The Gay B C’s of Sex: D Is for Daddy

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Welcome to The Gay B C’s of Sex! Each month I’m defining a different sex-related term that’s used within the queer community. I’m crafting these definitions with help from queer archives, pop culture, interviews, and more. Keep in mind that terminology — especially when it comes to sex — varies widely across communities, and no single definition or article can encapsulate every individual’s experience with these terms. Use this column as a jumping off point for your own reflection and conversation in the comments.

From podcast names like “Call Her Daddy” to lyrics by Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and Lana Del Rey, the sexual use of the word “daddy” is taking over mainstream media — but calling someone “daddy” when they’re definitely not your father isn’t exactly new. People have used “daddy” in sexy scenarios for centuries, and the queer community played a special role in shaping how it’s used today.

This word has a long, rich history, and there’s no way I can paint a complete picture in one column. I’ll do my best to give you a brief overview with help from daddies and daddy-lovers of the past and present.

Are you ready to learn more? Say, “Yes, Daddy.”

daddy (n.) – an attractive (usually dominant, often older, often masculine) person OR a dominant partner who provides discipline, caregiving, and/or mentorship in a BDSM context

“Call me daddy.” — Nick in Season 3, Episode 2 of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Call me Daddy.

The Founding Daddies

The sexual use of the word “daddy” dates at least as far back as the late 17th century. According to The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, sex workers started using this word to refer to “their pimps or to an older male customer” in 1681.

Later, “daddy” became an abbreviation of “sugar daddy” to describe men of all ages. Johnathan Green, author of Green’s Dictionary of Slang, told Inside Hook that in the early 20th century, a “daddy” was someone who offered women “sex, money, material pleasures, etc.”

Daddies In Blues Music

In Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, Angela Davis writes, “African-American working-class argot refers to both husbands and male lovers — and even in some cases female lovers — as ‘my man’ or ‘my daddy.’”

Throughout the 20th century, Black American blues singers used this version of “daddy” (and sometimes “papa”) in their lyrics. Here’s what bisexual blues singer Bessie Smith had to say in her 1923 song “Oh Daddy Blues”:

“Oh, daddy, think when you’re all alone/
You know that you are getting old/
You’ll miss the way I baked your jelly roll”

And here are some lyrics from the 1924 song “Farewell Daddy Blues” by Ma Rainey, another queer blues icon who mentored Bessie Smith:

“I’m wild about my daddy, I want him all the time/
Wild about my daddy, I want him all the time/
But I don’t want you, daddy, if I can’t call you mine”

Before I move on, I want to drive this part home: The people who initially popularized the sexual and romantic use “daddy” were Black women, and many of those women — like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith — were queer. It’s also worth noting that in Black queer communities of the 1920s and 1930s, “daddy” typically referred to masculine-presenting women and transmasculine people. Without Black queer women and Black trans folks, the word “daddy” wouldn’t have become what it is today.

On the Stage and Screen

Once “daddy” became a common term of endearment and lust in popular music by Black artists, the word made its way into industries that have historically excluded Black artists and still marginalize Black artists now. Yep, I’m talking about musical theater and Hollywood. Here are two examples:

In 1938, the white, queer composer Cole Porter wrote a song for the musical Leave It To Me! called “My Heart Belongs To Daddy.” It’s about a “sweet millionaire” who provides for the musical’s ingenue (oh, and in the original production, Mary Martin sang the song while performing a striptease). The song hearkened back to earlier definitions of “daddy” as a financial provider.

The 1952 musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes leans on this same meaning of the word. In this wildly popular film, Marilyn Monroe played a showgirl named Lorelei Lee who’s engaged to a wealthy guy named Gus. And what’s Lorelei’s pet name for Gus throughout the film? You guessed it — daddy.

But while straight, white, cis folks were gleefully calling their rich lovers “daddy,” a community of leather-clad gay dudes were also claiming the term as their own.

In Early Gay Leather Culture

After World War II, gay veterans were struggling to find community, so they founded motorcycle clubs. These clubs offered camaraderie and promoted a hypermasculine, “rugged” aesthetic (think Marlon Brando in The Wild One), which was at odds with gay sterotypes of the era. The clothing and accessories worn by men in motorcycle clubs became signifiers for gay men who were open to exploring kink (leather jackets, leather boots, etc.). Sometimes their D/s dynamics took the form of “Daddy/boy” relationships, which are still part of the leather community today.

