The application to homosexuality was also an extension of the word's sexualized connotation of "carefree and uninhibited", which implied a willingness to disregard conventional or respectable sexual mores. Mac Dermott's music hall song of the 1880s, "Charlie Dilke Upset the Milk" – "Master Dilke upset the milk/When taking it home to Chelsea;/ The papers say that Charlie's gay/Rather a wilful wag!Such usage, documented as early as the 1920s, was likely present before the 20th century, or in the title of the book and film The Gay Falcon (1941), which concerns a womanizing detective whose first name is "Gay". " – referred to Sir Charles Dilke's alleged heterosexual impropriety.Well into the mid 20th century a middle-aged bachelor could be described as "gay", indicating that he was unattached and therefore free, without any implication of homosexuality. The British comic strip Jane, first published in the 1930s, described the adventures of Jane Gay.
When another character asks about his robe, he responds, "Because I just went gay all of a sudden!
" Since this was a mainstream film at a time when the use of the word to refer to cross-dressing (and, by extension, homosexuality) would still be unfamiliar to most film-goers, the line can also be interpreted to mean, "I just decided to do something frivolous." The word continued to be used with the dominant meaning of "carefree", as evidenced by the title of The Gay Divorcee (1934), a musical film about a heterosexual couple.
Gay was the preferred term since other terms, such as queer, were felt to be derogatory.
since the sexual orientation now commonly referred to as "homosexuality" was at that time a mental illness diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Consequently, a number of euphemisms were used to hint at suspected homosexuality.
Examples include "sporty" girls and "artistic" boys, all with the stress deliberately on the otherwise completely innocent adjective.
Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album in the British daily newspaper The Times stated, "The Beatles revive hopes of progress in pop music with their gay new LP".
Ostensibly about schoolboy envy, the song also operated as an in-joke, as related in Jon Savage's "The Kinks: The Official Biography", because the song took its name from a homosexual promoter they'd encountered who'd had romantic designs on songwriter Ray Davies' teenage brother; and the lines "he is so gay and fancy free" attest to the ambiguity of the word's meaning at that time, with the second meaning evident only for those in the know.
Bringing Up Baby (1938) was the first film to use the word gay in apparent reference to homosexuality.
In a scene in which the Cary Grant character's clothes have been sent to the cleaners, he is forced to wear a woman’s feather-trimmed robe.
For example, the optimistic 1890s are still often referred to as the Gay Nineties.