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So What Is A Pansy?

Are YOU a Pansy?

Several slang dictionaries define the use of “ pansy” as a slur for effeminate homosexual men and date the term to the 1920s.


Pansies and the names of other flowers such as daisies and buttercup, were applied so commonly to gender non-conforming folks that they were sometimes simply called horticultural lads. The etymology of  the word "pansy" actually comes from the French "pensée", which is the past tense of "to think", but is also a feminine reflexive. This term came about in the mid-fifteenth century, and essentially, it was used pejoratively to describe a man who overthinks. 

But in the context of 1920s and 1930s performance, a pansy performer was usually a male performer who adopted hyperfeminine mannerisms and androgynous dress to entertain. It’s different from drag because it’s not a gendered binary, but exists in between. 

And we’re reclaiming the word! Our more contemporary definition of  pansy is “a person who fabulously transcends the gender binary through their performance, art, politics, or very way of moving through the world.

At the height of prohibition, pansies were all the rage. And like the proliferation of jazz in the Harlem Renaissance, pansy performances offered cisgender audiences a voyeuristic experience of gender nonconformity through performance.
And, as vastly different social classes mixed in the nearly 20,000 speakeasies in town, everyone fell in love with pansy performers. Which led us to the original Pansy Craze, defined as the period from the late 20s to 1933 when pansy performers experienced a SURGE in popularity.  Not just in New York- pansies took over the WORLD. Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris, London and most visibly in the Weimar Republic in Berlin

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