Daddy/boy dynamics vary widely. While these relationships might involve sex, BDSM, and/or father/son role play, they’re not always sexual (and they never involve actual incest). Sometimes daddies are mentors. In the introduction to Doing It For Daddy: Short and Sexy Fiction About A Very Forbidden Fantasy, Patrick Califia writes, “Too many young men still have to struggle alone with the question, What does it mean to love or want another man? What kind of person does that make me? What will it do to the rest of my life?” Having a “(Leather) Daddy” allows “boys” to receive care and guidance as they navigate their new queer identities.

In Leatherdyke Culture

When queer women and trans folks found a home in the leather community (Samois, the first lesbian S/M group in the US, was founded in 1978), they adopted Daddy/boy and Daddy/girl relationships, too. In “Leatherdyke Boys and Their Daddies: How To Have Sex Without Women Or Men,” C. Jacob Hales explains, “…’leatherdyke boys’ are adult lesbian (dyke) females who embody a specific range of masculinities intelligible within queer leather (SM) communities; their ‘daddies’ may be butch leatherdykes or, less frequently, gay leathermen.”

In 1992, the S/M group The Outcasts hosted the first Dyke Daddy contest in San Francisco. In Dagger: On Butch Women, Dyke Daddy winner B.C. Cliver says, “I don’t think dyke daddies are a fad. I think of it more as another facet of women’s sexuality that’s finally come to the surface. The feelings were always there, only now there’s a label for them. ‘Daddy’ is a lot closer to who I am than ‘Mistress.”

Like the daddies described in Hale’s article and the daddies of early Black lesbian culture, Cliver’s daddy identity is tied to masculine gender expression, and it’s also tied to caregiving. “Part of it’s being a butch top,” Cliver said. “But being a daddy means there’s a lot of tenderness involved. Maybe it allows butch dykes to give the kind of nuturing you can as a mother.”

In the 21st Century

These days, “daddy” is used both within and outside of the leather community. “Daddy” might refer to a top/Dom, a mentor, or an attractive (usually older or dominant) person of any gender or orientation. It’s also a fun title to toss into role play or BDSM. In the LGBTQ+ community, there are femme daddies, trans daddies, butch daddies, bear daddies, leather daddies, and more. In recent years, the word “daddy” has been showing up over and over again onscreen, in the news, and — true to its origins —  in music, mostly by Black women.

You’ll also find the term all over Autostraddle in articles like, “View From the Top: Daddy,” “Find Your Fit: The Non-binary Queer Ready to Be a Femme Daddy,” “Mommi Is the New Daddy,” “Hoochie Daddy Shorts, Explained,” and “Is Carol Mommi or Daddy?”, and you may have also seen the alternate spelling: “Daddi.”

Here’s what Their Excellency, Black Queer Dom has to say about the history and cultural context of this spelling:

“Daddi with an ‘i’ follows a long line of Black genderqueer and trans folks creating spaces in between language for our identities. Similar to the word ‘Boi,’ ‘Daddi’ references a specific space of genderqueer masculinity that is imbued with the energy of Blackness. I thought I was the only one using it until I met Jae Rice, a DJ and activist from Chicago. ‘Daddi’ is inherently genderqueer and rooted in the Black experience.”

In Their Own Words

I wanted to learn more about the ways queer women and trans folks are currently using the word “dadd(y/i),” so I reached out to a handful of daddies to get some perspective. Here’s what they had to say:

“To me, being a daddy is about caretaking. I thrive in that dynamic, to show up for people emotionally and physically. It’s so much deeper than just sex, though that is a huge piece of daddy identity. I consider myself a 24/7 daddy for the above reasons, and as far as sexual content goes, it’s my kink identity as well. Kink and sex are not always intertwined, but for both of those contexts, being a daddy makes me feel confident and happy. Taking care of someone during a scene, even when it’s sadistic as hell, is so satisfying. To me, being a daddy is about reinventing and reimagined masculine caretaking energy, and there’s so many layers to that.” — Cj (aka TheButchDaddy)

