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 | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • boy mark

    25 years old here, young build, and i keep myself in good shape.

    I find twink to be offensive to me, on the pure fact that I am not in that community. I can see it not being a slur in the dance/drag circuits… But I identify as a Leatherboy. and take that identification proudly.

    boy mark

    Great Lakes Leatherboy 2013

  • Sadaqah K.

    Nope. The N-word is still the N-word. Thanks for trying.

  • caphillprof

    vampires aren’t very straight

    Subject: [americablog] Re: Is “twink” the new n-word?

  • billylost

    yes, yes, yes

  • Sweetie

    Twink is not a slur. End of story.

  • http://twitter.com/JakeOrlando Jake Orlando

    “Twink” is offensive? What is happening to us?

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.rettenmund Matthew Rettenmund

    Twink can be derogatory, but it’s damn well not anything approaching a slur. This whole controversy is a joke and Andy Cohen never should have apologized.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ricksincere Rick Sincere

    If someone called me a twink, I’d be truly flattered — then I’d recommend they visit an ophthalmologist.

  • MacDaffy

    I’m almost sixty. “Twink” was a derogatory term for a guy who bailed on a commitment (mostly in sports). While I can see the sexual connotation, this is the first time I’ve seen it used as a slur about someone’s sexual preference.

  • JamesR

    YES! Those of us without visible hair feel oppressed by the word Bear. [NOT!]

    I am an American mole bear. (Though I usually only say that to bears who I think have watched wildlife documentaries)

  • JamesR

    Most twinks do not like and / or often have sex with older men, in my considerable experience. Though now I’m older I find there are some who really do LOL. Their species is twink, their proclivities are individual. To use the same word to describe a non-universal characteristic is confusing and inaccurate.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Been playing MMOs since Ultima Online. Didn’t know about that meaning.

    As for PC’ism…yeah, mostly thick-skinned and the Ignore/Block function is an absolute necessity. On the other hand, quite a few games these days have policies against racist, homophobic, or overtly sexist slurs, and to the credit of some, they’ll actually enforce them.

  • JamesR

    LOL Here’s to Natural Selection!

  • Don Chandler

    Those multiplayer games inure one to pc’ism. In fact, one must be tough skinned to be on the net.

    Origin of twink: “in the twinkling of an eye, you have full handmedown gear.”

  • MikeinSanJose

    And there’s certainly nothing Gay (or gay-ish) about these boys… http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/harry-grabs-liam-crotch

  • http://adgitadiaries.blog-city.com karmanot

    ‘Miss Thing’ was the original n-gay word.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I play MMOs (massive multi-player online role-playing games), my latest favorite being Guild Wars 2.

    ‘Twink’ has a whole different and completely non-sexual context in online gaming, and usually is taken to mean a low-level character that has in some way been enhanced through gear (weapons, armor, trinkets, etc.) that they couldn’t possibly have acquired themselves. Most often, it will be because they have a higher-level character on the same account who was able to purchase or acquire these items and then pass them over. Or, sometimes it’s a friend… and in fact in some instances in these games you might see a super-high level character guiding a lower character through areas in the game which are way over the lower level character’s abilities in terms of difficulty.

    Anyway, I find the term completely devoid of meaning outside of that decidedly non-sexual context — and so, yeah, I could see a talentless boy-band with minimal music skills having been promoted far beyond their talent and abilities being referred to as ‘twinks.’

  • http://adgitadiaries.blog-city.com karmanot

    I’ve got to catch up. I thought it was vampires and werewolves that tweens liked.

  • sazerac

    This is SUCH a ridiculous non-issue. Andy shouldn’t have apologized because there was nothing for which to apologize. Any talk that he was “forced” to apologize is silly … forced by whom? A bunch of whiny One Direction fans who twat back at his tweet? Their “fans” should pull the broomsticks out of their butts and relax. Sheesh.

  • jomicur

    I remember seeing an explanation once that “twink” is actually an acronym for “Teenage White Into No Kink.” I didn’t buy that any more than I buy the allegation that it’s some kind of “coded” slur. I had never heard of One Direction till a few weeks ago, when I (accidentally) saw a few minutes of them on some TV show or other. My immediate reaction? One more pack of twinks trying to package their twinkiness as musical talent. When I heard that Coehn had to apologize for saying something a lot milder than that, I scratched my head long and vigorously.

  • Anonymous

    I couldn’t roll my eyes harder if I tried.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Diane-Turner/100001636153165 Diane Turner

    Well ok… I always thought of “twink” as being someone very desirable certainly not as an insult.

  • Skeptical Cicada

    I agree. A twink is a young, thin, feminine-esque man. The usage does not imply anything about sex.

  • Skeptical Cicada

    OMG people are in a political correctness meltdown. I suppose “bear” is now also offensive too, right? What a dysfunctional self-oppression to declare that it deeply offensive for a gay person ever to draw upon gay slang in describing a straight person. How dare we not wallow in shameful subordination and keep our fag words to ourselves, right? Gay culture is so vile and toxic that no aspect of it must ever be universalized to heterosexuals, right? We’re to use the straight world’s straight-approved terms or none at all, right? To hell with that outrageous bigotry!

    Way to validate the outdated journalistic homophobia of refusing to ever identify anyone as gay without a signed affidavit declaring themselves to be gay.

  • http://heimaey.us/ jim morrissey

    First of all, wince when is twink a bad thing?

