Two 'Twinks for Trump' Art Projects with Two Very Different Goals
The names are the same, but the political ideologies of their creators couldn't be more different.
Cody Permenter is terrified by the thought of a Donald Trump presidency. Lucian Baxter Wintrich IV, on the other hand, recently posted a photo of himself near the White House on Twitter with the caption "only a few more months until daddy paints it gold."
The two share an unlikely bond: both rose to national attention this year after separately launching projects—one a parody Twitter account, the other a satirical photo series—called "Twinks for Trump." Yet their political ideologies could not be more different.
Both projects were inspired by a viral CNN video earlier this year, in which three young, twinkish men gush about Donald Trump. Their legs are spread wide for an interview that looks like a prelude to Calvin Klein's banned underwear ads from the 90s. Even their names are implausibly pornographic: Brody, Turner, and Tate.
"I offhandedly said 'LOL, look at these twinks for Trump,' and it stuck," Permenter told VICE in an email. "I created the Twitter account that night, bought 2,000 followers (which have since been zapped) and started following media people."
He began composing parody tweets that send up the idea of twinks as Trump-fetishist Republicans. "It pokes fun at the Trump campaign," he said. A representative tweet: "Trump says there'll be riots at an open convention. I'll riot if daddy doesn't give me kisses." It attracted instant headlines.
Wintrich's photo series, on the other hand, features languid, willowy men modeling "Make America Great Again" hats. In one, a shirtless young man with short shorts and protruding ribs holds a rifle, accompanied by the caption, "If someone attacks you, do not hesitate. Go for the jugular. -Donald."
"It's screwing with progressives," Wintrich told VICE, "because they say, 'we're the only people with the gay boys.'" He added that among conservatives, "there's a lot of white space for comedy and satire and culture." By combining stereotypes about the sexualization of twinks with the stereotype that such twinks are necessarily conservative, he told NBC OUT, he hopes to make people think a little differently about the face of the Republican party.
Wintrich's project saw a soft launch at a gay Republican party called "Wake Up!" at this year's Republican National Convention. The photos were included in coverage of the party from Breitbart, Red Alert Politics, Rolling Stone, OUT and others.
It wasn't his first provocative endeavor.
As an undergrad at Bard College, he started a blog called The Bard Tribune after his writings were rejected by the student newspaper. Wintrich claims that a lawyer for the school told him that his blog was perceived as a sexual threat, though he says that he doesn't recall why. "I think there was a joke about a vagina or something. It was infantile. I totally forget it," he told VICE. In a letter on page seven of a November, 2010 issue of the Bard Free Press, the college's newspaper, a student describes an anonymously-penned Bard Tribune post that described her vagina as "cold and damp" and included a link to her Facebook page before segueing to a recipe for alcoholic drinks. In a response to her letter, Wintrich describes taking the post down the day after the complaint, and dozens of "conversations" with administrators, reporters, the ACLU, and the student herself, and that his "collegiate record was tarnished," but that he received no official punishment.
"I have always had a political bent to me," Wintrich said of his work on the Bard Tribune.
At one point in our conversation, he dismissed the role of government in public health, saying there's no longer any use for government-funded HIV programs.
"I think there was when it was an original epidemic," he said, "A lot of people who had AIDS in the 1980s, a lot of them were flight attendants, and a lot of them were based in San Francisco [...] and then jumping around, spreading it around. The government had a list of names. I think a quarantine and immediate research would have been the best."
He's likely thinking of flight attendant Gaëtan Dugas, an early AIDS patient depicted unflatteringly in the book And the Band Played On. Recent research has debunked the long-held belief that Dugas was a primary vector for HIV in the United States.
After Wintrich's photos received national attention following the RNC, Permenter found that many people assumed their two projects were the same. "Trump's a racist bigot, and I wouldn't want to be associated with that," he said.
Wintrich, for his part, sees "somebody who is wonderfully uninhibited" when he looks at Trump. More generally, Lucian believes that America is exceptional because of "the notion that if you work hard, if you have a sense of ingenuity, that the only thing truly holding you back is yourself."
Nevertheless, he has on occasion feared that he might be held back by forces other than himself. Until recently, he avoided discussion of romantic partners. "I tended to be more reclusive with the guys I was seeing," he said. He noted that a company might consider his sexuality when hiring, and added, "I wanted my work to speak for itself. I didn't want to be stigmatized in any way."
In his NBC OUT interview earlier this week, Lucian revealed that he was fired after people "bombarded his office with phone calls," among other efforts, in an attempt to disrupt his life. "All I've said is I believe in small government," he said. New York state law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of political activity.
Cody has been thinking more deliberately about how to use the Twinks for Trump name for good. "I can admire his passion," Cody said of Lucian. "But it's not coming from a good place."
When I asked Lucian what Trump might do for the LGBTQ community, he responded, "what else do we need? We have marriage equality. What we don't need are Syrian refugees. Nobody wants any more Orlandos happening."
"I think the second we got marriage equality, that was a big win," he went on. "Is Roe v Wade interracial marriage? I think that's Roe v Wade. In the same way as Roe v Wade, it's completely in line with the Constitution."
Cody feels an ongoing anxiety about the future of his project. "If [Trump] actually deports 11 million people, like, do I continue the account?" he asked. "Is it still funny? ... I'd have to rethink the strategy and the account. And maybe find a way that I could help, in a way that actually did something."
He sighed. "I haven't thought it through. I just keep writing funny tweets."