I recently finished a murder mystery, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James. It was written in the early 1970s and one of the characters seemed unusually young for the role the author assigned her, but as I noted in a post yesterday, that feeling was more a reflection on the changed social circumstances of today than on the author's judgment. We are no longer so accustomed to young people carving out adult lives at what now seem such tender ages.
That set of reflections led me down another path of memories. It is an instance of a thing that seemed prevalent and common then but which seems to have vanished into the cultural ether, leaving no trace. I would ascribe it to just particular local circumstances except that I encountered it in three different countries over the space of half a dozen years, roughly the mid-1970s to the very early 1980s at the latest. But since then, I don't think I have heard anyone mention it. Ever. It seems odd.
What I am referencing is the secret art of gay signalling. It was an article of faith among my age cohort, or at least I encountered it in similarly aged people in three different countries, that gays, or more broadly LGBT as we would put it today, could identify one another in social situations. I have only the very vaguest of recollections as to what those signals were. Something about how they shook hands or which ear had the ear ring. Something along those lines. I think there might have even been some lore to the effect that one signal meant go on a date and another meant having a hook-up.
This information was shared sotto voce among young adolescent males as a right of passage almost, informing you of how to not accidentally communicate something you didn't intend.
It all seems absurdly ridiculous now. But so do so many things in life. Was this truly a common thing, or just a fluke of the different places I landed as I moved between countries. If it was common, why has it disappeared from view? Or has it? I have grown accustomed to recognizing few contemporary celebrities, all of whom can be named by my children. Perhaps kids are still passing on the lore of LGBT signalling and I don't know it.
My guess is that it was purely a transient phenomenon of the time. The formerly hidden and/or reviled were making their first declarative entrance into the broader culture. The unknown, and therefore not understood and therefore perhaps feared in a way, were out there and making their presence known. Watch Out! Be Careful! If they do this, it means that. . .
We have come such a long way but it is still most curious that there should be no memory of it (that I am aware of).