Is “twink” the new n-word?

There’s a mini-brouhaha in my part of the world over a Bravo TV executive, Andy Cohen, being forced to apologize for calling members of the boy band One Direction “twinks.”

I had no idea who or what One Direction was, but just had a look, and they are twinks.

As the article about the matter explained:

The term “twinks” is said to be a slang word for young gay men and is deemed to be offensive and derogatory.

Well, yes, but.  Pretty much every word in a gay man’s arsenal can, and will, be used in a derogatory manner at some point.  Think Joey on friends being able to make any word sexual – well, gay men can turn any word catty.

Twinkie

Twinkie via Shutterstock

And while the word “twink” is used in a somewhat pejorative way, sometimes, it’s also used on some gay meet-up sites as one of a long list of categories that gay men self-identify.  Basically, it’s a young, smallish, skinny, pretty gay boy who’s quite boyish. (There’s sometimes a mindset element to it as well, but that’s a bit beyond my expertise.)

A number of us, myself and Dan Savage included, balked when we heard the Bravo exec felt compelled to apologize for using the term.  Here’s one of the things Dan tweeted:

“Twink” is a hate term. It oppresses young, skinny, and pretty gay boys. And, really, haven’t those boys suffered enough?

And as I tweeted to someone who raised the point that the word is still used in a “dismissive” way:

Yeah, but part of the whole thing about being oppressed is actually being oppressed.

Which raises me to a larger question.  Having been on the receiving end of hate speech, or let’s just call it bigoted words, I try not to be entirely dismissive when others feel they’ve been hated on.  For example, when some trans people said they didn’t like the word “tranny,” and felt it was bigoted, I think that in the end we have to take them at their word, even if many in the community, including some trans people, used the word “tranny” in a friendly and positive way.

But that does raise the question of, just like with the word twink, when does a word go from being negative or pejorative, but teasing, to full blown hate?  And when should you be forced to apologize for it?

In the case of tranny, if it wasn’t used in a hateful way, and the trans community is really that upset about it, then you say “sorry, I didn’t realize, it won’t happen again,” and that should be the end of it.  Same thing with a remark that we might take as being anti-gay.  If it wasn’t intended, if the spirit of the comment was positive, not negative, then you simply inform the person that we prefer they not use that term (such as my concern about people who use the word “homosexual”), and if they agree, that’s that.

As for “twink,” I’m just not there yet.  And I suspect, especially judging from the reaction on Twitter, that the word isn’t exactly the moral equivalent of “tranny.”   And Dan Savage reports that even the head of GLAAD, the gay group that monitors such things, the word is not a hate word.

Now that doesn’t mean we’re not being bitter old queens when we use it.  ;-)


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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