You won’t be taught this stuff in school. It falls on us to educate each other about queer culture. If you have a chance to sit down with a gay elder, seize the opportunity. They will give you better advice than I can.
But you may not have access to a gay elder. You may be living discreetly, in the closet, in a homophobic or religious home. You may have no one to talk to. So, to get you started, here are the basics:
1. Gay: This word describes a man who is sexually and romantically attracted to other men. This is the word I 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 with 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.
8. Versatile: A word that describes men who prefer both the top and the bottom roles 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, and so on.
10. Bear: Bears are hairier, heavier (muscular or chubby) gay and bi men.
11. Cub: A younger bear.
12. Otter: Typically slimmer, less-hairy versions of cubs. 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/sexual orientation who likes being taken care of or sexually dominated by “handlers” in the fetish scene/lifestyle of puppy play.
14. Pig/Piggy: A gay or bisexual man who prefers bareback (condomless) sex and typically enjoys kinky sex — see the next definition.
15. Kink: A kink is a nontraditional sex practice — that’s it. Defining what is traditional (and, by extension, “nontraditional”) sex 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 “standard” or “traditional” sex acts.
16. Fetish: Fetish and fetishes are harder to define, since colloquially, “kink” and “fetish” are often (mistakenly) used interchangeably. Technically speaking, fetishes are nonhuman objects, feelings, situations, or sensations that stimulate arousal — including the feeling of leather on your skin, the smell of used underwear (or the touching/wearing of used underwear), and the feeling/smell/wearing/texture of rubber. “Fetish” can also refer to experiences and environments (for example, you may have a fetish for being caught masturbating). The word “fetish” is most commonly applied to nonhuman objects, as in the case of a shoe fetish or foot fetish. Let me help you discern the two terms: “fisting,” the sex act of inserting one’s hand into an anus to stimulate pleasure, is a kink, a non-traditional sex act. But someone into fisting may also have an intense fetish for burying their nose in hairy armpits, so they have an armpit fetish. To learn more about these and other terms related to kink, read my kinky terms guide in The Advocate.
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 who dates, fucks, takes care of, provides emotional support, or does all the above for a younger gay or bi man.
19. Twink: A typically younger, thinner gay man with little or no body hair.
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 (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 kink and fetish play, including domination and submission.
24. Chub: Chubby/heavier guys.
25. Jock: Athletic guys who may or may not play sports, but generally enjoy fitness.
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 sadism/masochism).
29. Queer: A former slur, “queer” has been reclaimed as an all-encompassing word that resists easy, simple definition, and is one that many members of the LGBTQ community identify with. “Queer” is a rejection of the hard parameters of “gay,” “straight,” and “bisexual” — parameters that many feel are restrictive and simplistic. “Queer” has evolved as a self-identifying word meaning “other” and is sometimes favored by those in our community who reject the gender binary and other social constructs. In recent years, “queer” has also become widely used as a shorthand version of the full “LGBTQ+” acronym, which is now over fourteen letters long — this is how the word is used for the title of this post.
30. Masc/Femme. These words are shorthand for masculine and feminine.
There are many, many more terms, but these should get you started. I know the terms and labels I fall into. Even if I try to reject them, people classify me the minute I appear in a gay bar based on what I wear and even who I’m friends with. I can’t control that. What matters is the label (or labels) you choose for yourself — the ones you build your identity around. No one has the authority to tell you your label is wrong.
It’s important to acknowledge these terms and accept that they are entrenched in our culture. Yes, they can be frustrating, but they are also useful. In kink, for instance, we discover playmates and identify with different fetish communities by labeling — you generally find a Sir only by first identifying as a “boy.” It’s also important not to worry too much about the labels. They don’t encapsulate the complexity of who you are as a person, and you can always discard your current label for a word that fits you better.