A virus killed a generation of my forebears. For this reason, it falls on us to educate each other about queer culture. If you have a chance to sit down with a gay elder, do it. They’ll give you better advice than I have.
But if you’re living discreetly in a closeted home with no one to talk to, here are the basics. Here’s some basic terminology you need to know.
1. Gay: This word describes a man who is sexually and romantically attracted to other men. This is the word I most commonly use to describe myself.
2. Bi/Bisexual: This word describes someone who is attracted to both men and women.
3. Lesbian: This word describes a woman who is sexually and romantically attracted to other women.
4. Transgender: Someone who identifies differently than the gender they were assigned at birth. A transgender woman may have been assigned male at birth, but her gender identity is female, and the proper way to address her is with she/her pronouns. The same is true for transgender men, with he/him pronouns.
5. Cisgender: Someone who identifies as the gender identity they were assigned at birth. I identify as male and I was assigned male at birth, meaning I am cisgender.
6. Top: In gay sex, the top is the dominant, inserting sex partner.
7. Bottom: In gay sex, the bottom is the passive, receiving sexual partner. I’m mostly a bottom gay man.
8. Versatile: A word that describes men who prefer both the top and the bottom sex role in gay sex.
9. Side: Gay and bi men who simply do not enjoy anal sex, but they may enjoy other sex acts like oral sex, touching, kissing, masturbation, rubbing, massage, etc.
10. Bear: Bears are hairier, heavier (muscular or chubby), typically older gay and bi men.
11. Cub: A younger bear, or a man who is hairy and thick but still on the smaller, shorter side.
12. Otter: Typically slimmer, less hairy version of a cub. Otters often have buzzcuts or shaved heads.
13. Pup/Puppy: This term is often associated with BDSM, but not always. A pup is typically a younger person of any gender identity/sexual orientation who likes being taken care of or sexually dominated by “handlers” in the fetish scene/lifestyle of pup play. For more info, read my post about the scene.
14. Pig/Piggy: A gay or bisexual man who prefers bareback (condomless) and typically enjoys kinky sex — see next definition.
15. Kink: A kink is a nontraditional sex practice — that’s it. Defining what is traditional (and, by extension, “nontraditional”) is almost impossible, so suffice it to say that kinks are sex acts that include bondage (see the next definition) and are outside the “vanilla” variety. When talking about the sex I like, I tell guys that I have “many kinks,” which means there are many things I’m into that fall outside someone simply putting a dick in my butt (or vice versa).
16. Fetish: Fetish is harder to define, since colloquially, “kink” and “fetish” often (mistakenly) get used interchangeably. Technically speaking, fetishes are nonhuman objects, feelings, situations, or sensations that stimulate arousal — including the feeling of leather clothes on your skin, the smell of used underwear (or the touching/wearing of used underwear), or the situation of being caught in your used underwear by an adult. The word “fetish” is most commonly applied to nonhuman objects, as in the case of a shoe fetish or rubber fetish. Let me help you discern the two terms: “fisting,” the sex act of inserting one’s entire hand into someone else’s ass to stimulate pleasure, is a kink, a nontraditional sex act. But someone into fisting may also have an intense fetish for burying their nose in a sweaty, stinky armpit — they have an armpit fetish. To learn more about these and other terms related to kink, read my kinky terms guide in The Advocate Magazine.
17. Poz: HIV-positive gay men that are open about their HIV status. I’m a poz gay man.
18. Daddy: An older, financially established gay or bi man.
19. Twink: A typically younger, thinner gay man with little or no body hair, who may or may not be a top or bottom (don’t assume either one).
20. Faerie: A queer person (see later definition) who connects with the radical faerie movement and mentality.
21. Queen: Dancefloor diva, someone with sass and attitude. May also refer to drag queen (go watch RuPaul’s Drag Race).
22. Discreet: A gay man who is in the closet, on the DL, or moderately private about his sexuality.
23. Leather: The community of gay men who have a fondness for leather gear and are usually into different types of fetish play/different kinks, including domination and submission.
24. Chub: Chubby/bigger guys.
25. Jock: Athletic guys. May or may not play sports, but they definitely go to a gym.
26. Sir: The most common, widely known dominant role in kink.
27. Boy: The most common, widely-known submissive role in kink.
28. BDSM: An acronym that stands for bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism (also: daddy/boy, dom/sub, and sadist/masochist).
29. Queer: A former slur, “queer” has been reclaimed as an all-encompassing word that resists easy, simple definition, and is one that any member of the LGBTQ community may identify as. “Queer” is a rejection of the hard parameters of “gay,” “straight,” and “bisexual” — parameters that many feel are too restrictive and stifling and generate their own stigmas and prejudices within our larger community. “Queer” has evolved as a self-identifying word meaning “other,” queer people implicitly reject the gender binary and consider it a harmful social construct. Many stress the importance of recognizing how other marginalized identities like Black, Brown, genderqueer, and undocumented people intersect with LGBTQ, and how their experiences are often more difficult as a result.
30. Masc/Femme. These words are shorthand for masculine and feminine — words which, as you will learn, come with stigmas and prejudices of their own. There’s a lot of misogyny in the gay community, which translates to the unhealthy shaming of femininity.
There are many, many more terms, but that should get you started. I know the labels I fall into. Even if I try to reject them, people attempt to classify into one category or another the minute I walk into a gay bar. I think we all do that, and I don’t think that impulse is wrong, but there are problems that occur as a result of our label-heavy culture.
It’s important to acknowledge the labels and accept that they are entrenched in gay culture (and gay stereotypes). It’s also important not to care too much about them, because whatever category or categories you put yourself into will never be adequate at describing the entirety of who you are as a person.
I’m Beastly. That word describes me better than any other. It’s me.