If you’re gay and you’ve been surfing the Web for any amount of time, you’ve likely come across “gaymer” once or twice. The increasingly common portmanteau—a word formed by joining two others and combining their meanings—refers to gay (as well as lesbian, bisexual and transgender) folk who are fond of video games.
Gaymer is hardly the only gay portmanteau around. Everyone’s heard and used “gaydar,” of course, and “gayborhood” is making its way into more and more headlines--not to mention water-cooler conversations--every day. Go to UrbanDictionary.com and you’ll find even more examples of this typographic trend, including “gayngsta,” “gaythiest” and even “gayby boom,” which refers to the present-day increase in gay and lesbian parents.
Gaymer.org, around it. Head over to GayGamer.net, though, and you’ll find a slew of people who are far from fans of the term.
David Edison, the site’s associate editor, counts himself among that crowd. “I’m not crazy about cutesy slang that incorporates the word gay into any rhyming syllable,” he says. A recent poll on the year-old site found that 34 percent of visitors agree with him (they’d like to stick with the old standby, gamer), while 27 percent prefer to call themselves gay gamers and 39 percent go with gaymer.
While he was a student at the University of Illinois last year, Jason Rockwood conducted a similar survey that attracted nearly 10,000 participants. The gaming neophyte’s most shocking finding? That gaymer wasn’t well received. “Everyone I spoke to about the survey was supportive of it as a whole,” he says. “But there was a lot of criticism of the use of the term gaymer.”
For his part, Rockwood is fond of the word, neologism, portmanteau—whatever you want to call it. “I’m glad it’s being used more commonly,” he says. “Until gay people are recognized in the video game world, we need the visibility this often polarizing term brings.”
Sean Lund, director of messaging and communications strategy at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, sees the rise of portmanteaus like gaymer and gayborhood in a similarly positive light. “I think they show that pop culture is coming up with innovative ways of talking about and describing gay and lesbian life,” he says. “When these terms are used inclusively, they represent the kind of language that can and foes expand visibility and awareness of the gay and lesbian community.”
That some gays and lesbians like these new words while others abhor them is no surprise to Henry Rogers, a professor in the linguistics department at the University of Toronto, who describes the two-pronged reaction as predictable. “By and large, people don’t like new words,” he says. Words like gaydar are exceptions to that rule. “People like cleverness,” Rogers says. “Although they tend to disapprove of changes in language, sometimes their fondness of cleverness wins out.”
Gaymer may be similarly clever, though Rogers doubts it’ll stand the test of time like gaydar. “Very few newly coined words survive,” he says. “In the 16th century, Jonathan Swift had a list of ten new terms he thoroughly loathed. Of these, only one—mob, a shortening of the Latin ‘mobile vulgus’—survived. I would guess that gaydar might just possibly survive, but the others are more likely to disappear.”
* Note: This article first appeared (in November 2007) on the now-defunct GayWired.com.