Why do gays love lists?

List making is *officially* homosexual

by Ross McNeilage
28 November 2019, 11:52am

Much like Diet Coke, fallen Hollywood starlets, iced coffee and crisis hair bleaching, list-making has become somewhat of a gay phenomenon. If you have ever stumbled upon Gay Twitter then chances are you’ll have seen people selflessly ranking their favourite Atomic Kitten singles, their favourite brands of poppers or Sugababes members (Heidi, Mutya and Keisha, obvs) for others to debate, usually at absolutely no one’s request.

If you have not stumbled across Gay Twitter then you may be wondering what is possibly so homosexual about the often tedious pastime of writing to-do-lists, as if mums everywhere haven’t been doing it for their bi-daily Tesco shop since the dawn of time. This is different, though. The global spider’s web of gays on the social media sites who exchange “murder me with your throbbing [redacted]” tweets also swap notes on their favourite things. In fact, not just notes but numbered and ordered lists that are 1) intensely decided, 2) meticulously placed, and 3) readily justifiable. They’re similar to New Year’s Eve countdown shows on Channel 5 or a VH1 playlist of the biggest-selling songs of 1992, although gay lists don’t necessarily require a reason to reflect. It’s simply become a hobby expected of online gays.

Why are we so obsessed with making - and, more importantly, sharing - lists? Are the stereotypes of homosexuals being extraordinarily organised true? Or is it our narcissistic tendencies that force us to scream frequently into the Twitter void in the hopes for validation, even if it comes from someone whose profile picture is an anime version of Megan Fox’s 2008 GQ photo shoot? Perhaps it’s all of the above. A quick Google search of “why do gays love lists” will tell you that it’s an untapped phenomenon, one which hasn’t previously been investigated.

Nevertheless, the reason for this almost hourly emergence of new online ranking demands an answer. And what better way to do this than with a list (albeit one in no particular order)? Consider the following a queer deconstruction of the gay list.

1) Gays stan organisation

As often effeminate creatures, past stereotypes have fooled many into thinking that gays all have supreme organisational skills -- it’s why so many do admin. This could explain the need to categorise interests. Indeed, there have been studies about the organisational behaviour of gays and lesbians, especially pertaining to occupational choices, although it’s generally hard to reach a definitive conclusion about whether these behaviours are innate or universal. Still, the widespread impulse to organise our thoughts and interests into neatly categorised folders with numbered files surely supports such ideologies.

2) Just one Britney song?

A prime example of a Gay Twitter list debate would be the ranking of Britney Spears’s best songs. The eternal Princess Of Pop is an indisputable gay icon and therefore everybody has their own unique take on fave bops from her 20-year discography, all equally weighted with ready-to-go arguments and justifications. This, of course, leads to a lot of debate and a lot of listing because, honestly, who can choose just one favourite song from her back catalogue? Even Britney Jean has some bangers (read: one). Hell, there’s even lists within the songs -- on “Work Bitch!”, Brit indulgently spells out a list of sports cars, “hot bodehs” and martinis. Now list them from least favourite to most wanted: go!

3) If U Seek Amy

Consciously or not, Twitter rankings are similar to mating calls in the wild. Whether or not they lead to the kind of hook-ups that Britney was on about in her not-so-subtle 2008 single “If U Seek Amy”, the innocently nerdy hobby can help us forge bonds with other queer people via common interests. For many of us, growing up gay in the 21st century meant oversharing online to assert our identities, creating digital communities from the queer diaspora up and down the country in the process. As Sam Prance, a writer and editor at PopBuzz, says: “I love lists because they spark a conversation. Even a shit list will get the entire internet arguing and defending their faves.”

With gays rapidly evolving every hour, we’ve upped the ante. To separate the casuals from the stans -- i.e. the Little Monsters from the Joannes -- listing your favourite Gaga ad-libs and rarities are imperative in the search for your people. At least that’s how some of my closest friendships emerged.

4)“We’re not just gays”

A common concern among queer people is that our entire identities will be reduced to who or what is between our legs, particularly when we’re still coming to terms with it or facing the infamous closest doors. I can’t speak for us all, but as someone who was long adamant that they was more to me than just my sexuality, having an encyclopaedic knowledge of my faves gave me things to talk about. Those things -- Brittany Murphy films, Girls Aloud, a curiously queer-exclusive list of favourite Big Brother UK contestants -- may have made me come across even gayer than I hoped, but that’s besides the point. Now, comfortably queer as tits, we make ways to recycle that occupied brain space by talking about what we know, proudly taking ownership of it at the same time. Call us sustainable legends!

5) Who is she?

It seems like an obvious one, but listing your favourite things (in order or not) can help you realise your individual identity. In fact, according to queer history scholar Holly Marley, list-making provides LGBTQ people with a sense of self-confidence, ownership and pride. “I think it’s to do with having control over interests and it’s a good way of getting to know yourself,” she explains. “If I can list in order my favourite films I think it reassures me.”

This makes a lot of sense. As LGBTQ people, we exist in heteronormative spaces, which often means that queer interests are undermined. Gays making lists is actually a way of us reclaiming our power; these aren’t just throwaway tweets sent to speed up the working day.

6) Special mention to...

While the stereotypes mentioned above allege that gays are organised, it doesn’t mean we’re succinct when it comes to our opinions and so often our Top 5 lists are peppered with bonus special mentions. (Think of them as the deleted scenes decent enough to make it to the special features of the Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle DVD, which are basically all montages of Lucy Liu, her girl Drew and Cameron D falling over each other in fits of giggles.)

While the primary five may be the biggest hits or most memorable moments, the special mentions tend to pay tribute to ones that should have been. Think “Diana” on a list of One Direction singles or Rihanna’s look at the 2013 Grammys for her finest red carpet moments. For whatever reason, they don’t quite make the cut but they hold a special place in our hearts.

Ultimately though, if you really analyse the arguably straightforward process of list making, it stems from queer people’s affinity with the underdog. Who else has been to see Sugababe Mutya Buena perform a solo show in the past few years? Or helped bring Girls Aloud’s Nadine Coyle back to local consciousness via breakfast TV memes? Queers don’t tend to forget.

We also don’t tend to give up, either. As we crack our knuckles and stretch our arms ahead of those all-important end-of-year lists in December, this rings particularly true as we uplift and spotlight those people and things that, thanks to the othering of queer interests -- things that the late queer theorist Alexander Doty argued included pop music and films with female leads -- have traditionally been overlooked.

“I can’t trust Pitchfork or Rolling Stone to give Selena Gomez, Tinashe or even Beyoncé the respect they deserve. But I can trust myself,” Sam says. Indeed, no offence to Lewis Capaldi but he doesn’t quite spark joy in the gays as much as Normani’s “Motivation” video or Slayyyter’s “Mine”. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I doubt he’ll be on many end-of-decade lists that will infiltrate queer timelines until the bells ring us in to 2020.

Still, it’s quite hard to definitively say that list making is explicitly gay. Which is why, now that this piece is over with, I’m off to tweet “Things That Aren’t Gay” with “Lists” at the top spot just to get social media riled up.

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