Getting fruity: The history of the word FRUIT in gay slang

While I was writing my very last post, where I talked about feeling like an exotic fruit (and trying to take advantage of it) when living abroad, I discovered that the word ‘fruit’ has had a million meanings related to the gay world.

I’ve made a selection of the best of them, and I’m accompanying them with some history. So we have all the ingredients to make a nice fruit salad:

Fruit as gay slang appeared during the 19th century in Britain, and it was used by Polari, an argot used by actors, circus, merchant navy sailors or criminals, amongst others. In Polari, fruit means queen, and is also a term for gay men, in a negative or positive way depending on the context.

boywithabasketoffruit CaravaggioAt that time, though, fruit had quite a pejorative meaning. A ‘fruit’ man was associated to the softness and tenderness of a woman. Caravaggio, a few centuries before, may have inspired them with pictures like “Boy with a Basket Fruit”.

By 1930’s both ‘fruit’ and ‘fruitcake’ were seen as negative words and related to male homosexual. Even more, in United States, psychiatric centres where LGBT people were treated for their ‘gay disease’ with castration, lobotomies or pudic nerve surgery were commonly known as ‘fruitcake factories’. During the 60’s, in Australia these centres were named ‘fruit factories’. Can you believe it?

CanadianFruitMachineCanadians went even a bit further and invented the ‘fruit machine’, a special device to detect homosexuals in the Canadian Civil Service, from 1950 to 1973.

During the 20th century, the word ‘fruit’ to describe gay situations have appeared in literature, television, advertisements and any sort of art.

For example, the novel “Fruit Salad” by the provocative writer Alfred Chester, depicts the story of a male hustler in the 60’s, and there was a novel in the 40’s titled “Strange Fruit” that depicted lesbianism.

One of my favourites is the slogan “Suck a fruit for Anita”, that appeared in response to Anita Bryant, the spokesperson for Florida Orange juice, that during the 70’s had strong views against homosexuality and ran campaigns like “Save our Children” to prevent gay equality.

It was during this decade when the term ‘fruit’ started to be appropriated by the gay community. As an example, a ‘frozen fruit’ was a word used in gay club to define a sexually uninterested gay man.

In the 80’s, Jonathon Green, author of Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, listed a variety of definitions for “fruit Loops”, from the loop at the back of a man’s shirt collar which can be used to “hold a victim ready for buggery”, to a cruising area or a cluster of gay bars, stores and businesses.

Among other uses, “Fruit Punch” was the first gay radio show in the United States, and aired from 1982 to 1987, and “Fruit Stand” is a famous South African gay bar, while in the US it’s an area to pick up gay male hustlers.

And finally, the most contemporary… the Fruit flies! A Fruit fly is a person, usually a straight girl, that is close to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.

She is the one that always tell you nice words, that makes you laugh and always offer you a shoulder to cry. Who hasn’t got a Fruit fly in their life? I love them!

And after this brief review about the word FRUIT… I can tell you that, from now on, I’ll be happier than ever to have felt like a fruit many times. 😀


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