thought.

On a sexual level, you can bring up your past experiences, if you have any, and think about them. If not, perhaps you can look at the experience from an abstract point of view and try to understand if it's something you would enjoy.

Sometimes all you need is to think about the topic, and with time, the answers should come to you effortlessly. Of course, it can be difficult or even scary at times, but try to be patient with yourself. Whatever you do, don't shame yourself for thinking or feeling a certain way.

If you want it, go ahead and experiment

When we say experiment, we don't mean force. There is a right time and a right place for everything, and you can wait for the right opportunity or the right person to experiment. If that means you have to look out for someone you would feel comfortable with, that's okay too.

Either way, experimenting with same-sex relationships should give you a better idea of whether it's part of your sexuality or not. Keep in mind that if you have an unpleasant experience with someone of the same sex, that doesn't mean that all same-sex relationships will be bad for you.

Accepts changes and fluctuations

Our identity undergoes many changes throughout our lives, and these transformations often involve our sexual and romantic interests. You may be less inclined to same-sex relationships at one time in your life, and more so later.

This also means that it is possible that you have seen yourself having a certain orientation for a long time, and that you suddenly discovered a new impulse, a new desire for relationships between people of the same sex. Maybe a specific person sparked this attraction in you.

Regardless, orientation fluctuations are perfectly normal and part of our healthy development as human beings. We're not confused if we find ourselves feeling different things over time, which is to say that being sexually confused isn't really a bad thing after all.

Accept curiosity

The term "bi-curious" is a perfect example of a very common feeling of wanting to explore our sexuality in ways we haven't yet considered or fully understood. It is healthy and liberating to be in touch with the feelings that attract us.

Even if we find out that in the end it didn't turn out the way we planned, that's part of the process. As we continue to explore, we discover new and more interesting parts of ourselves, which is always healthy.

In general, the more freedom we give to our thoughts and the more spontaneous we allow our actions to be, the more in tune we are with our identity. As a result, we become more conscious individuals, with freedom, tranquility and happiness by our side.

The less we censor ourselves, the better we feel
Don't let seemingly scary thoughts get in the way of your self-discovery. Your emotions and thinking are as valid as possible, whatever they are. Prejudices can act as a barrier even in the privacy of our minds.

If we let them! We just have to persevere with ourselves and let spontaneity take the place of fear and apprehension. Over time, even the most unusual thoughts can become natural and healthy - it's just a matter of tolerance and perspective.

Accept yourself in both cases

It's normal to feel confused or disoriented. Our identity is a complex subject, and it can be difficult to simply assign labels to ourselves. Just remember that whatever word you use to describe yourself, you are worthy of respect and appreciation.

Gay, bisexual, heterosexual, asexual, pansexual, aromantic – whoever you are, you are you; and that is enough.

Heteronormativity and homosexuality

Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality is the only natural or acceptable sexuality. It is a form of homophobia that implicitly and explicitly foments discrimination against homosexual people and the LBTQ+ community in general.

These heteronormative values, promoted by many religions and moral standards, marginalize non-heterosexual behavior on topics ranging from adoption to marriage, creating a truly toxic and debilitating space for gays, lesbians, transgender and non-sexual people. binaries.

Conversion and repair therapies

From heteronormativity came conversion and reparative therapies, which attempt to correct homosexuality or bisexuality. Their practice has proven to be not only ineffective but also profoundly and conceivably dangerous to the psychological and physical well-being of the subject.

As homosexuality began to be discredited as a mental disorder, these types of treatments were deemed unethical and therefore made illegal in many countries around the world.

Homosexuality in the media

Media also plays an important role in how society perceives the ideal form of love or acceptable display of affection. As most mainstream shows lack diversity and representation, homosexuality has yet to be normalized on radio, television, film and even advertising.

With shows like Sex Education becoming global sensations, attitudes seem to be changing, even among the most conservative of minds. Inclusive marketing is now a thing, and advertising is more aware of diversity than ever.

Paradigm shift

Fortunately, with the approval of more acceptable laws around the world, gay marriage is now legal in many places, adoption by same-sex couples is now possible, and gender transition is now state-sponsored .

Overall, many positive changes that older LGBTQ+ generations never thought possible have taken place. But we have come a long way, and although heteronormativity seems to prevail all around us, slowly but surely, prejudice and discrimination are being overcome.

