On ‘Twink’ Fetishism

David Barnard

 

 

What/who is a twink? Take a moment to conjure up an image for yourself. Perhaps the kind of person you imagine is young, white and avert to ‘kinks’. This is, after-all, the description encapsulated in the acronym (T. W. I. N. K). Perhaps you imagine a Cardi B- listening, vodka-drinking, innocent (but sexually eager) young person in their early twenties. No matter the image you conjure up, certain traits will form part of the person you imagine. The ‘twink’ is an entity or, shall I rather say, point of intersection between whiteness, youthfulness and hypersexuality (but not conceived ‘sexual deviancy’). These three abstracted traits of the ‘twink’ are the fabricated criteria for the classification of a particular kind of person that identifies as ‘gay’. The traits of whiteness, youthfulness and sexual insatiability are either ascribed to a particular person or observed in that person and henceforth they become objectified. This objectification of the person called a ‘twink’ is, however, very unique. The hypersexuality or sexual insatiability ascribed to the ‘twink’ is a kind of overvaluation of the objectified person.

The ascribed and fabricated hypersexuality of the ‘twink’ is a special kind of value that this particular objectified person has. The ‘twink’ is always ready to give, always ready to receive; always insatiable. Valued by their hypersexuality, the ‘twink’ is an endless and inexhaustible source of sexual gratification. The ‘twink’ is treasured as being endowed with a libido that will not quit. The sexual value placed on the ‘twink’ is well summarized in the lyrics of the song ‘Power Bottom Twinks’ by Shmeur:

Where the drinks at?
Bottoms up, bottoms up
Where the twinks at?
Faces down, bottoms up
Raise your glasses high
Bottoms up, bottoms up
Raise your, raise your asses high
Let me see them bottoms up (Shmeur 2018)

The song captures something important about the overvaluation of the ‘twink’ as an objectified person. The ‘twink’ is stereotypically portrayed as a person that takes the feminine position in sexual activity with their ‘asses’ always ‘raised up high’. This kind of overvaluation transforms the person deemed  a ‘twink’, from an object of same-sex object choice, into a fetish. The twink-fetish is highly prized and can be seen from twink nights at ‘gay’ bars to pornography, from casual conversation to popular culture. Affection for the ‘twink’ is everywhere to be seen and heard. The ‘twink’s’ unique and almost supernatural sexual powers are celebrated and revered. To point out that the twink-fetish is revered is only part of the story. There is more to ‘twink’ fetishism than affection for the hypersexualised twink-fetish.

Treating the twink-fetish with a sense of affection and reverence is oftentimes accompanied by a simultaneous hostility. In other words, the twink-fetish is treated in a bisected manner. In the 1927 essay on ‘Fetishism’, Freud argues that fetishism is comprised of a bisected treatment of the fetish:

To point out that he reveres his fetish is not the whole story; in many cases he treats it in a way which is obviously equivalent to a representation of castration. […] Affection and hostility in the treatment of the fetish – which run parallel with the disavowal and the acknowledgment of castration – are mixed in unequal proportions in different cases, so that the one or the other is more clearly recognizable. (1927: 157)

Issues of castration aside, it is clear that,  as described in classical psychoanalytic theory in particular, the fetish is treated in a bisected manner. The same bisected treatment can be seen in cases of ‘twink’ fetishism. I recently spoke to a friend of mine and they brought up the idea that the ‘twink’ is considered a ‘gold-digger’ in certain social circles. The ‘twink’ is insulted for instrumentalising his hypersexual powers to achieve some kind of financial status or to gain access to the comfortability that goes hand-in-hand with having a ‘sugar daddy’. Furthermore, because of the ‘twink’s’ apparently inexhaustible libidinal powers, it is understood that the ‘twink’ will never say ‘no’ to sex. If a person’s advances (a few drinks as sign of courtship) are rejected by the ‘twink’, the ‘twink’-seeking person could become enraged or hostile. ‘How dare you reject me’, we can imagine the ‘twink’-seeking person to be saying, ‘I am offering you sex! Is that not what you want?’ It is almost as if the twink-fetish, in the eyes of the ‘twink’-seeking person, is denied a right to consent. In a lot of cases, the attitude is that the ‘twink’ has a particular function: providing pleasure. Even when the roles are apparently reversed, the ‘twink’ is still hypersexualised. When the person considered to be a ‘twink’ is talking to someone, it is immediately assumed that the purpose of the conversation is for the ‘twink’ to obtain sexual satisfaction. ‘Why else would that twinkie be talking to me?’ The stereotype of the ‘twink’ as overly sexual is an assumption which either protects a person from the apparent hypersexuality of the ‘twink’ or gives someone license to exploit that (apparent) hypersexuality.

