by Eliza Aspen.
Once, while attending a religious university so fervently and militarily heterosexual that “same sex romantic behavior” was cause for expulsion and a class called “Preparing for an Eternal Marriage” was a popular elective, I got into an argument with one of those classic annoying guys you always meet. This dude, who, unfortunately, was a stand-up bass player and never to be found without a baseball cap or some long winded contrarian argument against human empathy, was at a party once commenting on the music scene of our college town, which he maintained was insufficiently experimental or rhythm driven, and was instead soaked in an abundance of syrupy indie singer songwriters and Sufjan Stevens knockoffs. “We just have a lot of that kind of, like, fruity music,” he was monologuing, five to ten beautiful girls around him silently nodding and rapt with attention for some reason.
Fruity? What did he mean? FRUITY? MUSIC? Despite my best judgment—and mostly out of boredom—I decided to pick a fight, reminding him that the word wasn’t just some vague aesthetic catchall, a way to indirectly say “girly and sentimental,” as he assiduously maintained, but was in fact something that referred to queerness, making his derogatory use of the word homophobic. We argued; he took off his baseball cap to wipe sweat off his forehead. He later messaged me on Twitter to concede that I was right. I moved on and started living a fruity little life of my own. (Also, it occurred to me later, professionally playing the stand up bass? Kind of fruity.)
This was years ago, before that word had experienced its youthful resurgence on TikTok and meme culture. In 2015 in Provo, Utah, we were neither geographically or demographically cool or educated enough, as a group, to have a larger command of online gay slang—we weren’t even allowed to have caffeinated soda. In fact, in such a setting, his invocation of the concept of fruitiness made it feel even more as if we were stuck in some kind of hideous 1950s cosplay, one in which any hint toward homosexuality was to be whispered, adjudicated with vague hand gestures, spoken of with a kind of disgust but also something like wonder, mystery, possibility. Obviously I was one hundred percent right to call him out, at the time, but is there a way in which this idiot was also right? Is the concept of fruitiness as a way to gesture vaguely at queerness newly resurgent and newly fun, perhaps, because of its vagueness, its liminality (sorry), its transcendence, its ripeness? Because, like actual fruits of the earth, it’s a fun, refreshing seasonal treat?
I am obviously happy that, if you are lucky enough to have the rare combination of a semi-reasonable local government, access to healthcare, relative economic stability, and a family that doesn’t want you dead, it is now easier, in some limited pockets of the world, to self-identify as some kind of fruity in specific, official detail—thank you for gay marriage and the official JP Morgan Chase Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs, et cetera. Representation matters, even corporate representation, the more specific the better. I get it.
But I’m starting to wonder: is there something maybe lost in the exchange of a medical and institutional identification with assimilated queerness that doesn’t sufficiently appreciate the voraciousness, the unassimilability, the illegibility, the flexibility, the whimsy, of what “fruity” has to offer? In the order they occurred to me, here are some reasons that I think widespread use of “fruity” should resurge.
- At times, I do want to gossip or speculate, in a fun, gentle way, about someone’s gender or sexuality leanings. In that context, it’s sometimes more fun to gesture toward a mysterious vibe, a category of literally je ne se quoi, than it is to be like, “Here is what that person’s deal is as per the official set of options.”
- Apparently one possible etymology for fruity as slang is in an early usage that implied that a person was both a little gay and someone who was easily duped, a rube. I think it’s liberating to reclaim and celebrate being a little idiot, flouncing through the world, not picking up on when someone is trying to scam you, doing your best to see the best in people. Sounds like a more innocent and wholesome time.
- It’s fruit. It comes and goes with the seasons, it forms the basis of many of our best desserts, it reminds one both of the fleeting nature of time and the transcendent and effervescent beauty of living. Why would I not want to be associated with this?
- One can’t help but notice that there’s a tiny bit of a masculinity crisis today, wherein a welcome aesthetic shift to allowing more types of masculine people into the mainstream has gotten tied up in an angry backlash that would issue all people official gender uniforms from Kohl’s and punish any deviants. I’m not suggesting that male-identifying people wearing a single dangling earring or occasionally painting their nails is going to change the world or anything, but if we encouraged straight men to feel pretty if they wanted to be pretty? Who knows! It’s worth a try. “Fruity” is encouraging.
- As an extension of this: giving people the gentle ribbing, the lighthearted online humor-as-truthtelling that allows fruitiness to enter the national lexicon? Who knows what that might lead to. Sometimes, as any queer person can tell you, you just need the opportunity to try things on as a bit before you actually try them, and maybe even accept them.
- The early other usage of the word was apparently connected to the practice of referring to a perceived mentally unwell person as a “fruitcake,” or “bananas.” I, for one, am definitely mentally unwell and frequently feel like a little fruitcake, full of rich and nourishing nuts! If one consents to it, I think there can be a power in having a fun little slangy descriptor for this, one which also evokes dessert.
- In the end: what did the annoying guy arguing with me mean all those years ago? He was referring to fruitiness as a general vibe, an aesthetic category, one that invokes softness, silliness, crying, whispering, plucked string instruments, lying around in a field, baskets of summer’s delights. Inadvertently, he was right: bring back fruity.