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Gay Translations

Gay Translations

Miami-based Dave Acton, author of the hilarious and helpful phrasebook The Gay Translator on the nuances of crossing queer linguistic and cultural barriers.

What were some surprising things that came up in your research on gay words in different languages?
Every language and culture has concepts that sometimes don't translate directly. For example, an expression like "fag hag" doesn't have a direct counterpart in, say, Spanish and Portuguese, but can in German (Schw?lenmutti), Czech (buzimutr), and Italian (frociara).

Similarly, words like I found in other languages include the Spanish besuc?n (a guy who loves to kiss) and the German Handtaschentr?ger, which literally means "handbag carrier" -- i.e., a prissy queen. I came across plenty of colorful expressions too. One of the words for the male member in Italian is pistolino ("little pistol"), but pt?k and uccello ("bird") in Czech and Italian respectively. In German and French it's Schwanz and queue ("tail"). Brazilian slang for lesbian is sapat?os -- literally, "big shoes." In French, to "swing both ways" is "to be jazz-tango" or "to go by sail or steam."

I've found it kind of cool to ferret out online dating jargon in other languages; German and especially French have a lot more, for example, than Spanish and Italian. I mean, how would you ever figure out that Mek TBF rech bokeum pr plan Q dqp in French means "very built guy in search of hottie for hot times ASAP"?

How important is language compatibility in finding love?
As most of us know, it doesn't take a huge amount of language ability to get laid around the world. Falling in love, though, is as much about communication as anything else. So over the years I've heard from plenty of people who've gotten involved with guys who don't speak their language and found it very frustrating and ultimately unworkable.

Usually, one of you has to learn the other's language, and that requires time and patience. Another typical problem is different social expectations. One fine day, for example, you might discover that your Dominican or Tunisian boyfriend has gone and gotten himself a girlfriend, or has even become engaged, because in conservative countries some people aren't strong enough to buck the expectation that eventually every man has to get properly hitched and have a traditional family.

How is traveling gay different from mainstream travel?
One of the great things about being gay is that it can be a little like a club or fraternity with a lot of members in every corner of the world. Even in places you'd least expect -- in my case, the riverfront promenade in the Peruvian Amazon jungle city of Iquitos, a little rural village in the Swiss Alps, and the casbah of Meknes, one of Morocco's imperial cities. If there are homos afoot, we'll somehow find each other, as much or more for companionship as for hookups. And that gives us as travelers an entr?e into local cultures that most average tourists don't have access to. I'm still friends with plenty of the people I've met that way.

Do you think gay travelers understand the world any better?
I do get the sense that gay men in particular tend to be a little more universalist than most. By that I mean more of us are open to different cultures and people different from themselves, since many of us grew up feeling different from most of the people around us.

The Gay Translator is available at

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