Attitudes have been changing towards the gay community over the past 100 years, and though being gay is generally more accepted, the misperceptions and stereotypes are more ingrained and accepted as fact within communities with no positive gay role models or openly gay people living amongst them. One such misconception that still exists is that all gay men are promiscuous and have deviant-like behaviours.
Many gay men are honest and open about their preferences and what they find attractive; however, much of that openness is due to history and how the community has evolved. If you go back to the 1950s, many countries in the western world still had laws in which same-sex relations were considered illegal. Even though most gay men were forced to hide their sexuality publicly, they could not entirely suppress who they were and became good at hiding in plain sight.
The circumstances many found themselves within resulted in creative solutions with terms, signs or symbols that would communicate their preferences to people similar to themselves and at the same time avoiding detection. In Britain, the gay community used the language known as Polari, in which gender pronouns are switched, and words and phrases have alternative meanings; for example, the word chicken means a young adult male, and dolly means pretty or nice.
In the USA, the handkerchief was used differently, with coloured handkerchiefs used to convey a specific meaning and placed in a gay man’s back pocket for all to see. Depending on the position and the colour of the handkerchief, onlookers would immediately know that person’s preferences. The method of communicating these types of gay preferences is known as the handkerchief code; an example would be a burnt orange coloured handkerchief. Worn on the left back pocket would mean that the wearer was down for anyone or anything to happen, whereas if worn in the right pocket, it has the reverse meaning and that the wearer was not interested in anything from happening or just wanted to cruise (check out people first).
There is a vast dictionary and collection of terms relating to the gay subculture; however, let us start by looking at some examples of the main ones used and what they mean.
Straight or gay, no one person has the same desires and attractions, similar but not necessarily the same. What we find attractive and our preferences can be anything from physical, behavioural to emotional. All humans experience attraction in a similar way, and who we are attracted to is often based on attributes that appeal to us. Gay men experience attraction no different to anyone else; however, through years of hiding who they are, the community is much more honest about what they are looking for in a person. Young, old, tall, short, fit or overweight, there ay many terms to describe a desired attribute amongst the gay community and are often referred to as tribes, groups and sub-communities in their own right. Let us explore some of the main terms relating to appearance: -
- Twink / Daddy – terms relating to age; a twink is someone in their late teens, early twenties and usually thin or has a slim build. Daddies are older men, usually over the age of 40 and will typically be interested in younger men
- Chicken / Chub / Chickenhawk or Chaser – terms relating to weight, a chicken is someone who is young and is typically slim or has a small build, whereas a chub is someone who is overweight, ranging from slightly overweight to obese. Chasers or chickenhawks are people that seek out a specific type or weight. A chickenhawk is a term relating to a person that seeks out young and slim men, whereas chub chasers will be men looking for men of a larger build
- Cub or Otter / Bear or Polar Bear – terms relating to body hair, a cub can be hairy or have little hair; however, they will likely be young, whereas an otter will have a slim build and will be hairy. Otters can be of any age, like bears; however, bears usually have a larger frame or build. Lastly, a Polar bear is someone over the age of 40 who has white or grey hair
- Giraffe / Jock / Preppie – terms relating to height or style, a giraffe is a term for a tall gay man, a jock is a person who has an athletic build, and a preppie relates to a person who is into their appearance, typically with designer or unique clothing and trendy hairs styles
Historically, gay men would take huge risks, one that would see them imprisoned or worse if caught. Using secret languages and other physical communication methods, gay men would use these methods to communicate what they were looking for amongst other men. Knowing the code, someone meeting the criteria or who shares similar sexual desires would then approach the other person for things to progress to the next stage. The code was not limited to appearance but also sexual desires and fantasies. Let us explore some of the main terms relating to sexual desires or preferences:
- Bottom / Top / Versatile – terms relating to sexual preferences or preferred position. A bottom is someone who prefers to be passive, to be penetrated, whereas a top is someone who prefers to be active, to penetrate. The term versatile refers to a gay man that likes being both active and passive
- Chaser – a term that is generic to a man that seeks out a specific appearance or preference. For example, someone that likes larger men is a chub chaser, and a man that seeks out young men is a twink chaser
- Pig / Pup - terms relating to specific sexual tastes. A pig is a person that has few sexual limitations and, in extreme cases, might be into bodily fluids and human waste. Pups are usually young men who will dress up like a dog and like to be owned; however, unlike a slave in BDSM will likely still want to have free will
- Discreet / Public – terms relating to any encounter, in which those involved will be discreet or not talk about the meeting with others, as one or all will likely not be publicly open about their sexuality or live in a country where it is dangerous to be gay. In contrast, the term public is used by gay men who are looking to have sex in public or in front of other people
- Uniforms / Skins – terms relating to how a person dresses; uniforms usually relate to men with jobs in which they wear a uniform, such as soldiers, police officers, ambulance workers etc. A skin usually refers to a person with extremely short hair, known as a skinhead, often wearing jeans and tattoos
- Unicorns – a term relating to a bisexual man who is looking for and willing to join another couple
- BDSM / Leather – terms relating to more extreme sexual preferences, BDSM stands for bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, or sadomasochism. BDSM is a collective term for kinky sex, from master and slave relationships to bondage and restraints. The term leather is used for men that like to wear and dress up in leather clothing
For people outside of the gay community looking in, they might see the lists of desires and preferences as deviant-like or even too explicit; however, straight people also explore similar physical or sexual desires. The difference is people that who are not from a minority group or identify as heterosexual can do so freely, both verbally and through who they approach.
Men who like big breasts or bottoms can approach women who meet their criteria often without fear, with rejection being the only risk they face. For gay men, the first step is to establish if the person they are attracted to is gay or from any of the non-traditional sexual identities. Once they believe the person might identify as LGBTQ+, they then have to establish whether they are interested in them. These additional steps are required, as not taking these measures would be a risky miscalculation and might even end up dangerous in some situations.
Physical attraction and desire exist in almost all human beings; however, it is essential to note that many gay men want the same thing as everyone else, to be within a committed monogamous relationship, start a family, and grow old with someone they love. Being attracted to someone is not deviant-like, but how you act or behave can be perceived by others as non-conventional. Like with any group living within any given society, not all gay men want the same thing or act the same way.
Ultimately, people should live their lives; however, they choose as long as they are not purposely going out and hurting people.