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28 April 2011, 4:00 pm 14 Comments

Commentary: Chicken, Twink, Thirty-Two, Daddy, Troll

This post was submitted by Michael

The Five Gay Ages, illustrated by Rob Kirby exclusively for The New Gay.

 

Author’s Note: Many, many thanks to illustrator Rob Kirby for providing the above graphic to accompany this post. Rob’s cartoon Curbside Boys was featured on TNG in the past. Robert Kirby is currently the editor of the queer comics anthology series THREE, and the author of Curbside Boys (Cleis Press, 2002), and co-editor (with David Kelly) of The Book of Boy Trouble and The Book of Boy Trouble 2: Born to Trouble, both from Green Candy Press. Website: Robkirbycomics.com

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The title of this post is the punchline of perhaps the most cutting of all gay jokes: What are the five gay ages? Quite possibly it’s cutting since perhaps none of the five ages are appealing to the majority of the mainstream gay culture.

For my part, I feel like I’ve been “thirty-two” since I first came out. I might have been a Chicken once, one night that left me mortified and scarred, and forced me back into the closet for another few years. I’ve never been a Twink, since I’ve never been fit or vapid enough. When I finally hit thirty-two and heard this joke for the first time, I thought about how I might extend the one-year gay “age” comfortably into my 50s, since the term Daddy seems so loaded with stereotypes all its own. While Daddy has some positive attributes, Troll is obviously completely undesirable.

The thing is, no one likely fits any of these stereotypes to a T. And even more likely, every gay man exhibits a few traits from each “age” no matter how old they are. But why do we feel the need to classify our entire community into more and more niche stereotypes? Is it to help us better understand each other or — more likely — to fragment our community even further? To transform more of “us” into “the other” so that we can feel superior in comparing ourselves to “them”?

Now, just for fun or perhaps to help illustrate how destructive this supposedly humorous stereotyping can be, I share with you my personal and admittedly exaggerated descriptions of these terms.


Chicken

Scrawny, wide-eyed, excitable, cautious, easily spooked. Young gay men in high school or college (or often middle school now? Or do we need a new gay age? Egg perhaps?) who have recently come out of the closet. They likely travel solo or in groups of two, or paired with a close female friend. They haven’t made their core gay friend group yet, and are very impressionable. They care a lot about what others think of them and are longing for acceptance from other gay people, yet they haven’t figured out quite yet how to gain that acceptance. They’re very easy to land, since sex is acceptance, and they aren’t very picky as long as you are relatively attractive, well put-together and don’t have bad breath.

In cities you’ll find them at coffee shops in the gayborhood, on university campuses, or at gay bars on all-ages college nights. In the suburban areas, they’re either haunting the shopping malls or, much later in the evening, lingering in the allies behind the adult book store. Despite the challenges looming in their near future, Chickens have an optimistic outlook on life. They have seen images of happy, out, actualized gay men in the media and know that they can reach some level of happiness and success themselves.

Twink

Muscular, cute, tightly clad, confident, clean cut. A Twink is a Chicken who has met his first friend group and worked tirelessly to gain acceptance from the members of this group. The transition from Chicken to Twink wasn’t easy. His new friends were hardly welcoming at first, and he likely had to sleep with at least one of them in order to even get them to notice him. Once he got his foot in the door, the morphological changes began: he shaved his nascent chest hair, started spiking up his bangs and adopted a workout routine from the latest Men’s Fitness magazine. His new friends have added a little spring to his step while simultaneously critiquing and influencing his wardrobe. Despite appearing more confident and better put-together, his insides twist with conflict. The social acceptance for which he’s so deeply thirsted has, it turns out, a bitter aftertaste.

