Yesterday’s weird slur bulletin from Iowa (hat tip to LJ Yanney on Facebook): in the Des Moines Register, “Adel lawmaker accused of using gay slur” by Molly Longman:
A central Iowa lawmaker has been accused of using a gay slur while making fun of a former political opponent at a public forum over the weekend.
State Rep. Ralph Watts, an Adel Republican, said in an interview Monday that the critics are wrong about the slur: They misunderstood a homonym.
“It was not a slur,” Watts said.
A video taken at the Saturday forum at the Adel library shows Watts referring to business owner Bryce Smith — the Democrat whom Watts defeated in November to win his seventh term in the House — as either “Red Ryder” or “red rider.”
The terms sound the same and are one letter apart. But the meanings are drastically different.
One Iowa, the Des Moines-based advocacy group, said in a news release Monday evening that “red rider” is a slur used to describe a gay man.
A “Red Ryder” is the brand of BB gun Ralphie asked for in the film “A Christmas Story” before his mother told him, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
… Watts said later Monday that he didn’t know the term “red rider ” was a slur.
Hardly anyone else does either. If you sling a slur in a wasteland, does it sting?
Three gay sites — Towleroad, Queerty, and LGBTQ Nation — professed bafflement, and numerous readers (including me) said they’d never heard it before. I went to GDoS, which has nothing at all under red rider, but does have a clue that points in a useful direction: no red rider, but there are two relevant senses for rider, one straight, one gay:
womanizer, male copulator [from 1594]
(US gay) a male homosexual who takes the active role in anal intercourse [one cite, from Rodgers’s 1972 Queens’ Vernacular, not an entirely reliable source, since a number of the cites seem to be colorful one-shot inventions]
These are both straightforward agent nouns referring to a man who (metaphorically) rides his partner in intercourse.
Then to Urban Dictionary, where are two entries for red rider, one straight (referring to a menstruating woman in woman-on-top intercourse), one gay (referring to a top man in intercourse). The first is straightforward: woman as rider, red with her menstrual blood. The second looks like a playful expansion of the (already infrequent) slang term rider, taking advantage of the trade name Red Ryder.
Nothing I’ve said so far takes either rider or its expansion red rider, with gay reference, out of the merely slang domain and into the slang slur domain, but it could be the case that some speakers take any expression referring to a gay man to be slingable as a slur — a move that would get us from (red) rider ‘top man’ (more pointedly, ‘butt-fucker’) to ‘faggot’.
But I can find no examples whatsoever on the net where red rider is clearly being used as a sexual slur (in, say, You fucking red rider!, parallel to You fucking faggot!).
Clearly we’re dealing with an extremely infrequent usage. But apparently it’s familiar to at least one person at One Iowa (“Iowa’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organization working toward full equality for LGBT individuals”), an organization that went on to assert, baldly, in a press release that
“Red rider” is a derogatory term for a gay man.
That’s a claim about the practice of English speakers, and I’d like to see some evidence.