A joke is humorous performance that involves a play on words or symbols, resulting in an unexpected interpretation of a subject that can be insulting, insightful, and absurd. The typical format for a joke is a question or a short story that sets up an unexpected ending called the punch line. Jokes about LGBTQ people have roughly two frames: mocking Gay people from the perspective of Straight people (outsider), and Gay people mocking themselves (insider). If the set-up and punch line are not seen as too vicious, it is not unusual for a joke to function in both outsider and insider modes.
Because of the relatively young age of the LGBTQ community, a history of Gay jokes among English speakers is difficult to establish because so many of them were not recorded due to the overall silence dealing with homosexuality, gender variation, and atypical sexual physiology. One trend, however, can be seen in the jokes told about Gay people by outsiders since the AIDS crisis. The level of spitefulness and condemnation appears to have decreased significantly as the Gay community gains more acceptance from the general public.
Jokes and Oppression
It is not unusual for jokes to be in bad taste and hurtful. In the history of the LGBTQ community, such jokes sometimes added to oppression, making the suffering inflicted upon the community a reason for laughter.
After the 1973 fire that killed 32 people in the Upstairs Lounge, New Orleans, a joke about those who had perished circulated throughout the city that was also repeated on local radio stations:
What do you bury the ashes of queers in? Fruit jars.
Jokes and Social Tension
A significant number of jokes deal with sex and gender. Due to the transgressive frame in which a joke may be performed, jokes may contain topics and juxtapositions that would be unacceptable in more formal settings.
It is not unusual for jokes with homosexual and gender-bending content to be told among Straight people, especially men. For Straight men, Gay jokes tend to highlight tensions between men concerning uneven power dynamics, suspicion of any kind of attraction between men, and encounters with Gay men and Lesbians. For Lesbians, jokes about Lesbians often reflect relationship issues and butch/femme dynamics. Straight women may share jokes about the differences between Gay men and Straight men. For Gay men, jokes often deal with absurd sexual situations and expectations.
Jokes about Lesbians tend to describe Lesbians in terms of cunninglingus, relationships, and butch/femme identity. The first topic is also popular with Straight men, whose jokes tend to be obsessed with cunninglingus and references to Lesbians as carpet munchers:
What do you call a lesbian dinosaur?
Gynecologist: You have the cleanest vagina I’ve ever seen. How do you do it?
Lesbian: I have a woman once a week.
What do you call a Lesbian on a diet?
Lesbian: Doctor, I have these red spots on each of my inner thighs. What’s causing them?
Gynecologist: Tell your girlfriend her earrings are not real gold.
The second and third groups tend to be jokes between Lesbians. The second group concerns commitment issues:
What does a Lesbian bring on the second date?
A moving van.
First Lesbian: Pack your bags! I won the lottery!
Second Lesbian: Great! What should I pack? Beach clothes or mountain gear?
First Lesbian: Doesn’t matter – just get out.
A third deals with butch/femme relationships:
How do you know if your girlfriend is stone butch?
She kick-starts her vibrator and rolls her own Tampon.
What do two femmes do in bed together?
Each other’s make-up.
Some butch/femme jokes are indistinguishable from Straight jokes about boorish husbands:
Femme in sexy lingerie: (Sexy voice) Tie me up and you can do whatever you want.
Butch: Hell yeah! (Ties her up, leaves the house, and then goes fishing, alternative: goes to a football game)
Some Lesbian jokes focus on the supposed masculinization of Lesbian identity, even going so far as to link Lesbian love to the desires of Straight men. Other jokes assume masculinity on the part of all Lesbians:
Lesbian to cowboy at a bar: What do you do?
Cowboy: I rope steers, brand them, ride horses, and round up cattle. You?
Lesbian: I think about women all day.
Cowboy: Well, I guess I’m a Lesbian.
Two Lesbians bought an organ so they could play hymns (“organ” is slang for “penis,” “hymns” sounds like “hims”)
Gay Male Jokes
There are many jokes told by Straight men about Gay men that deal with anal penetration, such as “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and Gay men are from Uranus” (“your anus”) and “What do a gay man and an ambulance have in common? They both get loaded from the rear and go whoo-whoo!” Jokes concerning anal penetration of a man by another man are popular among Straight men, revealing homophobic anxiety about being sexually penetrated:
A Straight guy was sitting at a bar when a faggot approached him and offered to buy him a drink. “I don’t swing that way,” said the Straight guy. “That’s OK,” said the faggot. “Let’s play a game called ‘football.’ If you down your beer first, that’s a touchdown. Then you drop your pants and fart – that’s a field goal.” “Sure,” said the Straight man. He downed his beer and yelled, “Touchdown!” Then he dropped his pants before farting. The faggot got behind him, shoves his dick up the Straight guy’s ass, and yelled, “Block that punt!” (action is pantomimed.)