His friends, while all relying on each other for emotional support, seem to be constantly criticizing one another and making jokes at each others expense. They have no tolerance for individuality, and loudly yet baselessly decry any hint of uniqueness in their friends. When together socially, they all seem to be talking simultaneously yet no one appears to be listening. When a Twink lands a boyfriend, his friends express excitement to his face, but jealousy and scorn to his back. The Twink in a relationship generally treats his boyfriend like one of his friends, alternating between dependence and resentment. Twink relationships rarely last longer than a few months, and often end very badly. Entire friend groups can be completely split up due to Twink-love gone bad: I don’t just mean groups ripped in half, I mean not a single person remains friends with one another after the split. Eventually the Twink tires of the vapid conversation, constant back-stabbing and protein shakes, and begins to seek something more. This happens at about the age of…

Thirty-Two

A thirty-two is a rare breed of gay man, since each one is only around for one year. During this and only this year, the gay man reaches his pinnacle of human existence. He finally has found a career that he cares about, he as a diverse group of friends, none of whom he relies on emotionally. He’s learned better than to do that. He feels a sense of calm come over him, somewhat like the opposite of the Twink’s springy step, a sort of restful sluggishness that provides him with the patience and tolerance to put up with his younger, Twinkier friends who have yet made the transition. A thirty-two usually reaches the peak of his physical form. His body has “filled out” a bit in his late 20s, moving him beyond the Twink’s skinny-yet-muscled look. He has finally found a workout routine that works for him, or has eventually given up on strict routines for alternatives such as bikram yoga or tai chi.

It is likely that a Thirty-Two may form a healthy, stable, long-term relationship with another Thirty-Two. Together, they will likely buy real estate, consider adoption, form lasting friendships with other Thirty-Twos and others outside the gay male community. A Thirty-Two might also find time in his life for giving back to the community. He researches volunteer opportunities and donates to his local public radio station for more than just the tax exemption. On rare occasion, this zen-like Thirty-Two discovers a satisfying life in this age, and can find a way to remain a Thirty-Two for the rest of his life. Being in a stable, long-term relationship is one way for this Thirty-Two-persistence to occur, but it’s not required. Those unable to sustain Thirty-Two, or those who never find that it suits them, shortly transform into the next age of gay evolution: the Daddy.

Daddy

The Daddy is perhaps the most diverse gay age. Daddies can range from beer-bellied bears to tight-bodied urban professionals. The age range of the Daddy is also the widest. While Chickens persist for a few years at most, and Twinks spend between 8 and 12 years perfecting their craft, the Daddy can reign between the ages of 33 to 55 or even later. As such, the most defining characteristics of a Daddy are his age and the color and condition of his hair. However, the behavior you’re likely to see from a Daddy is what unites them all.

Perhaps the most uniting trait of a Daddy is their overpowering sense of longing — either for a relationship lost when they were Thirty-Two or one that they never had — and how that translates into regular Daddy activities. Daddies are most often found dining in small groups at those restaurants in the gayborhood where, really, no one else eats. They also enjoy spending sunny early evenings and weekend days hovering within the darkened confines of gay bars with decent drink specials, not because they need the discount but instead enjoy observing and flirting with the younger, thriftier crowd attracted by the savings. Daddies aren’t relegated to observing and flirting: their experience, gray hairs and relative financial stability are positive attributes to some Twinks and Thirty-Twos who, were it not for the dark air of despair, could consider entering into a legitimate Daddy relationship, genero$ity not required.

Younger Daddies have no problems finding friends, as new Daddies are made every year. However, as time wears on and the longing, desperation and Vitamin D deficiency intensify, a Daddy’s friend group — like his hair — tends to thin and splinter. Friends are lost to any of a range of issues, from physical relocation to petty jealousy. As he ages, the ego-sustaining friendships that the Daddy maintains are the only thing that keep him afloat. Once these relationships whither and die, the transition to the next age is swift.

Troll

While not relegated to residing under bridges, the modern day Troll shares many attributes with their fairy tale cousins. Gaunt, large-eyed, sagging and often hunched, the Troll’s primary focus is the beauty of youth, and a mindless longing to possess it in one way or another. After spending over twenty years haunting darkened gay bars as a Daddy surrounded by pretty things, the longing and Vitamin D deficiency builds to a breaking point. Not unlike Sméagol’s transition into Gollum from the Lord of the Rings, the Troll’s transition is both physical and mental, and he is still recognizable as humanoid but somehow far from human. Instead of a ring, though, this Troll treasures youth.

