We Just Learned This Emoji Has A (Very NSFW) Queer Meaning

We guarantee you won't look at the tengu mask emoji the same way

Emojis are more than just a fun way to express yourself online, they’ve become an integral part of the way we communicate. But as some Twitter users helped us learn, emojis can represent important parts of history, as well.

Whores of Yore, a project aimed at centering the historical and cultural significance of sex workers throughout history, gave us the back story on the “tengu mask” emoji, added in 2015.

Often depicted in traditional Japanese woodblock prints, tengu are creatures from Japanese mythology—goblins that are easily tricked or confused by humans. (Though sometimes tales of tengu are used to scare children into behaving.)

ohn S Lander/LightRocket

Tengu masks would often appear in shunga woodblock prints of erotic encounters and, unlike the West, explicit same-sex scenes weren’t taboo. In fact, they appeared as frequently as heterosexual pairings.

In a painting shared by Whores of Yore, a woman has a tengu mask tied around her waist, using the creature’s long nose as a strap-on to penetrate her lover.

Whore of Yore’s original tweet received more than 13,000 like and 4,500 retweets, but when it was re-shared by Ari, a lesbian from Honolulu, it went viral, with more than 100,000 likes and retweets. A few homophobic comments have crept in, but most of the engagement has been positive.

In a tweet, Ari wrote about the importance the tengu mask has to queer history. And she wasn’t the only one.

It’s fitting that the tengu has been adapted to emojis. Like the woodblock prints of yore, emojis are an important part of storytelling and communication—and are often adapted to address sex and sexuality. Eggplant anyone?

h/t: Gay Star News

Writer for NewNowNext, Refinery29, Wear Your Voice, BitchMedia, etc. Budding sex educator. @NerdsOfPreycast cohort. She/Her.