Religion and homosexuality

It is important to clarify that not all religions blatantly punish or condemn homosexuality. Despite the discriminatory values advocated by many religions, it is wrong to think that all religions are homophobic.

Additionally, each religion approaches the subject differently. Some even have a positive view of homosexuality and are often referred to as homosexual-affirming religious groups, such as Unitarian Universalism.

Conservative Islam prohibits homosexuality and even attributes the death penalty to the homosexual interpretation of Sharia law. But even within Islam, it is possible to find LGBTQ-affirming Islamic subgroups, for example Muslims for Progressive Values.

Other religions seem divided on the subject, such as Buddhism and Hinduism. However, leaders of these religious groups have spoken out on gay rights. It seems that the trend is towards tolerance and acceptance.

Interestingly, many LGBT themes are found in ancient mythology and traditions. The mythologies of the Americas, in particular, included intense positive references to homosexuality, for example in Mayan, Aztec, Native American, and Hindu cultures.

How can I support the gay community?

Don't assume everyone is heterosexual.
Truly healthy sexual principles aren't really practiced by many people these days, which can make it difficult for many to come out of the closet. It's important to remember that just because someone doesn't actively say they're not heterosexual, doesn't mean they are.

Remember not to ask women if they have a boyfriend or men if they have a girlfriend, or even make assumptions on the subject. This can generate a huge feeling of unease in the other person, even if they don't express it clearly.

Avoid homophobic expressions or jokes.

Intent is irrelevant. Words like “chochotte” and “faggot” need to leave your daily dictionary. These are microaggressions ingrained in your everyday vocabulary that ensure that prejudices live long, regardless of the real purpose behind your statements.

Pretending that you didn't intend to offend anyone is no excuse for discriminatory language. Once we take responsibility for it, the sooner we begin to practice more inclusive discourse.

Stand up for gay rights

Even if you are not among LGBTQ+ people, take a stand. Let others know how you feel about gay people, and not just during Pride Month.

Fighting for equal rights doesn't have to be difficult. Simply speak your mind in casual discussions, make an effort to make LGBTQ+ people feel welcomed in more conservative environments, and promote inclusive principles to those around you.

Favor non-sexist words

Instead of asking someone if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend, try asking them if they have a partner instead. This way, you don't make assumptions about her sexuality and at the same time create a safe space for her to talk about her love life.

Instead of using pretty for women and handsome for men, just say attractive. This removes the pressure to fit society's expectations and creates a healthier compliment.

Understand that gender expression is different from sexuality.
If a woman dresses in a masculine way, that does not make her a lesbian. It's the fact that she says she's a lesbian that makes her a lesbian. Likewise, being feminine does not make a woman heterosexual. Gender expression does not dictate a person's sexual interests.

Understanding the difference between gender identity and sexuality will help you learn to respect everyone's individuality. Assumptions tend to be toxic and affect a person's sense of trust or safety.

Words to live by

Only by speaking out can we create lasting change. And this change begins with coming out.
-DaShanne Stokes


Sometimes just shouting it isn't enough to show pride. It takes more than a sign, a fabulous outfit or a month of parades. Pride must resonate from within, radiate around you. It has to mean something to you and you alone before you announce it to the world.
-Solange Nicole


Open-mindedness may not completely disarm prejudices, but it is a good place to start.
-Jason Collins


I am homosexual. How and why are idle questions. It's a bit like wanting to know why my eyes are green.
- Jean Genet


One day, progress being what it was, I hoped that no one would have to come out as gay or bisexual. It would just be what it was, and that would be it. But we weren't there yet.
- SE Harmon


The richness, beauty and depth of love can only be fully experienced in a climate of complete openness, honesty and vulnerability.
-Anthony Venn Brown


Pride is not an LGBT celebration, it is a celebration of human rights - it is a celebration of equality - it is a celebration of inclusion - it is a celebration of acceptance.
-Abhijit Naskar


There will be no magical day when we wake up and can speak out publicly. We will make this day by doing things publicly until it is simply the way things are.
-Tammy Baldwin


Things a gay person struggles with every day

Coping with the expectations of friends and family

Even in the most accepting environments, misconceptions about homosexuality or deep-rooted prejudices always seem to get in the way.

Learning to let go of the expectations of others, especially those close to us, is what allows us to truly have confidence in ourselves. But it can be a long and difficult process.