His lair is covered with photographs of shirtless Twinks and bodybuilding Thirty-Twos flexing their muscles. He spends his afternoons cruising parks and book stores, eying precious youth. Evenings are spent a those gayborhood restaurants, sitting alone at the bar, looking on jealously at the tables of Daddy friend groups sharing a meal and a laugh. Nights are spent in the darkest corners of gay bars where they observe and crave from a distance. The more adventurous — or more desperate — may wander over to local cruising spots after a few drinks, hoping to catch a few hot young men in the act or, less likely, get in on the act himself. Others return to their lairs to stare at their youth-covered walls or watch pornography until sleep takes them. Although the above description makes it seem unlikely, Trolls can still be productive members of society. They hold jobs, meet their responsibilities, attend social functions. However, a Troll’s true nature is never far from the surface.

A Troll always sexualizes every interaction with an attractive, younger gay man, regardless of what medium of communication is used. In person conversations begin with lingering handshakes, are peppered with lingering gazes and concluded with lingering embraces. Work-related emails stay professional, but are often followed up with unveiled complements under separate subject lines. Phone calls include an extra vocal lilt, as if each statement, while conveying the overt meaning, covertly states, “You are so lovely.” When one’s leads his life so overpowered by desire, one doesn’t miss any chance for expressing and possibly satisfying it. Can you blame them?


Perhaps the worst part of stereotypes is that they exist for a reason. But perhaps these stereotypical behaviors are not innate but instead learned. Or better yet, they are in place as coping mechanisms for oppression. Sadly, much of the oppression behind the above behaviors comes from within the gay community and our constant need to bolster our individual selves at the expense of everyone else. Gays come out and give up a sense of self to gain a sense of community, I’ve proposed that many times. What I am now realizing is that far too often, once finding community acceptance, the gays turn on that community and sacrifice it on the alter of personal self esteem.

 


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14 Comments »

  • Chris said:

    fuck yes. hilarious. perfect. <3

  • Kyle said:

    Whew, I’m glad this was written in fun. I have a friend who’s a few months younger than I (and therefore will turn 50 later this year) who wants to reclaim the word “troll”, but I just can’t get behind that. To me the word is too debasing, and I feel no different as I approach the age of trolldom.

    Part of the problem is that by calling older gay men trolls, with the implied pejorative connotations, gay people are essentially saying the older guys need either to be asexual or disappear. No more looking at the cute guys, you ugly old trolls. Keep your eyes to yourselves, or fuck off and die.

    The problem is that there are almost no visible positive examples of older gay men. Frank Kameny, sure. But who else? Many of my generation died. The rest disappeared into the burbs years ago, and haven’t been seen since. Too often those of us who are growing older often find we’re doing so with no examples of how it’s done gracefully. Being a trailblazer isn’t nearly as romantic and heroic as it sounds. Mostly it’s just a bewildering set of trials and errors.

  • Mike said:

    @Kyle, I think you make a great point about role models (would “troll models” reclaim it? slightly kidding I couldn’t resist).. I think the only thing that I, as a young fit guy, would note with some frustration from a certain segment of older men, is that they often seem to just leap at me like i’m a sex toy for them to squeeze and ogle, and not as a man first. I don’t mean to ascribe this trait to everyone of a certain age, by any means, but just that I have had a lot of encounters like that. Basically.. just treat me like a real person and I’ll gladly do the same.

    On the flip side, I have been able to become close to a really cool man who’s finishing up his career.. and I’ve never once felt like he was trying to hit on me, or that he would even want to do something if I invited him back for a drink, ya know? His insights on growing up as a gay man have been hugely helpful to me… how he got by in the working world, how he discovered that a polyamorous relationship wasn’t quite his thing, what it’s like to care for a terminally ill friend, what kinds of strategies worked for gay liberation back in the day… because you’re right, even for younger guys, there’s not really a very good guide about how to do this growing up thing.

  • Daniel said:

    I am, without question, a spiritual troll.

  • Nathan said:

    Ok I know you are being somehow silly here, but perhaps if people focused a bit more on who the are in the inside none of this would matter? Focus on developing your character, ethics, spirituality, love, understanding, and knowledge of all kind and hold true to those hard won values, few things can go wrong. I sit and think about the guys I have known in each of these categories (who met the stereotype) and I always come back the same place: they just never evolved.

  • Kyle said:

    @Mike, I have to wonder: is the behavior of leaping at you like you’re a sex toy only objectionable when done by older men, or is it objectionable when done by men of any age? If being regarded as a sex toy – let’s call it being objectified, for short – if being objectified is distasteful to you regardless of the age of the person objectifying you, then why tie that behavior to a post about age-related issues? If, on the other hand, being objectified by someone is only an issue of disgust for you if the objectifier is older, then that’s ageism, pure and simple.

