Call them “eccentric,” “curious,” “inquisitive,” or “improbable.” Just don’t actually call them gay or lesbian, at least not in a movie. That was the unspoken but widely followed rule in Hollywood for decades. Homosexuality was once known as “the love that dare not speak its name,” a turn of phrase adopted from the work of English poet Lord Alfred Douglas. The movies had plenty of other names for gay and lesbian characters, however, as discussed in a thread at MetaFilter. The jumping-off point for the thread is a pair of semi-satirical articles from 2015 by Mallory Ortberg: “Code Words For ‘Gay’ In Classic Films” and “Code Words For Lesbianism In Classic Films.” Ortberg’s lists, written in collaboration with “left-handed whisperer Connor Goldsmith,” contain a mixture of real and made-up examples, and both get sillier as they go along. Some real doozies here include: “in the way of uncles,” “has a silk bathrobe,” “carries her own purse,” and that old favorite, “standoffish.” Interestingly, Ortberg uses 1970 as her cutoff point for such euphemisms. That was the year of William Friedkin’s The Boys In The Band, a film that brought a new-found candor to the subject of homosexuality in the movies.
The readers of MetaFilter have many suggestions of their own. The classic “confirmed bachelor” comes up early in the discussion, as does “light in the loafers.” “Pretty boy” is deemed worthy of inclusion on the list, and it is generally agreed that, for adult male characters, a strong relationship with one’s mother was a dead giveaway. The movie Gilda from 1946 provides another classic euphemism: “A man who makes his own luck.”