  • AdmNaismith

    Twink is, at best/worst, catty, but hardly the new n-word. We created it ourselves and we use it fairly freely among ourselves. It doesn’t much apply outside gay circles.

    Cohen is being catty, One Direction is being homophobic for being ‘oh, so offended’. Stop clutching your pearls One Direction, it doesn’t become you.

  • nicho

    Not at all true. I don’t know where you came up with that definition at all. That’s just silly.

  • DC

    A twink is a teenager or young man who has sex with older men. Maybe it has other meanings but that’s one of them. And calling a total stranger by a term that relates to his presumed sexual activity is insulting.

  • penpal

    It is common for good-looking, clean-cut, young men who dress well and who are straight to become targets of homophobia in a homophobic society. No doubt they have been called all kinds of gay slurs in their lives. By calling them “twinks”, Andy should have known that people would perceive it as gay-teasing, so why would he want to perpetuate a stereotype about how a straight man should act and dress and behave? It was stupid.

  • K_L_Carten

    Had no idea what the word meant, but Cohn has said twinks in the past and didn’t offer an apology, maybe the boy band asked for one? I watch the Real Housewives yeah, my one, well, three reality t.v. shows, and sometimes I can’t believe I watch that crap. Just don’t understand why it’s a big deal when he has said it before but who knows maybe he is needing some more publicity for his less than stellar shows that are coming up. I remember when Bravo had Opera’s, Broadway Plays, and some really good educational stuff, course that was when I was a kid and that stuff just don’t bring in the big bucks.

  • vonlmo

    i friggn wish i was a twink.

  • keirmeister

    Bravo TV is almost as gay a network as Logo, and that only annoys me insofar as I wished they went back to their artsy-fartsy roots. I dunno what the network’s leadership is like, but considering their programming, I have a hard time believing they are particularly homophobic.

    “Twink” is a pejorative? That word is used quite often in gay porn….or so I’ve been told.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=14820898 Kyle Carlson

    as a 26 year old gay man, please stop. this is a manufactured apology created to manufacture controversy in order to manufacture more ratings. really, had anyone heard of this band before twink-gate?

  • nicho

    Tempest meet Teapot. Go back to your homes. Nothing to see here.

  • Indigo

    I like to say I’m not worried about that, only the good die young and I’m no longer young! Wee-ha!

  • Indigo

    I was a twink and a cute one at that. Now I’m 71 years old and it just doesn’t twinkle the way it used to do. No harm.

  • JamesR

    They aren’t merely subjectively twinkie boys, they are objectively the spitting image of the dictionary definition of the word. Twinks are public knowledge, and have been for a while. Andy Cohen was perfectly entitled to use the correct words for the matching observed phenomena. He lives in a world where that’s not pejorative, it just is.

    This smells like something concocted by publicists or so-called ‘journalists’ who don’t know language and don’t know culture. Or a synthetic construct of gossip – I would like to see someone – some real person – who knows language and knows culture who really thinks the word “twink” is offensive. There may not be any.

  • dula

    Well now that young Gay men have turned being young into an actual accomplishment, being called a Twink is a compliment. The issue here must really be that this cute ‘lil boy band wants to be avoid being thought of as Gay for reasons of revenue and reputation.

  • JamesR

    Ironically, the band managers and Bravo have added to the Gayness by creating a “Streisand effect” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect by being so paranoid about The Gay and pointing and screaming.

  • https://www.facebook.com/lelio.risen leliorisen

    My gay friends usually use the term twink to describe a younger gay person. I just think it is silly to even be putting it in the same sentence as the n word, or the f word. To me, it is about as offensive as ‘queer,’ which isn’t. I mean, seriously.

  • SoLeftImRight

    I think this is so ridiculous. There is no “twink community” to offend. There are just subjectively twinkie boys. Will’s comment is right on, the issue isn’t the term, it’s that it implies gay…and I don’t even agree with that. I see “twink” as a type, said twink may, in fact, be gay or straight. All of the One Direction boys are most certainly type twink, and I don’t see anything hateful or wrong in that.

  • HKDaniel

    Is Bear derogatory?
    What about Leather Daddy?
    The new n-word??? Pffft!

  • NCMan

    Exactly. And, certainly Andy Cohen should know better than to make comments about people’s perceived sexuality when he is not actually aware of what their sexuality is. It’s not necessarily the word twink that got him in trouble. It wouldn’t have been any better for Cohen if he had come into the room and tweeted that he had just walked into a room full of young, skinny, hairless, cute, gay guys which is basically the same thing as saying he walked into a room full of twinks.

  • JamesR

    Hostess twinkies can apparently live for decades unchanged. Gay twinkies cannot. Then they use the word to describe their former selves.

    “Youth is wasted on the young.” When I was a twink I really resented that phrase. What hateful speech! Now I understand.

  • rerutled

    Related: Hostess — which makes Twinkies — is going out of business, ending the snack cake. http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/hostess-going-out-of-business

  • caphillprof

    but boy bands tend to be gay, indeed it’s the gay that turns on tween girls.

  • Will

    Isn’t the issue here that “twink” implies that they’re gay? And THAT would be such a horrible, hateful, scandalous thing to imply about a boy band – even in jest. The issue isn’t that “twink” is hate speech, the issue is homophobia. Gayness is so awful that it can never be joked about when the honor of upstanding young men such as One Direction is at stake!

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