    In other words, if objectification is what disgusts you, I urge you to work against the ageism in our community by not linking the objectification issue to ageism, even unintentionally.

  • Jeff said:

    “There are three ages for women in Hollywood: Babe, District Attorney and Driving Miss Daisy” Goldie Hawn, from “The First Wives Club”.

    The escalator of gay life runs much faster then you think. I’m 45 now, out of shape, 15 pounds overweight and my sex drive had been parked in the garage for over a year. Compare that to me at 40, 20 pounds thinner, 5 days a week at the gym, sex parties and tricks constantly, the joyride was never going to end!

    But for me it has, emotionally the sex parties and tricks just got old, my sex drive decreased and my OCD gym routine went out the window in favor of deep dish pizza and Turner Classic Movies. I think all men, reguardless of sexual orientation, move through normal phases of life. The difference is that gay men fear growing older much more then straight men. The level of this fear is different for each person. I know guys my age and older who obsess over their appearance instead of enjoying their life.

    Plastic surgery (never looks good on a man) hair replacement (you can always tell) age inappropriate clothing (nobody wants to see a man in his 40′s wearing a Lady Gaga baby T) the list goes on and on for some guys. Then there are those like me who just don’t care anymore and I don’t mean that in a “I’m jumping off the bridge” way. I mean I just don’t care what other men gay or straight think. I went through the last 20 years obsessed with how I looked, what would they think, will they like me, why don’t they like me, I’m to thin, I’m to fat, I don’t have enough money. The time and energy wasted on this is crazy.

    I’m happier now then ever before. I have a great job, make good money, have a nice car, I’m moving into a new larger lakefront condo in January, I have a small group of close friends and I live in sunny south Florida, Wilton Manors to be exact. It’s wonderful to not feel insecure and scared all the time. I don’t go to bars and I don’t ogle younger guys or really pay that much attention to them, been there, done that.

    No matter what stage you are in, just be yourself and if other guys don’t like it then fuck them, true friends like you for you from the get go, they don’t want you change and they are not going to be upset if you get a bf before they do. Enjoy each stage because before you know it, do the all things you want to and experience as much as you can, never let anyone take control of you, you thoughts or your actions. If you are over 21 then you are in control of you so enjoy your freedom and be the best, chicken, twink, 32, daddy, troll you can be!

  • Mike said:

    @Kyle, No.. I don’t really enjoy getting my butt squeezed by random people, regardless of the culprit. It’s just that in my experience, and I can only speak for myself, the kind of behavior that really bothers me (where it’s like a grab-n-run kind of event) it’s almost always an older man who doesn’t seem to even be capable of talking to me like a regular person.

    Yeah, and of course younger guys ogle too.. but in my experience, it’s usually mixed in with other things like talking to me, asking to buy me a drink, etc, so it doesn’t bother me as much.

    And no.. I personally don’t care if you want to look, it’s really the physical stuff that gets me. That being said.. there are certain men in the locker room where it’s like man, how obvious do you have to be when you eye-fuck me like that geeze.. When it happens with a guy closer to my age, it’s usually more like, oops, I took a discreet little peek using the reflections of fourteen different mirrors “by accident” … If I was gonna make a crass generalization, I’d say that I just think we’re just a little classier about it than you guys ;)

    I mean.. look, you know we all seem to be a little put off if we see an older man going around squeezing and getting too physical with a young girl who clearly doesn’t want the attention but doesn’t feel like she can really tell him off… I know we’re all supposed to be dudes so it’s kinda different, but there’s still sort of a power dynamic in there.

    And yeah, I tried to make clear I’m not trying to associate this with all older men. You didn’t mention my other paragraph, where I talked about the positive benefits I’ve gained from having a platonic relationship with an older man. That’s the kind of inter-generational relationships we definitely need.

