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September 23, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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Identifying Identities

If you were not already aware, there are archetypes which describe chunks of the queer community. Here is your wildly simplified guide, in alphabetical order.

Bear: A larger man, with body hair. There are plenty of subtypes, with distinctions between muscular bears and fat bears, as well as uncomfortable distinctions on racial lines.

Butch: A queer woman with traditionally masculine traits.

Cub: A younger version of a bear. Can also refer to a sexual partner submissive to a bear.

Femme: A queer woman with traditionally feminine traits.

Manatee: Like a bear, but without the hair. Disclaimer: This one isn’t really a thing, but I want it to be a thing. Manatee. Tell your friends.

Otter: A lean/muscular guy, with body hair.

Twink: A younger guy, 18–22, stereotypically blonde, little body hair, slim, goes clubbing a lot, likes Lady Gaga.

Wolf: Definitions vary. Can be the queer male equivalent of a cougar, or a rough, outdoorsy bear-type man.

Both of the label categories applicable to women are way over-simplified, and each comes with a whole set of subtleties and subcategories, like ‘soft butch’, ‘lipstick lesbian’, ‘bois’ (often associated with non-normative gender expression), ‘power dyke’/‘suit lesbian’, etc.

Are these identities a good thing? A bad thing? It can certainly be empowering to discover an identity that fits you, and having a succinct way to describe yourself is convenient, but what happens if you don’t naturally fit one of these categories? When people ask, “So which one am I?” the answer, more often than not, is “none of them”. These archetypes are exclusionary, which is doubly a problem as it’s happening in queer spaces, where people are already excluded to some extent because of their sexuality.

It also doesn’t seem at all fair that some people get to say “I’m an otter”, which doesn’t carry with it any negative stereotypes, while others have the ‘twink’ label forced on them, along with all the baggage. ‘Twink’ is sometimes used as a slur, and putting someone in a category like this erases other parts of their identity, and gives rise to a lot of assumptions. Not all skinny blonde gay boys like Lady Gaga.

There are also uncomfortable associations with race involved here too. Race-based subcategories for bears like ‘brown bear’, ‘black bear’, and ‘panda bear’ make whiteness the default for the bear identity by itself, so that white seems ‘normal’, and other races are deviating from that norm. A twink is likewise almost always thought of as being white. I deliberately left ‘gaysian’ out of the list above, because it is even more racist and carries even more negative stereotypes than the rest.

Hey queers: there is more to people than labels assigned to them because of the way they look. Jeez.

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