How Iced Coffee Became a Symbol of Queer Culture

If you are an out kween, you are required to come out a second time as a year-round iced coffee drinker. Especially in Ireland. 

Unless you don’t live on the internet, you will have noticed that there’s been a steady flow of tweets, memes and TikToks about the queer community’s affinity for iced coffee over the past few years. Iced coffee is now so synonymous with queers that some American chap claimed that drinking one made him gay.

According to the LGBTQ website New Now Next, iced coffee is gay because of its ‘aesthetic portability, easy consumption and customization’. This basically means you can pump it full of sugar or, more likely, sugar-free vanilla syrup. The article compared it to the stereotype of online wine moms and their pinot grigio reliance; essentially saying iced coffee is a queer crutch.

While it’s hard to truly understand why anything becomes a meme *cough Shrek cough*, there are a lot of portable, customisable things that come in cute packaging that aren’t so closely aligned with the queer community.

Gender Non-Conformity

Iced coffee is just one of many trends that represent the increased acceptance of visible queerness and gender non-conformity. On the surface, it’s so banal. It’s just coffee. How can it be gay? Well, a lot of banal things have been coded as gay over the years. Pinky rings, which ear you had pierced, pocket squares, carabiners, clear phone cases. Signalling to other queers that you are also queer, while once essential, has now become a fun part of cultural discourse.

Straight people might not be aware that drinking iced coffee could be seen as an overt display of queerness. That’s sort of part of the fun. The “queer aesthetic” is less a definitive style, like punk or mod, and more of a philosophy. It proudly swerves from conventional trends favouring subversive ones that buck expectations and gender norms. The aesthetic has range dahling. It goes from flamboyant to austere and still manages to hit all the best bits in-between. 

However, regardless of visual presentation, each look is full of intention. Styling oneself through a queer lens is a nudge-nudge-wink-wink signal to other queers that you are part of their community. Iced coffee has become a big part of that. 

Will & Grace

GQ cites Will and Grace as one of the first times iced coffee was associated with the gays. In a 2001 episode, Jack(Sean Hayes) becomes enamoured with this barista who has been giving him free iced coffee. As the episode arks, Jack ‘covertly’ signals himself as gay to his barista by repeatedly ordering Frappuccinos with a sort of IYKYK wink-wink-nudge-nudge tone.

While fancying a hot barista has led us all astray, the episode alone doesn’t quite make the definitive link between iced coffee and gay culture. But it does establish that the connection is older than the internet memes suggest. 

Queer iced coffee Will & Grace
Counter Culture

There is something opposed to the prevailing norm about drinking iced coffee, especially when it’s cold. Essentially, iced coffee became a fugg normal (straight) culture I’ll drink what I like. This in turn became a cheeky, winky face with a knowing smile which signalled to other gays that you are one of them by bucking against the uniformity of heterosexuality.

If you’re straight, that might sound ridiculous. If you’re queer, though, I know you get it. Signposting queerness is a gay tradition that dates back to before Oscar Wilde. Back then, queer people developed codes to signal to people in the know their interest in same-sex desires. Specific codes like the hanky code signalled ‘sexual proclivities’. Mostly the signposting was subtle, like wearing a pinky ring, or a red tie. What unified most of them, though, is that they were typically built on subverting gender norms.

That’s not to say that gay coding no longer happens in countries where being gay is no longer illegal. Clear phone cases are still code for bisexuals. It is just talked about publicly now. There are whole TikTok channels dedicated to it. Sometimes it seems to happen by accident, like with iced coffees. It’s more like another kind of signposting, where codes are a form of playful rebellious nonconformity and not survival techniques. 

Something Girly

There’s an argument to be made for iced coffee being gendered. Throughout the ’00s, they were the accessory of choice for many ‘it’ girls. A frappuccino was considered a ‘girly’ Starbucks order when I was a teenager. Extravagance in coffee is often considered ‘girlie’ in a dismissive way. In a world where ‘gay’ and ‘girly’ were pejorative.

They’re not so much these days, as the communities have done a lot to reclaim these words. But in hipster coffee land drinks like a Starbucks, an iced vanilla latte or Britney Spears’s favourite, Frappuccinos, are still barely considered coffee. These are sugary beverages akin to desserts. They were looked down on with derision by the tastemaking coffee men of yore (if yore was the 00s). Thus the basis of their appeal to those norm-bucking gays.

The Straw

Some people on Twitter say it’s the straw. Staws are just plain queer. Whether it’s that the straw is vaguely aesthetic or means you don’t have to break eye contact, or somehow makes you feel like a celebrity, there is something provocative about putting a straw in your mouth that aligns with traditional queer humour.

Also, a lot of queer people worry about coffee staining their teeth, and the straw removes that worry. I can get behind it. Most Queers I know love a straw for reasons neither they nor I fully understand. Drinking things through straws is also seen as feminine, so this tracks with the gender nonconformity of it all. 

The Gay Domain

Iced coffee may be the domain of the queer now, but slowly but surely, it’s becoming more and more accepted. As many things embraced by the queer community go on to mainstream popularity. It’s likely that the frappuccino will go the way of fruity cocktails, hard seltzer and rosé – something queer people made cool enough for the straights to accept.

What is clear is that the queers feel a sense of ownership over iced coffee. While many memes and Internet jokes live and die on Twitter and Tumblr, the declaration that iced coffee is gay has transcended the Kermit meme and outlived the Bee Movie trolling. As with the queer coding of times gone by, making yourself known as queer without saying it will always be part of queer heritage and culture, even if that signposting is now more cheeky and exuberant. 

It has to be a shared experience to be part of a culture and in its own small and deliciously caffeinated way, iced coffee gives queer people community. And in the community, we find power. It is, to put it in vernacular, gay AF.

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