  • Mike said:

    Going back to Michael’s original “five ages” typology… clearly he’s intentionally over-simplifying for comedic effect. It’s to poke a little fun at certain personas that we hold in our minds. And I think he poked fun at all of them. The word “twink” for example, as I understand its etymology, comes from the shrink-wrapped cheap non-food known as the Twinkie. Typically tan, tasty, and full of cream… but cheap and of no nutritional value whatsover. Michael used the word “vapid.” Spot on! It’s meant to poke fun at younger guys who are super hot by making them out to be air-heads. (Essentially, it’s the gay version of the “dumb blonde”) Now, sometimes because of how I look, people type me as a classic twink. And yeah it gets a little frustrating. But what do I do about it? I take great joy in exploding peoples’ expectations by running circles around their mediocre intellect.

    Similarly, I think there are plenty of really cool older guys out there who, in having learned about self-respect over the years, naturally give off a sexy self-confidence that prevents them from ever feeling the need to embody the behavior of a troll. These are the kind of older guys I prefer to be around, because they’d prefer to grope my brain instead.

  • Max said:

    I know this all done is jest but what makes it sad is how much these stereotypes negatively affect gay communities turning guys into neurotics worried that no one will love them if they aren’t a gym queen or young things. Especially when the reality is that the guys I know who reject these ideas are the ones that do end up being happy whether it’s in a long term relationship or not. I’m gay and my circle is mostly queer but I’m so glad that I have dyke friends, fairies and other queers who have exposed me to queer circles that are more accepting and less into appearance. I may not be old or chubby yet but when it happens it wouldn’t be a big deal and sure as heck wouldn’t change who I am.

  • Kyle said:

    @Max, I agree. My concern is that if someone were to come to believe—whether it is true or not—that most people in the gay ‘community’ see the stereotypes of twink and troll as true, then he wouldn’t want to associate himself with the community or socialize within it, out of the fear he’d be seen as a stereotype himself.

  • Rich said:

    No man sets out to be a troll.

    No man realizes that he is growing older. It is an obvious fact, but denial and fear keep the mind focused on work, family, whatever must be done next so that he doesn’t have to face the terrible frightening truth. The ride does end. The boys that one vied for your attention don’t even notice you anymore. As a good friend said contemplative lay, “We have become the men we used to avoid.”

    So, when an older man drops his drink and fawns over your beauty, don’t be so willing to think its because of who you are, it is because of who he is. He hasn’t realized he has aged. His mind has rejected all possibility, he knows he isn’t who or what he used to be, but really doesn’t know who he is. There is a gulf of acceptance that must happen to transition into older age. I am 45 and it has been some time since I was single. If I let my relationship wither or if my husband steps out and I find myself alone, I will be quite lost. Bounce up into the singles scene is rare for someone my age (and body type-fluffy is how my BFF says it) and when the entire population of horny twenty something’s is at the bar, it is hard to be “disinterested” when surrounded by gym bunnies and half naked twinks. He doesn’t belong in a singles bar, he may want to fuck a twink, but he really doesn’t want to date one. He really needs to meet another man who has some life experience, has some financial prosperity, and knows the value of letting go of the gym obsessed culture and working on self.

    The problem is that men like him are invisible. They don’t party till 3 am two nights during the week. They don’t live online. They don’t meet at the gayborhood pool and tan till the sun goes down while dissing their friends, and their life doesn’t revolve around what they can buy, fuck or possess.

    I don’t care what my husband does, I will be damned I will let him get a divorce….there is not way I can navigate enough Grindr or Craigslist or whatever it is to find a replacement. He will just have to confess and make up!

  • Glycerine said:

    you missed one key group in this analysis: the group that does not identify at all with the gay “community”, has no desire to, and does not fit ANY of these labels you’ve drawn out for us. we march to the beat of our own drum, we don’t give a shit about fashion trends. brokeback moutain is 2 hours too long and katy perry is a no-talent hack who doesn’t support gay marriage! where’s our category and what would you classify it as? i’m very curious to know.

  • Anthony said:

    As a 32/daddy/troll this is hilarious. (using troll as 55+ only, as I think a troll is an attitude not an age).

    Gym bunnies and 1/2 naked twinks hold no more interest than a painting on the wall. Nice to look at but yawn…..intellectually (stereotyping of course, I know one late twink that is working on his Psych degree). Their EQ and attention span can be measure on a micro scale. However let them enjoy their brief bright flame, age will soon take its toll….hahahahahaha

    My current beau (old man’s language)19 years my junior, can’t understand how I can do so much. As I tell him, I am older not dead.

    PS those that don’t identify with any group…..whats their label…closeted!