That tribal feeling
Posted on 28 Mar 2019

I always knew I was gay. For as long as I can remember, which now feels like a long time, it’s been there. I’ve always felt it, I’ve always known it, and more importantly, I’ve always loved it and felt special because of it.


That mark of difference has nearly always made me stronger, even if that realisation has sometimes come only with the benefit of hindsight. People over the years have asked if I would ever change ‘it’ if I could. The answer of course is always a straight no!

I WAS BORN THIS WAY...
That answer is the straightest thing about me. Being gay is the thing I’m most comfortable with, and, of course, I was born this way. It’s not a matter of choice or a conscious reflection anyway. Being gay is my core self, my inner-most stable identity. It’s my best self. It is who I am and who I will always be.

As I grew up, I knew I was attracted to guys. I fell in love with a boy when I was six. I had my first kiss, with a different boy, when I was eight. We first properly fooled around when I was 10 and he 11. From there, things just got, well, exciting. As a teenager, I wrestled for a bit with liking girls too, but that phase was very short-lived and never ended in anything serious.


undefinedI always knew I was gay. For as long as I can remember

At the age of 13, I knew my path, and it was definitely gay. So when I came out in 1999, at the age of 17, and made my way down to the gay village, I thought l would find my utopia there. A place where I would meet people like me, who had experiences like me, who had endured the bullying, the pain and the application of a thick skin just to be like me.


I thought we would be one great big pink family and that I’d instantly fit in. It would be like coming home, like an orphan who had suddenly, finally, discovered his birth family. In many ways, this proved to be the case. The Tom Finland art work. The cacophony of Madonna and Kylie tunes pumping out of the clubs. The brightly coloured rainbows adorning the walls, proudly and unapologetically proclaiming gay pride, were a beacon to my homecoming. At first, I felt I belonged.

17 AND LABELLED A TWINK
But I quickly discovered that paradise was not all it had seemed. As a super-slim little-bit-camp 17-year-old, I was quickly labelled a ‘twink’. Yet I was super-hairy too, at a time when hair was far from vogue, and so quickly became shunned by many other twinks. The only other ‘tribes’ were the ‘bears’, the ‘jocks’ and the ‘leather daddies’, with whom I also didn’t fit.


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Apparently, being gay was not enough

So I found myself somewhat between the lines, unanchored and in a state of confusion. It knocked my confidence, as I was suddenly unsure about who I was. Apparently, being gay was not enough; I had to fit into some kind of tribe - but the limitations of the groupings prevented my doing so. I simply didn’t fit in. For years I drifted, feeling like an outsider when I should have felt at home.


GAY TRIBAL CASTE SYSTEM IS ALIVE AND THRIVING
Fast forward to 2019, and the gay tribal caste system is as alive as it’s ever been. In fact, it’s positively booming. Ten minutes on the Urban Dictionary proves that. In the last decade, the number of tribes has exploded - no doubt because, like me, many found themselves falling between the party lines.

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Daddies remain too (thank God!)


The ‘twink’ remains a fixture still identifiable as a young, boyish-looking guy, smooth and (of course) skinny. But now we also have the ‘twunk’; a twink, but with a shedload more muscle. Daddies remain too (thank God!), still marked out as older guys who typically - but not exclusively - are found dating younger daddy-chasers. Often they have grey hair and a bit of money to boot.

NEW GAY CATEGORIES
But like the twink, the daddy category has refined and expanded. We now have the ‘muscle daddy’ - a category of daddy that was always there but which is now separate and more clearly defined. A muscle daddy is exactly what it says on the tin. Muscular, older and mostly hairy, they are often found wearing leather on a night out as well as in the bedroom.


Then we have the aforementioned daddy-chaser - a young guy looking to hook up with, or be cared for by, a daddy. Ah, love is love. Cue twittering birds. Like in days of old, there’s the ‘bear’, which the Urban Dictionary defines as a husky, large man with shitloads of hair both front and back. The ‘cub’ remains the bear’s younger aspiring self. But now we also have the ‘otter’; slim, toned, not overly built but infinitely hairy. At last I have found my tribe!

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Let’s not forget others, too. The ‘pup’ - cute, younger, mostly but not exclusively submissive and looking for a handler. The ‘wolf’ - semi-hairy and something of a sexual adventurer or predator.

We also have the ‘geek’ - intellectual, deeply knowledgeable and with a great enthusiasm for their hobbies and interests, which they continually cultivate. The ‘jock’ remains muscled, into sports and often appears cocky or arrogant.


GIPSTER - THE HIPSTER GAY
The newest one on me is the ‘gipster’ - a hipster gay who typically favours an indie lifestyle, is generally skinny and adheres to their own style. A gipster hallmark is their ‘elegant’ taste in films and music.
And there’s a load more, too; on and on it goes. We have, it appears, become ever-more defined by tribes.
Having once failed to conform, I now feel secure with my bona fide otter credentials. I feel like I fit, and more importantly, people can place me.

Tribes provide a language which so many of us can navigate. But what does this really mean for us? The rules of the tribes are often just as restrictive as their very definitions. A jock is not expected to date or hook up with a cub. A bear will not hibernate with a twink. A daddy-chaser will not look sideways for a geek, and a geek is unlikely to go for a twunk.


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GIPSTER - THE HIPSTER GAY

But is it really that clear? As an otter, can I not also be a geek, and can a bear not fall in love with a twink? Are we in danger of pre-empting our inner feelings by the very nature of how we have chosen to be, or have been, defined? To be categorised so quickly and so rigidly means that we and others may not always find or discover the real us. Are we in danger of becoming a stereotype and losing the everything that makes us different?


OUR SEXUALITY: OUR DIFFERENCE...
Equally, where does this leave us in terms of inclusivity? If a bear has a night out in a twink bar, is he well-received or will he be ridiculed? If a twink clubs at a muscle daddy venue, will he be made to feel like shit because he’s so skinny?

Tribes can have an amazingly positive impact. They can make you feel like you belong, like you’ve finally found your home. In an age of numerous tribes, the chances are you may just fit. But what if you still don’t?...


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And shouldn’t we also remember that, no matter which tribe we fit into, if any at all, we all have one thing in common: our sexuality. Our difference. And in a world where difference is shunned, we need ultimately to stand together. For in unity, respect and love, we are at our strongest.


So whatever tribe you feel is your fit, remember to love and respect those tribes into which you don’t fit. For only with mutual respect can we all genuinely find our home.

Stephen Spinks


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