I’m on my way to the lesbian cougar meet-up. Words that, I realize, have a certain ‘spam folder’ ring to them. It is daylight out, but the queer cougars convene in the basement of a dark blues bar with astroturf colored pool tables and formica counter-tops stained by nicotine (decade of anti smoking laws be damned.)

The copy on the queer cougar site was direct, “Are you an older woman who enjoys younger women but can’t seem to figure out where to meet them? Are you a younger women who is attracted to older women? Well, now there’s finally a way to FIND each other.”

I don’t normally troll meetup.com for women. But I am interested in the queer May-December romance. There is one school of thought that the queer age-gap is more accepted because same sex couples are already doing something outside the norm — so it’s just an extra layer of deviance to celebrate.

Do I even need to mention that in the gay male world this has long been celebrated? That there is an entire swath of lingo to describe the phenomenon like “chicken-hawk” and “twink.” I realized recently that I have solely dated or slept with women a few years younger than me. I identify as fluid or bisexual or, ehm, “fun”… and I am curious (just never bi-curious) if this is common.

Is there more acceptance of age gaps in the queer world? Do lesbian cougars really exist? If so, could they give me some tips?

When I arrive at the bar a woman named Judith, who has small wire glasses and short neon blue hair wraps, waves me over. I introduce myself, as ‘just the writer’ and we start talking about what she is here for. Unsurprisingly, she’s here for younger women.

“There is something about women at 27 or 28” she says. “They are young but they know themselves, they are grounded. Plus, I need someone who can stay up having sex all night.” Judith’s eyes glitter and wrinkle at the corners. She looks like someone you might find yourself in an orgy with at an acid-fueled pre-Burning Man loft party. I am surprised when she tells me she is 60 years old — because she looks younger and also because, to my surprise, I was sort of into imagining that whole Burning Man orgy scenario. She seems like someone you could connect with afterward, discussing the astrological “phenomenon” of Saturn Return over e-cigarettes.

As I stare into the space of the dark club, this is all starting to make sense.

Another ‘cougar’ in a sleeveless white dress with brown toned arms and matching first-lady-esque hair nods. “I am just looking for someone to keep up with my energy, y’know?” she says. I squint at the familiarity of this statement. It reminds me of what my college roommate’s boyfriend would say. Admittedly, he was the one who was 45 and bought us margaritas with unrequested double shots — ‘date rape shots’ — at the only Mexican restaurant that would serve us. Coming from this woman the sentiment is far less creepy, though. I officially let it slide when she tells me she has just gotten out of a marriage with a man. She’s had one girlfriend so far. I sip my beer, and wonder if that is how it always works. You start with the younger, dumber ones to save yourself the embarrassment that comes with making-it-up-as-you-go during those first couple face-first dips beneath the sheets.

Later I would search the New York City Craigslist LGBT forum for the words “chicken hawk” and found posts, so someone is still using the term. In one a user reminisced about a 1970s gay club that once let teens in, but separated them from the bar with chicken-wire. Now-of-days, I learned, there are virtual complements like DaddyHunt, SilverDaddies.com and even some smart phone apps. I started asking around and learned that in New York an IRL chicken-hawk bar culture still exists (minus the fenced-in JB section. I think.) My friend Micky, a 24-year-old fashion writer, recommended a place to me, a “gentleman’s club” in Manhattan. The website describes it as a place for “mature men and those who appreciate them.”

Aptly, apparently. I stand outside the bar in Midtown, smoking a cigarette to work up the nerve to go in. The doors are gold and heavy and on them a dress code is etched in cursive. I sigh, toss the cigarette and glide through them. From the backroom I can hear a man singing and playing piano. As I make my way there, rows of platinum hair at the bar turn to look at me, the sole woman here in white chiffon. I sit in the backroom and order a drink, attempting to banter with the bartender asking: ‘are women allowed to sit here?” but coming off more concerned than charming. Warren, a tipsy, and youthful looking 50-year-old in a ball-cap sits next to me. “You came too early for the meat market” he teases. I tell Warren I intend to inquire about this meat. He estimates that about 80% of the younger guys come here looking specifically for someone older. He points to a secluded hallway area with chairs and tropical potted plants – “that is where the rent boys hang out.”

Walter introduces me to a mutual friend of his who is tan with white teeth and entirely botoxed face except for some perfectly placed eye-area wrinkles. He explains that this area used to be crowded with bars like this one but this sort of scene isn’t the norm anymore. In New York, post-AIDs, it was thrown out with the bath-house.

I wonder if the gay rights movement is also at all responsible for the image clean-up. As the gay community vies for the same basic rights that straight people have are they forced to play by those straight rules? Maybe. Or maybe not, as this man gives me a warning about bringing home those house-plant hanging-around house-boys — “I always hide the valuables quickly when I get back to the apartment. I once lost a Cartier watch for three years, I hid it so well!”

With only a handful of members showing up the cougars decided to play a game of scrabble. I inquired about the younger women who have come to these things, and Judy says that last time a 19 year-old showed up and said she was looking for someone to show her the ropes. I wonder, who is taking power in that situation? More importantly – did she stay for scrabble?

‘Keeping up with someone’s energy’ is bullshit I have decided. I may be drunk, but it is true. The center of any May-December romance is power and money — which is delicious and which is what gives the whole thing its taboo. And call me greedy, but I think I want to be the one with the power. I sigh into my beer. I realize I am not going to hit on one of these cougars.

As I lean in my chair over the scrabble board, I chat with a baby-faced woman in her thirties as we played scrabble. She likes older women. Her last girlfriend was in her mid sixties. “A woman who is older is a woman who has come into herself. It is in her walk, the way she carries herself. There is no moral-floundering, no questioning every aspect of her life. It just is. She is. And that is the hottest thing in the world.”

The cougar in pop-culture is, I guess, in her prime. Hetero “Cougar speed dating” is a strangely popular concept in New York – I suppose they are looking for men who can keep up with them? There are also cougar clubs all over the country, and an annual cougar cruise and a Miss Cougar USA pageant. Although, when I looked into a Chicago cougar club last year, I discovered it was started not by a cougar but the same guy who runs the cougar cruise and Miss Cougar contest (and lives in California.) Cougar-dating may be a marketing ploy, but age disparity in relationships is a real thing. As well as a porn-genre. Plus, there are celeb-examples: Linda Parry (formerly of 4 non blondes) and Sara Gilbert (formerly Darlene on Roseanne) have a 10 year gap. Rumoured couple Joan Jett and Carmen Electra shared 13. And Rachel Maddow and Susan Mikula have 15 year difference. Marc Jacobs and Anderson Cooper’s respective paramours are a given.

I did find a 2008 study from the Journal of Lesbian Studies showing that when May-December lesbian relationships happen, the value the lesbian community places on egalitarianism impacts these couples, often negatively. (Late memo to the bisexual.) Similarly, a 1990 study published in the Journal of Homosexuality found that there were, in fact, power-sharing arrangements among lesbian couples studies — but among them egalitarianism between the couple was still considered ideal.

The lesbian cougars agree that the whole thing is not exactly accepted. Nor do they want it to be. “Who wants to feel like what they are doing isn’t a little bad?” says one of them. As she says it, we are still just playing Scrabble.

Rachel Rabbit White is an internet journalist, essayist and twitterist. She writes about sex, gender, relationships and other things you aren’t supposed to talk about.

Pics via AMC/ABC