Gallophilic Cultural Posturing: A Case Study

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Getting the Gay Labels Straight - Part 2, cont.

I have no idea why I set myself these huge projects when there’s not much demand, especially as the person who originally took issue with my usage of one of the labels is almost certainly not reading these posts.  Oh, well…it’ll be good to have something to refer people to in the future if need be.  Anyway, before you continue, definitely read the first part of Part 2 if you haven’t already, and consider reading the Introduction and Part 1 as well.  Standard disclaimers involving naughtiness apply as always.  I think that particularly applies to this post, because today I’ll be talking extensively about (pseudo)ephebophilia and that may make some people uncomfortable.

It’s funny that Tumblr’s spellchecker doesn’t even recognize ephebophilia as a word, because I think that’s reflective of how little that word sees use.  As I was considering different topics of discussion regarding the twink aesthetic, it occurs to me that I’d have to bring up another stereotype of gay men, one considerably more dangerous in its implications than that of the flaming queen - the characterization of gay men as pedophiles.  First, distinguishing some terms:

pedophilia ≠ ephebophilia ≠ pederasty

This is one of those instances where I wonder if I’m being too elementary, but given the subject matter I believe it bears mentioning.  Pedophilia and ephebophilia are both technical terms designating love for - and, in common usage, sexual attraction to - minors, with the key distinction being the age of the minors under consideration.  Pedophiles are attracted to pre-pubescent minors, while ephebophiles are attracted to pubescent ones.  Most people are significantly less bothered by (consensual) ephebophlia - the term “jailbait” wouldn’t exist otherwise, complimenting those who are legally off limits for the time being - and for obvious reasons: puberty is a biologically determined event/process, whereas age of consent is socially determined and therefore always somewhat arbitrary.  Acting as if it is uniformly set at 18 seems to be a standard of American media, though the actual age of consent even within the US varies by state (It’s 17 in Louisiana where I live, for instance).

Pederasty, on the other hand, is technically a type of ephebophilia, though it’s not a technical term so much as a description of a particular relationship model between (in most cases) a teenage boy and an adult man.  Though pederastic traditions have existed in a number of cultures worldwide, pederasty in ancient Greece is undoubtedly the most (in)famous and has been the most influential on contemporary Western gay culture.  In brief, Greek pederastic relationships were ideally a form of mentorship, with the older erastes (lover) acting as a secondary father figure and preparing his eromenos (beloved) for military life, civic participation, and/or sexual relations with both men and women.  Assorted texts also discuss other elements, including a type of courtship associated with pederasty as well as the sexual behaviors considered acceptable in these relationships (anal sex, incidentally, not being one of them, as it was viewed as abusive and, should a young man continue bottoming into adulthood, emasculating).  It should be emphasized above all that Greek pederasty was not pedophilic.  However, the similarity of those two words probably contributed to their confusion, and the preeminence of the ancient Greek texts as the primary representations of male homosexuality in the Western world helped along the assumption that all gay/bi men were pederasts (and, via confusion and no small amount of moral indignation, pedophiles.  Voilà le stéréotype.

In any case, though Greek pederasty in its original form doesn’t fare all that well in the presence of the modern conception of sexual orientation - to say nothing of age of consent - a notable number of gay/bi men pursue sexual relationships with a similarly large age disparity.  The incentive for older men is really no different from that of their straight counterparts pursuing younger women: they desire young and attractive partners even as they become increasingly less so.  For those who recall my conjectures in the first twink post regarding the possible emotional and social forces that encourage young men to adopt the twink aesthetic, their motives shouldn’t be too hard to discern either.  Older men (“older” here being incredibly relative - I know men in their mid 20s who profess an attraction to younger twinks) represent a means of social and sexual initiation into a subculture that, thanks to heterosexism and homophobia, can be daunting to enter without some assistance.  True to their pederastic forefathers, many of these older men also become - consciously or not - father figures to their regular twink lovers, giving them the love and appreciation denied to many of them by their homophobic biological fathers.  

While not all twinks participate in these pseudo-pederastic/ephebophilic relationships, it is a common enough phenomenon to develop its own lingo: older men who prefer twinks are called daddies (insert Oedipus complex-related remark here), older men who would use money to maintain a boy (sometimes called a kept boy or boy toy - I don’t make this stuff up, don’t look at me) are called sugar daddies like their straight counterparts, and these sorts of arrangements are sometimes called dad/lad relationships - hooray for rhyming.  In addition, not all such relationships involve the older topping the younger, though that’s common and quite a few non-twinks seem to assume that twinks are automatically bottoms - an assumption that has led to some hilarious misunderstandings among some of my acquaintance.

I think I’ll spare you any anecdotes on that point, as I’ve rambled on about twinks long enough.  The next post, which will actually be Part 3 this time, will be addressing a much more rugged and, contrary to popular imagery, more physically diverse group: the hairy assortment of animals collectively referred to as the bear community.