What’s the word for this?

What do you call a man who identifies himself as straight but nevertheless has sex with other men? Well, it turns out there are several different cases.

There are MSMs, “men who have sex with men” while identifying as straight (and explicitly rejecting the labels gay and bisexual); the men see the sex as a kind of male bonding and affirmation of masculinity. The expression is a technical term in the social services and sociological literature, where it is understood in this special sense and not in its straightforward compositional sense. (The black-on-black variant is “(being) on the down low”.) Language Log discussions here and here.

Then there’s “trade”: paraphrasing the most recent Joy of Gay Sex, men who are or suppose themselves to be straight who allow gay men to suck them off. No reciprocity, no affection (in particular, kissing). Such men don’t consider these encounters to be “having sex” with another man; to their mind, they’re straight, while the guys who go down on them are fag(got)s or queers.

And then there are self-identified straight men who have sex with other men either on-screen in porn films or in real life as an “escort” (or “hustler” or “rentboy”), as a way of earning a living. I posted on my X blog recently about one such pornstar, Chris Rockway. (As a bonus, there’s a nice example of a scope ambiguity in negation from Rockway.)  And of course there’s a Wikipedia page. The expression for such men is “gay for pay” (or “gay-for-pay”).

The expression gay for pay doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the current OED, or in my reference books on homosexuality, though it’s certainly current, with nearly two million raw ghits. Straight guys working as male hustlers have probably been around as long as there have been male hustlers, and straight guys having gay sex on film have probably been around as long as there have been gay porn flicks, but my question isn’t about the practices, but about the linguistic expression. At the moment, I have no idea how long it’s been around.

But it’s a natural innovation, putting together the rhyming words gay and pay, which express two relevant components of meaning. Phonologically playful formations are often exploited in coining: puns (perfect and imperfect), rhyme (full or half), alliteration, assonance, spooneristic transpositions, portmanteaus, and so on. Gay for pay was almost bound to be coined sooner or later; I just don’t know when that happened and how it spread.


2 Responses to “What’s the word for this?”

  1. mollymooly Says:

    “MSM” is also interesting from an initialism point-of-view.

    Many of the journal papers use “MSM” (not “MSMs”) for “men who have sex with men” as well as/rather than “man who has sex with men”. Google scholar throws up e.g.:

    – “approximately one third of MSM (32-34.4%) sought MSM sex partners from the Internet”
    – “MSM were 7 times more likely than non-MSM to have sex with Internet partners”

    This is an instance of a common lay misunderstanding of the nature of initialisms; treating them as permanently tied to their original expansion, and not capable of being inflected as words in their own right. But it is unusual for such misunderstanding to become standardised.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Nice. Geoff Pullum has a Language Log posting making a similar point (for different examples), and I have an unfortunately large collection of data that I haven’t been able to make into a tractable posting. There certainly is variation, but the norm is equally certainly to treat initialisms as words in their own right.

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