"Yas Qween," "Slay," Reading. These words, traditionally a part of PoC, gay culture, have become an essential part of the language a lot of us use today, albeit perhaps associated with the "annoying white girl" stereotype. (Another issue entirely.)
However, the number of times I've seen homophobes/ people "uncomfortable" with gay people use these terms... sigh. Cultural appropriation or not, without the queer community we wouldn't have this vocabulary in the first place. It's no wonder that it took no time for them to hence be associated negatively with "annoying," "extra" individuals.
Roots Of Gay Culture
Gay culture, as we know it today, emerged majorly in the ballroom scene of Harlem around the 18-1900s. These balls are very different from the couple-dancing occasions you may picture; balls were a safe place for black men and women to express themselves, especially queer individuals, and find a community when they remained discriminated against in all other spheres of life.
Reading or throwing shade is a concept that emerges from this ballroom scene, as well as "Yas Qween," "Werk," "Slay," and countless other terms. While these are considered 'extra' or 'pretentious' today, back in the day such language and attitudes formed an integral identity for femme gay black men and gender non-conforming individuals who couldn't express themselves anywhere else in the outside world. Even the smash hit "Vogue," by Madonna, was inspired by the dance-form of voguing from these very communities.
Paris Is Burning is an essential documentary for learning more about the ballroom culture as well as the origins of this type of language and the gay culture of the times.
Influx Of Gay Culture Into The Mainstream
It's nothing new for mainstream media to be inspired (read: appropriate) marginalised cultures. From Elvis bringing the blues, traditionally an African-American style of music, to the masses and Vogue by Madonna, to bindis and turbans appearing on fashion runways, this has been happening for decades, if not centuries.
On the other hand, one of the primary factors that brought gay culture to mainstream attention wasn't a matter of appropriation. Four-time Emmy winning show Rupaul's Drag Race became a worldwide television phenomenon by 2012-13. By last year, the show was adopted to VH1 from the LGBT centred channel Logo TV it used to air upon. Editions and variations of the show have sprung up in several countries, and the participants often post their season (yes, India too.)
The show's audience is no longer constricted to just the queer community, but rather all kinds of audiences today. GIFs and memes from the same have gone viral across social media many a time. Drag Race takes great pains to explain terms and concepts that straight audiences may be unfamiliar with, and often involves discussions about LGBTQ history and social issues. Its impact on LGBTQ awareness and representation is undeniable, and ever since, multiple queer celebrities and shows have garnered the spotlight.
However, as is the case with anything that goes mainstream, there are disadvantages. Gay culture and terms have become such a vital part of the way a lot of us communicate that most people fail to appreciate where they originate from. Moreover, audiences unfamiliar with the historical context have been known to spew hate and ridicule the gay culture that is now celebrated by many. The unabashed representations of men's femininity have also been severely criticised and disregarded by the ignorant, causing a surge in hate crimes against the community.
Is It A Bad Thing?
Not necessarily. The recognition and awareness of gay culture and identities is a marked step towards social progress. The appearance of LGBTQ individuals and the community in the media help people realise their humanity. It's still important, though, for people to understand and appreciate the cultural origins of several terms and attitudes that have since been adopted by the masses.
Another issue is the double-standards now associated with gay culture due to widespread recognition. Blatantly transphobic and homophobic rapper Cardi B is regarded as quirky for the same terms that gay people are ridiculed for. PoC still suffer from toxic gender roles when expressing the culture they originated, while white models and celebrities get acclaim for breaking the boundaries.
The solution is not that complex; it is simply expressing acceptance. Recognising the inherent and ingrained biases due to growing up in a discriminatory society is the first step towards progress, and this involves openness and understanding of various cultural phenomena and identities.