Forge meaningful connections

It's hard to find a healthy relationship when you're constantly worried about opening up to the wrong person. Even when it comes to friendships, it can be difficult to find someone who respects your sexuality.

Romantically, this becomes much more problematic, as many gay people still struggle with their identity. Even when you've accepted your orientation, being open to romantic relationships is a whole different story.

Spontaneity...or the absence of spontaneity

Love is a complicated subject, especially when society seems to be conspiring against you. It's difficult to feel like you have to hide your emotions or constrain your affections to avoid attracting negative attention.

A gay person has the same right to public displays of affection as any straight person - we're just waiting for the world to wake up to that fact.

Male or female ?

Society seems to tell us that we have to choose one or the other, when in reality, we can be whoever we want. Being a more masculine man doesn't make you less gay, or being a less feminine woman doesn't make you more gay - it just makes you who you are.

We should be able to express our individuality without regard to societal gender roles. Most importantly, the way we present ourselves to the world, from the way we dress to the way we walk, is completely independent of our sexuality.

Prejudice and discrimination

Being disrespected, feeling unwelcome, being mocked, feeling blatantly discriminated against...these things are more familiar to us than they should be. And it is unfair and cruel to have to bear this weight.

It weighs on your self-confidence, your mental health and even your relationships with those around you. It takes a lot of courage and determination to hold your head high - but it's how you show the world that you deserve better.

At the end of the day, you are you, and that is more than enough.
Even when everything seems to be going wrong and you feel like no one understands you in this world, get back up. You have everything you need.

Whatever challenges you face, it's important to remember your worth. Value your presence in this world - no matter the adversities, it is possible to find comfort in being different.

Happiness, love and success await you, in all forms. Keep hanging on.

Inspiring gay personalities

Alan Turing

Alan Turing

The founder of computing and the cryptographer who helped break the Enigma codes was the victim of state homophobia in 1950s England.

After making a decisive contribution to the Allied victory in World War II, Turing was tried and convicted for his homosexuality. As a result, he underwent chemical castration and committed suicide shortly afterwards, at the age of 41.

Long after his death, following an internet plea, the British government officially apologized for the atrocities committed against him. The Alan Turing Act is today the unofficial name for the retrospective pardon granted to the many men who have been convicted for their homosexuality in the United Kingdom.

Sally Ride

Sally Ride

Sally Ride was the first North American woman to fly in space. After retiring as an astronaut, she dedicated her life to helping young women pursue careers in science, and received a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Although she remained discreet about her private life, Ride was openly gay and lived and worked with her partner until his death in 2012. She is admired by many for her contribution to the involvement of women in science at the UNITED STATES.

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk was a gay rights activist and one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States. Fighting the political system from within, his efforts are known for paving the way for a more accepting and tolerant America.

The founder of the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club was assassinated by a former colleague at the age of 48, but his legacy lives on. Countless biographies, articles and even a major film have been produced about his life and work.

In 2009, Harvey Milk received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his outstanding contributions to gay rights in the United States. Several locations in San Francisco have been renamed in his honor, including Terminal 1 of the San Francisco International Airport.

James Baldwin

James Baldwin

Born in 1924, James Baldwin is considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. He was openly bisexual and advocated that love should not be limited to labels.

Although his contribution mainly revolves around black civil rights and racial discrimination, homosexuality is also present in some of his novels - Giovanni's Room (1954) and Just Above my Head (1978).

At the time, a well-known author integrating such delicate themes into his work was not a usual thing. By normalizing same-sex relationships in literature through his prodigious talent, he contributed to a change in mentality.

Barbara Gittings

The creator of the first lesbian civil rights organization in the United States, Barbara Gittings began her activist journey in the 1950s and fought for lesbian and gay rights, even in moments of tension between both groups.

Making it her mission to eradicate homophobia and bigotry from people's hearts, she is considered by many to be the mother of the LGBT civil rights movement, and her contributions are celebrated with great esteem.

Gittings died of breast cancer at the age of 74, after living a long life alongside his partner Kay Tobin.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

Born in Ireland in 1854, Oscar Wilde was a world-renowned playwright and poet, also famous for being gay when the subject was much more sensitive.

After making his name with immortal works such as The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), he faced legal action due to his homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas .

At a time when homophobia ruled Western mores and gay rights were unknown, Wilde's imprisonment was almost inevitable. After two years in prison, he rested in Paris, where he died of acute meningitis at the age of 46.