Twink, otter, pup, jock, daddy … Whatever happened to just lions, tigers and bears?
By Daniel Harding
It’s 2022 and dating is hard enough. There’s a pandemic, an over-saturated market and social media – need I say more? It’s enough to put anyone off even dipping their little toe into the pond, let alone swimming and wading through it. It’s tough out there.
I’ve dated, a lot. A mix of casual meets born out of glances from across bars, a free Pret-A-Manger coffee that led to more (thank you, hot barrister) and, of course, dating apps. Multiple dating apps. Frankly, it baffles me: there are so many ways in which we can hook our dates, yet here I sit typing, still single, still in the pond. Still swimming.
Dating is a minefield, an ever-changing landscape where you are branded and rebranded daily. People places us in boxes. And throughout all the conversations, the small talk, the photo exchanges and the coffee meet-ups, I’ve recently been left with something bitter on my tongue. Something that was typed out in a message to me during a pre-date screening convo that confirms the evolution of dating as we get older and the evidence that we keep changing our identity during the different stages…
Can I call you Daddy?
I’m not exactly sure when it happened. But it did: I’ve become the daddy. At least, that was the line text to me after a brief flirtatious conversation with a guy THREE years younger than me. Three!
Yes, I’m in my mid-30s. Gulp. Yes, technically I could be a daddy (I’m not.) Yes, I am well aware that I’m past my twink stage, and potentially my gay sell-by date. But when did it become acceptable to skin my fur (I’m an otter, no?) and brand me the daddy? When did we become so obsessed with branding when dating?
Are we labelling too much?
Labels have always been something that have made me feel uncomfortable. Literally. When I was younger, my mum used to have to cut those long ones out of my school clothes. I hated them. I would do anything to shake them off, to rid myself of that annoyance. The branding.
Then, when I came out, suddenly I was to be defined by labels and stereotypes, placing myself into a box that was clarified by age, gender, masculinity, femininity, and my shape. In short, I now needed a tag to continue, an identity to make others feel comfortable knowing exactly what or who I was. It was now a label that could not be cut, severed or neatened, and it would only grow and change.
So, I conformed.
When I became a ‘twink,’ I embraced it. I enjoyed it. It was a youthful, fun and freeing label that I grew to love. I tried hard to stick to the rules of my new identity. Dieted if I felt like I was losing my shape (idiot), ran (I hate running), and shaved my body… everywhere.
I was a smooth, slim, chicken-like human, a twink, and proud (idiot.)
But, like all our labels, it was a title that I couldn’t and wouldn’t hold on to. Not just because time was a bastard, but also because of others – other people with their label gun.
If people had been quick to label you before, they were now even quicker to take that label back and stamp a new one onto you. Perhaps it made them feel better, or like they understood you more?
So, thanks to age, gravity and a beard that grew faster than my fingernails even though I had cut them two days ago (why?!), my label apparently “manned up,” grew hair and changed into…otter.
Again, I conformed, I became it. An otter. “Okay. I’ll take it!”
Never again would I be a twink. Even if I clean shaved, ran faster and had eight hours of sleep at night, I could no longer claim this as my own tag. Ever. I mourned it like I did my favourite pair of jeans that I’d worn out the crotch area in. Jeans you cling on to for so long they basically become chaps.
Otters can wear chaps, right?
So, like a butterfly coming out of the cocoon, I adopted my new persona: the otter. The label others now put onto me so that I knew my place in the race. A new box on my dating profile.
Slender but not a twiglet (occasional portraying a belly after pizza was consumed), trimmed fur and still in a younger age bracket than the next tag to come. My new identity.
My friends loved the beard (despite me claiming it was too itchy), I stopped wearing see-through tops (never okay for an otter, apparently) and got my claws into a comfortable new vibe. Was I ever really comfortable?
However, now this phase seems to have gone quicker than my previous. Quicker than I’d have liked. And definitely faster than I can run a 5K (I can’t run.) Here I am, mid-30s, and I bring you back to those five painful words: Can I call you Daddy?
The obvious answer screamed and rang around my head like the annoyance of my morning iPhone alarm (why do we all have the same one?) – NO.
“No, you cannot call me daddy, or dad, or father, or anything that implies that I’m your family or your taxi or your paycheque or your parent. I’m not.”
But I didn’t say that. I laughed (cried) and then responded: Why?
I expected a profound answer, a mathematical equation that placed me with my new label, in my new (annoying) box. A rebrand and another phase that I was about to have to get comfortable with whilst dating. The Daddy. Then he responded: Because you’re over 30!
I blinked. To these younger eyes, over 30 meant something completely different to me. I dreaded to think what would happen when I was 40, 50, 60, 70. (Stomach flips.) And then I responded, finally tired of being told what or who I was.
No, sorry, I’m not your Daddy, yet. Have a good day.
Delete. Finally, I’d reached my limit. This one would not be sticking. I wouldn’t be embracing it. I wouldn’t be conforming and, quite frankly, I’m annoyed I had up until this point.
I realized that I wasn’t his daddy, or indeed that label. I wasn’t a twink either, or perhaps not even an otter – I hated my beard. Maybe I never was? Not because of age, smoothness or the rate in which my body hair grew, but simply because I was me.
Dating as a part of the LGBTQ+ community is hard. Others can define us. They will put us into boxes, push us to disclose our labels, our tags. Many of us will offer these, and some will like them (I have a friend who loves being called Daddy.) But just because people ask, assume or inquire, doesn’t mean we have to conform. Doesn’t mean we have to adopt the uncomfortable tag in our garments, itching our neck. We don’t.
We obsess so much about who we are and what we are, but forget that it’s actually others who need the confirmation, not us. We can take our time or forget the labels completely. We don’t actually have to decide, especially not when others tell us to.
Right now, I’m Daniel. Mid-30s. Not a twink, not a daddy. The rest is unwritten, I guess. Maybe one day I’ll be a husband, a CEO, a nerd, a winner, a jock (lol – I can’t lift weights either) or a father, but they’re the labels I’ll wear when I’m ready and the time comes. Remember that before boxing in someone else in our mad world right now.
It’s our choice what label we wear. Always remember that. And, no…you can’t call me Daddy.
DANIEL HARDING is a British journalist, author, presenter and news producer. Having worked across multiple platforms and outlets, Daniel regularly writes about LGBTQ+ topics, and is an active supporter of his community. He also supports mental health awareness both within the community and outside, supporting multiple charities and events.
Daniel Harding’s debut book, Gay Man Talking – All the conversations we never had, is out on September 21, 2022.
For more information visit: www.hachette.co.uk.