Deconstructing the Self-Loathing and Desire Surrounding the Word 'Twink'

Young, thin gay men talk about being fetishized and derided by the larger homosexual community.

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Feb 24 2015, 4:12pm

Photos by Sam Clarke

For the first decade of my life as a gay man, countless older homosexuals branded me as a twink. For those outside the gay world, the term probably conjures up images of those Hostess desserts—vanilla cake on the outside, sweet and creamy in the center. Similar to those treats, twinks are usually white, smooth, and everyone wants to eat their insides. But the word is not really one of endearment. Just as soon as an older gay would jump at the chance to rim the asshole of one of those "hairless manboys," he'd also deride the twink for his over-the-top flamboyancy.

Being labeled a twink is like getting the scarlet letter of the gay universe. The first time I remember being called one was at a grimy, now defunct gay strip club in Oakland, Florida, called Oz when I was 18. A geezer who looked like the Penguin in Batman Returns mistook me for one of the gay dancers whipping their dicks around for dollars and yelped out, "Twink!" The way it rolled off his tongue stung. I could sense his lust and his scorn. And it made me, a young gay man just coming into his own, feel kind of small. From then on, I endured a constant stream of twink-calling—especially when I made the mistake of wearing cutoff shorts or a tight-fitting white T-shirt. It wasn't until last summer that it finally stopped, thanks to a beard and chest hair (which has, unfortunately, earned me another derogatory moniker—otter).

Because many homosexuals have internalized society's hatred for feminine gay men, being labeled a twink means you embody all of their self-loathing, even if you make their dicks hard in the process. The problem is that even though everyone talks about twinks, masturbates to twinks, and wants to fuck twinks, we rarely ever hear from twinks themselves. To figure out what twinks think about the way they are fetishized and criticized in the gay community, I interviewed a bunch of young gay men in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They talked about how they feel about the term and why, as one twink told me, " Twink isn't a four-letter word."

John Tuite, model and writer

VICE: Where did you first hear the word twink?
John Tuite: Porn.

Do you identify as a twink?
Obviously not.

Does it bother you that you look like a twink?
I feel like if you let it bother you, you're letting the word beat you. The fact that the gay community could come up with a word that's so derogatory—and has a negative connotation for being young, thin, and attractive—shows how self-loathing the whole gay community is.

When did you realize twink was a bad word?
Just from people's tones and the kind of things that they would say when anyone says stuff like, "You're a twink." It's always looking down on someone.

Do men objectify you because of your twinkiness?
Not only gay men—but straight women, too. If anyone tries to touch me or talk to me like that, I'm walking the fuck away.

Do you worry about the day when you will no longer have a twinky body?
I lift weights all the time, but no matter how much I work out, I weigh the same.

Does aging scare you, though?
Kind of, actually. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I'm like, Holy shit, I look like my dad. That's scary, but that's something everyone deals with.

Do you feel like gay culture both idolizes and hates youth?
I think they're just jealous. I'm tall and lanky, and I have no ass. If that makes me a twink, then so be it. But I think the important thing is that there's nothing attractive about a 30-year-old twink. You can't be a twink forever—that's just kind of messed up.

Do you think people want to be twinks forever?
Yeah, once they're old, they're desperate and clinging on to this stupid concept of twinkdom. The only people who would call themselves twinks are old and desperate and perverts.

Benjamin Sands, student

When did you first hear the word twink?
Benjamin Sands: When I was realizing I was gay. So 13, 14.

Do you identify as a twink?
Yeah.

Why?
Because that's what I've been told.

Why do you think they call you twinky?
I still fall into that [body-type] category, and I feel like the way that I look [makes guys] expect me to be submissive, so it's fun to play with that.

How do you play with the submissiveness?
That comes through in the sexual arena, and it's more nuanced. I would say that I'm a pretty outgoing, aggressive person. But it takes a while for that to come out. So it's getting to know people and letting them see other, more intense sides of me. I come across as more submissive at first.

Do you think everyone assumes a twink is a bottom?
Yeah, definitely.

Is that fair?
No, I definitely don't think that. I remember one time I was dating a guy—and this was when I was basically just a top—and he made a huge deal about the concept of a twink top and how we're like unicorns.

Do you ever worry about what's going to happen when you age?
I've actually thought about that—the trope of the aging twink. It's viewed as dismal, but I think that just comes with the lifestyle and how you carry yourself and what situations you put yourself into. If you're a 30-year-old twink and still acting like you're 21 and being really sloppy, that's when negative connotations can come to it. But I don't worry at all.

Do you see the word twink as both a compliment and an insult?
I don't think I'd ever be insulted if someone called me a twink—that's lazy. That's a lazy insult. There are so many other things you could come to me with.

Do you perceive it as a loaded term?
I totally understand whatever it carries, but why, like, would you give a fuck about that? Eat my ass.

Victor and Dean, Juilliard dance students

How do you feel about the word twink?
Victor: It's a confusing term because I think there are a lot of people who are considered twinks, but I think it's a word that is used to encapsulate a large percent of skinny young gay guys. Just because you're skinny and young and gay doesn't mean that you're a twink.

Dean: I agree that it's a generalization for a large group of people, and I don't think it's fair to classify a certain type of person just because of a definition of a word. I do also think that it insinuates submissiveness. But I don't completely agree with that either. I like to be dominant and submissive. I like a balance.

Does the submissive stereotype bother you?
Victor: Well, in my case, I think it's true.

Why do you think people automatically assume you're submissive?
Victor: Because we're small.

Dean: Yeah, because we're small.

Are you comfortable with being called a twink?
What I've been trying to get at is I think it's a word that we could very well be [labeled], and I see that often. But I don't want that word to cage us. I don't think it does. I don't think it ends there. Yeah, there are aspects of us that are twinky, but there's much more than just that.

Harry Koepp, student

Do you identify as a twink?
Harry Koepp: I think it would be really gross to self-identify as a twink, but I can definitely see it.

Why do you look like a twink?
I'm skinny. I'm gay. I've been gay for a long time, so I was like a gay child, basically. And I still look like a gay child even though I'm 21.

What's your take on the old men who call you a twink on the street and in bars?
I think they are jealous of us. And I think that they really want to hit it, and when they can't, they get that man-rage thing. It's like the equivalent of straight guys seeing really hot girls that they're never gonna fuck and then getting mad.

Does everyone assume you're a bottom?
Just to set the record straight, I am not a bottom. I think that you can enjoy something without defining yourself as that. It's definitely something I enjoy, but it's not the only thing I enjoy. That would be limiting myself, you know?

Do you worry about what's going to happen when you're no longer a twink?
No. I think that I'm charming enough that even if I get disgusting, people will still want to fuck me.

Follow Mitchell Sunderland on Twitter, and see more photos by Sam Clarke here.

Makeup by Mara Palumbo, who made these twinks twinkle.

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