“I’m beachy by day and Leather Daddy by night. I enjoy becoming a character called ‘Daddy Rey.’ It allows me to feel empowered. Being a Dominant lets me have my girls practice the training of following rules and being on their best behavior. If they’re naughty, I get to use punishment to correct disobedience. This version of me gets excited because I get to wear leather pants and my polished military boots in public. These places tend to be queer kink dungeon spaces.”Joyce

“My queerness and masculinity are intrinsically connected to being a a Daddi — they always have been. Caretaking, chivalry, discipline, strength, protection, and control are all deeply embedded in good Daddies. I’ve been a gentleman since I was a little girl. It’s also what I grew up around — old school butches and Masculine of Center folx who created room for my tender strength to flourish. It’s where I found myself. This combined with being a life coach and mentor (in my day to day work) created the perfect storm for me to become a Dominant Daddi.

While many folks identify as Daddies in a sexual context (and we love to see it!), there is a BIG difference in being a Dominant Daddi or professional Daddi. Sexual Daddies tend to be tops. They enjoy giving sexually and the power play of desire. Being a Daddi is at my core, and in a kinky context, it requires tremendous discipline and comes with a great deal of responsibility. As a Daddi, I am responsible for someone’s well-being — their growth and training as a submissive. The greatest misconception about kink/BDSM is that it’s purely sexual. It is a space of power exchange and release. In the context of Black kink, it’s actually a powerful healing modality — one that I take tremendous pride in offering to Black women.” — Their Excellency, Black Queer Dom

I’m seeing lots of similarities here. For these folks, their dadd(y/i) identities are tied to dominance in a BDSM context, caregiving, and masculinity. But these are only three dadd(y/i)s, and like every other term I’ve defined so far in this series, “dadd(y/i)” can mean different things to different communities and individuals. How do you use the word “daddy?” Tell us in the comments!

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Ro White

Ro White is a Chicago-based writer and sex educator. Follow Ro on Twitter.

Ro has written 105 articles for us.


  1. Something that I realized recently that gave new perspective to this term is this:
    So for me as a white Minnesotan, outside of the contexts this article covers, “mom” “mommy” “dad “daddy” are only ever used to refer to one’s own parents. I would call my parents these terms, but never any other people. But on a recent trip to Costa Rica I realized that “papi” (essentially, daddy in spanish) is not used just for one’s own parents, but also for men of a certain age range, much the same like I’d use ma’am or sir. It was used as a generalized title, not just as a term exclusively for your own parents. While I have limited experience with non-white communities in the US, I think that is also present in some of them, where you can call someone who is yes a father, but not your own father “daddy” and the same goes for “mama” I believe. Where this I think would be linked to the use Ro points out in Blues music.
    I was wondering for years why someone not into incest roleplay would use “daddy” at all, because for my language that is so directly tied to your Own father, and the realization that other communities use the word as “father in general, or father age, or someone I’d like to be my baby daddy” really cleared up for me why “daddy” could feel okay for people who don’t want to be implying incest play

  2. Thank you for this. For me I always associate the term leather daddy with Rob Halford of Judas Priest & how he partially helped introduced the style(which he got from gay British leather shops) to the cis-het world. Does a leatherdyke or leather trans motorcycle club exist?

    I’ve seen on dating sites trans guys & trans masc folks calling themselves cat daddy is part of this or are they just a cat owner? It was hard to tell.

  3. Just wanna recommend the Eartha Kitt version of “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” because 1) talk about a Black artist who was pushed out of Hollywood, and 2) her songs were definitely part of my sexual awakening. She’s so liberated in her identity and her sexuality – I could feel it even through just listening to cassette tapes of her voice as a child. As a grown Black femme, learning about her career and life has been really inspiring. What a model of powerful (and Black as hell) femininity!

  4. Such a fantastic piece! Thank you!! Would have loved even more reflections on the kind of Daddy in the amazing illustration accompanying the article—seasoned, strong, brooks no nonsense, tender when you need it, comes correct, mother superior, *femme is what Daddy is to me. Takes all kinds ;)

  5. Enjoyed this article – thank you. Being back in the dating scene after 15 years, it’s been a tsunami of new verbiage and terms that I’m having to learn. This article has provided a little light to this new journey I’m on. Cheers!

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