I remember when I met my best friend; let’s call her Emily. I was a Northern Gay Boy from a pretty rough state school and had been branded a faggot since day dot (not in the empowered reclamation sort of way, unfortunately). My friends from school were all very supportive, and would step in the way of bullies if I didn’t have the strength on a particular day.
But when I met my best friend, Emily, it was the first time I’d ever found a person who seemed to just ‘get it’. Emily is a bisexual cis woman from London who had grown up around the theatre, with godparents who answered to names like “Sweetie” and “Pixie”, for whom she’d perform one-woman renditions of Guys and Dolls, or anything camper. Her mum, who also seemed to ‘get it’, was similar; they took me out dancing ’til 5am at Freedom Bar in Soho and we drank sloe gin and talked about the '80s until the sun came up, by which point we were back home in silk dressing gowns.
Unlike anyone I’d met before, Emily was bathed in a culture I was still coming to learn about — gay culture. Her references, while more in depth than mine, bloomed from the same place: glitz, glam, Mae West, drag, Will & Grace, Madonna, Lil’ Kim, niche theatre shows and even more niche pop music. For me that’s as far as it went, but it was Emily and the eventual circle of like-minded friends who taught me how gay culture came into being: born from struggle, from power, from activism, from pushing back, from setting your own rules, all done by more than just white gay men. It’s thanks to these women and their labour that I know about the power of our communities in the past, and how to access that power myself. It’s also thanks to Emily that I was able to make my drag queen debut — her painting my face beautifully, lending me dresses, and telling me to “go fucking kill it, queen!”
Emily was also the first person I’d ever heard call herself a Fag Hag — “I’m a Fag Hag,” she’d proclaim, holding an aubergine at her crotch which her and my other wonderful “Fag Hag” friend Talia had brought to a big gay party, before the days of the emoji. This was eight years ago now, before our understanding and engagement with words and their meanings, or any social or LGBTQIA+ activism, full stop.
We became an infamous three on the university gay scene — Talia, who Emily had introduced me to, myself and Emily. Later, the group expanded to include women like Emma and Allegra, Hatty, Leyah, Daphne, Charlotte E., Claudia — each of whom came fully equipped with their own brand of Fag Haggery and a gaggle of gays in tow.
It was blissful; we would gab about everything from makeup to misogyny, the equilibrium of our conversations tipping increasingly from the superficial to the politically engaged as time passed, as our generation got more engaged. While this bunch of hags and their screaming fags would take to the town, week on week, exalting our lives in fashion, booze, dancing and one too many hookups, at home — where we all lived in each others’ pockets — we taught each other about gender, the limitlessness of platonic love, the important differences and crossovers of LGBTQIA+ and women’s histories, emotional labour, sex tips, love tips; we showed each other our genitals, some of the hags plunging dildos into their vaginas, telling the fags: “It’s not scary, and you don’t have to flinch every time someone says the word vagina — that’s outright misogyny.”
It was exactly like the Bloomsbury Set, if they were less posh and dread. But as time passed, so did the employment of the name Fag Hag and other, lesser known terms like Fruit Fly, Fag Shagger, Queen Magnet, Hag Along, Faggotina, Fagnet, et al. Many are uncomfortably funny to look back on — the melding of two deeply offensive words, “Fag” and “Hag”, being so popularly brandished and shrieked across the streets of Soho is a pretty alien idea now, and none of us would even entertain the thought of using such terms in 2018.
Fag Hags have, it seems, died out. “I was working out who I was, and finding my place in the LGBT community was a huge positive part of that. I’m bisexual, but I’m also white, femme and cis, so I don’t feel comfortable claiming the LGBT community as ‘mine’, but I also don’t feel comfortable outside of it,” Emily tells me over the phone, after we’ve finished talking about this week’s RuPaul. “Being a ‘fag hag’ is a way of being adjacent to the community without having to constantly justify your place there. I think ‘owning’ a negative term about yourself is a really easy way of staking out an identity when you’re young. I was also calling myself a ‘slut’ at the time, and 'fag hag' is pretty mild in comparison. I was confident in a youthful way; now my confidence is more deeply rooted in other things, I hate being called a fag hag. At the end of the day it’s demeaning and I feel legitimate as part of the LGBT community myself. Of course it’s misogynistic.”
For many, the term summons up an image of loneliness, tragedy, third wheeling, cats, and a failure at romantic heterosexual love. For others, it also brings up an image of Michelle Visage — big boobs, layered makeup, corsets, leggings, leopard print, backcombed hair — a kind of “man-repelling” style. Either side of the coin, it reduces women labelled as Fag Hags to singular visuals underpinned by tragedy and lack of agency.
But while the term died out, the cross-orientation friendships did not. What today we might brand an “ally” or “best friend” might once have been misnomered as the Fag Hag.
Don’t we all know that dating is hard: whether on a gay scene which can sometimes struggle with intimacy and loss of space, or on the hetero scene where patriarchal and misogynist structures play out, and finding a straight male feminist ally is as hard as finding a single bad song on Madonna’s album Ray of Light.
So as we wave goodbye to our past of Fag Hagdom, we are left with what was always there: powerful platonic friendships between gay men and women which, in mine and many people’s experience, have proven to be a site of love, understanding, uplifting, listening, learning, respect, intimacy and power in ways that a romantic relationship of any orientation can never hope to achieve. While the pendulum swings from no gay rights to more gay rights, from no real public awareness about all things LGBTQIA+ and feminist, to more, it’s natural that along that path we make mistakes and employ politics and terminologies which quickly become outdated. The pendulum for the Fag Hag rightly swings no more.
All there is left to say is thank you. Thank you to my formerly Fag Hag friends, thanks for all you did and continue to do for us. I hope we do it back.