These jokes often involve men who are in masculine-identified jobs:
Paratrooper to his father: Dad, when it came time for me to make my first parachute jump, I froze. My instructor stood behind me and yelled at me, “If you don’t go right now, I’ll shove my twelve-inch dick up your ass!”
Father: Well, did you jump?
Paratrooper: Just a little at first.
AIDS jokes may also reveal anal penetration anxiety:
What is the first symptom of AIDS?
A sharp pain in your rectum.
The line is not always clear as to whether the anxiety is about Gay men, or simply anyone who is more powerful. Anxiety about male rape can also be seen in the US Marine Corps, in which Marines describe the Corps’ bureaucracy as “the big green weenie ready to fuck you up your asshole” (alternative: “take a dump on you”). However, the big green weenie is not seen as Gay. Some simply reflect anxiety over physical closeness to other men:
Fire chief to two male firefighters fucking in a smoky room: What the hell are you doing?
Firefighter: He was suffering form smoke inhalation!
Chief: Did you give him mouth-to-mouth?
Firefighter: How do you think this shit got started?
There are also jokes told by Gay men and Lesbians about Straight men:
What is the difference between a frat boy and a fag?
A six-pack (may refer to a six-pack of beer or well-defined abdominal muscles).
Straight women, however, have jokes about Gay men that do not dwell on anal sex:
Why do Gay men stand at the bar like this (serious expression, mouth closed, arms crossed in front of the chest)?
Because they can’t stand like this (smiling, mouth open, eyes wide, arms flung over the head, hands open).
Some Straight women comment on how handsome Gay men are, as opposed to Straight men, usually by adding the following statement after seeing a particularly well-built, well-groomed man: “He must be Gay.”
Jokes Between Lesbians and Gay Men
Some jokes are used within the LGBTQ community to illustrate the differences between Lesbians and Gay men, reflecting supposed Lesbian obsession with relationships, and Gay men’s avoidance of them:
What do Lesbians bring on the second date?
A moving van.
What do Gay men bring on a second date?
What second date?
Another popular joke illustrates the supposed fixation on sex that Gay men have, as opposed to the overbearingly serious nature of Lesbians:
How many Gay men does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
One. But it takes a whole emergency room to get it out.
How many Lesbians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
Four. One to screw it in, two to organize a potluck dinner, and one to write a folksong about it. (alternative response: “That’s not funny!”)
There are also jokes about LGBTQ activists:
How many Gay rights activists does it take to change a light bulb?
None. The bulb shouldn’t have to change for society to accept it.
Some jokes appeal to absurdity:
What do you call a Lesbian with a thousand machine guns?
Militia Etheridge (a play on the name of the musician, Melissa Etheridge)
Bisexual and Trans Jokes
Although Bisexuals and Trans people may be ridiculed or included in humorous language and the performance of comedy, the specific code applied to the performance of a joke (setting up a wordplay with an unexpected twist) appears to be undermined more so than for Lesbians and Gay men, perhaps due to the ways in which Bisexual and Trans identities undermine basic stereotypical differences between Straight women, Lesbians, Gay men, and Straight men that often facilitate the surprising twist marking the punch line.
Jokes about Bisexuals may deal with how some people think Bisexuals are just homosexuals who have not come to terms with their orientation, or play on words dealing with sex acts, such as “She’s bilingual. She speaks both Fellatio and Cunninglingus” (alternative: ”She speaks in tongues, fluent in both Fellatio and Cunninglingus”). Sports metaphors (“He pitches and catches for both teams”) and diet (“she’s an omnivore”) are also themes.
Jokes about Trans people are often in the same vein as those concerning butch Lesbians (for transmen, as in “she’s got a bigger dick than he does”) and effeminate Gay men (transwomen and drag queens: “I’m more man than you’ll ever be, and more woman than you’ll ever get”), juxtaposing supposedly natural identity with contrasting behaviors, appearance, and biology. Transpeople who do not undergo sexual reassignment surgery may also be portrayed in scenarios with revelation of unexpected genitalia in the punch line, sometimes in the form of food (clam or taco for vagina, sausage or beef for penis).
As new technologies come forth in social media, Jokes take on different forms. The prevalence of texting, and the accidents that can occur in such communication (sending a text to the wrong person, autocorrect) has generated internet memes of humorous texts, including Gay-themed memes, done in the punchline format of a joke.
Some of the most popular ones deal with parents, children, and accidentally coming out:
Goodwin, Joseph P. More Man Then You’ll Ever Be: Gay Folklore and Acculturation in Middle America. Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana, 1989.
Karvosky, Ed. A Funny Time to Be Gay: Hilarious Gay and Lesbian Comedy Routines from Trailblazers to Today’s Headliners. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.