How The “Fag Hag” Went From Hated to Celebrated

Mae West
Mae West, an icon in Pre-Code Hollywood, was a notable early supporter of gay rights.

The term “fag hag” has evolved both in definition and acceptance since it was first coined in the 1970s. This term, which, at its core, is used to describe heterosexual women who seek the non-sexual company of gay men, has historically been considered a double negative. According to Maria F. Fackler and Nick Salvato, “[T]he fag hag exists on the fringes of an already marginalized life—that of her gay best friend.” While there isn’t much historical scholarship on the subject, the idea of the “fag hag” has roots in popular culture. Think of shows like Will & Grace and Sex and the City, or the comedy and performance of iconic entertainers such as Margaret Cho, Kathy Griffin, Mae West, and Dita von Teese.

“Fag hag” was first used pejoratively in the 1970s to describe feminist women who wished to align themselves with gay men in their fight for equality. The Stonewall riots, in which gay and LGBT regulars of the Stonewall Inn pushed back against a police raid, instigated the first major push for gay political organization. Many in the gay community considered their fight for equality as separate from a gendered fight, and they thus coined a phrase to distance themselves from their feminist peers. Fackler and Salvato write, “[T]he ugly rhyme conjured up the stereotype of an often overweight, sexually dysfunctional woman who chose to surround herself with grudgingly welcoming gay men and was thus deemed a tragic interloper.”

“Maybe there won’t be marriage, maybe there won’t be sex; but, by god, there will be dancing.”

Popular conceptions of this relationship between single women and gay men change according to current political dynamics and popular culture. By the 1990s, the idea of the “fag hag” gained popularity, even if the term itself was still considered derogatory by many.

In 1998, two major television shows debuted, both of which explored the relationship between “hags” and their “fags.” Will & Grace centered on two distinct relationships: those between the title characters and between their two friends, Karen and Jack. Fackler and Salvato consider the ways these two parallel relationships celebrate and complicate the role of the “fag hag,” as Grace is tragically in love with her gay best friend, while Karen considers Jack a titillating plaything.

Similarly, Carrie Bradshaw’s relationship with her “gay best friend” Stanford celebrates a playful and long-lasting bond, yet it is also fraught with complications, as Fackler and Salvato point out: “If Sex and the City had its viewers coveting a fabulous single life filled with Manolos and Fendi baguettes, it also begot another desire among the generation of women who watched: one for a gay best friend with whom to shop.” Julia Roberts’ and Rupert Everett’s characters also embody this relationship in the 1997 film My Best Friend’s Wedding. While this relationship runs throughout the film, it is most memorable in its last lines, as Everett’s character states: “Maybe there won’t be marriage, maybe there won’t be sex; but, by god, there will be dancing.”


JSTOR Citations

Fag Hag: A Theory of Effeminate Enthusiasms

By: Maria F. Fackler and Nick Salvato

Discourse, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Winter 2012), pp. 59-92

Wayne State University Press

Shannon Luders-Manuel

Shannon Luders-Manuel holds an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the author of Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide: Educators' Guide and has articles published in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Vanderbilt University's AmeriQuests, among others.

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