In addition to these possible kinds of hostility towards the ‘twink’, the twink-fetish is also infantilised. The ‘twink’ is revered for their youth, but is also treated as a child. On the one hand, the ‘twink’ is a fully-fledged sexual object and is, under the theme of sex, considered sexually mature. On the other hand, the ‘twink’ is considered inexperienced, immature and naïve when it comes to so-called non-sexual dimensions of life. Either as supposed ‘gold-digger’ or immature man-child, the twink-fetish is treated with a sense of hostility.

The hypersexuality and youthfulness of the twink-fetish is viewed as both a motive for love and affection and reason for contempt and humiliation. The twink-fetish is treated as both a love-object and an object of hostility, as an inexhaustible youthful source of pleasure and an infantile financial risk. So, where does this leave the ‘twink’ (either the person identifying as a ‘twink’ or the person involuntarily assigned twinkness/twink-value)? Oftentimes the divided sentiment towards, and bisected treatment of, the twink-fetish leaves the person (considered to be a ‘twink’) estranged. The kind of estrangement I have in mind is one where the ‘twink’ is sometimes left without the agency to self-create; i.e. the person considered to be a ‘twink’ cannot navigate their own identity. It is almost as if the ‘twink’ is given an identity by others. The twink-fetish is exactly that: a fetish. Their identity is that of a set of ascribed characteristics that is inescapable until they reach a certain age. Being a ‘twink’ is being a fetishised entity that has been stripped of their authorial capacity for identity-creation (in certain dimensions of life). This, I assume, is the result of transforming a subject with creative agency into a fetishised object. The person that identifies as a ‘twink’, however, still retains a sense of creative agency because they actively choose to identify as a ‘twink’. In this way, the person that identifies as a ‘twink’ is not necessarily stripped of authorial capacity in identity-creation but remains a fetish (treated in a bisected manner). The situation is different in cases where the person does not identify as a ‘twink’ but is still treated as twink-fetish. These persons are stripped of a certain capacity to self-create in a community or in certain social circles. Both the person that identifies as a ‘twink’ and those who do not are subjected to a divided sentiment and accompanying bisected treatment – both with a sense of hostility and affection.

Twink fetishism is dangerous, for one, exactly because it is a superimposition of value and characterisation onto a certain person. It incapacitates certain people to self-create in various circumstances. Furthermore, twink fetishism oversees a set of hostilities towards the twink-fetish that is not necessarily based on any observable evidence. In other words, a person is given a set of traits (most often not by themselves) and then treated in a hostile manner because of these ascribed traits. The person considered a ‘twink’ is estranged and disempowered because of fetishisation. When I now ask you to reimagine the ‘twink’, who do you envision? Perhaps you still see a white, youthful, hypersexual young person. However, perhaps the image has changed slightly. Maybe you no longer see the image of the ‘twink’ as a neutral, innocent, fabricated characterisation of a particular person. Perhaps you can see that the ‘twink’ is not a concrete entity within the LGBTQIA+ community but rather a mythical being endowed with a fictional set of traits and an unrealistic, fabricated value.

 

II

First of all, grindr (as an app) did not always exist. There was a time when you only had one evening a week to meet other gay men. These evenings were an opportunity to ‘hunt’ other men. Babylon the Club was Woolworths in the sense that it was a place where the finest meats were stocked and bought at high prices (including entrance fees and drinks for your prospective sexual object). Etc. (as a gay bar) was the Pick ‘n Pay, so to speak. Anthropologically, it was truly difficult to navigate the social dynamics. Age is truly a matter of gambling when it comes to us gays. Everything is about age. The thing we fear the most are the pestering and taunting visions of wrinkles. That and the hate the community has for those considered a bit overweight. This aside, social fluency and literacy was absolutely important; in fact, I would go so far as to say that sociality is even more important than those negating factors. Sociality meant that you could have first pick of the meat available. This ‘hunting’ continued until at least first traffic gust. An evening of tequila-fuelled and socially-hierarchised debauchery. Men would sit around and scout for the most delicious morsel in the club. Most important was not to get drunk. No-one goes home with a drunk fool. Your meat must be drunk, beer-googles are important; the key was for the hunter not to be drunk. Waking up the next morning and seeing who you woke up with, is sometimes a great disappointment. After all, the sex was important. You being attractive was important. A first boyfriend, Ulrich, tried to move from Cape Town to move in together. Pretty and sexy. Completely mad. So, perhaps beauty was not that important. I met another boy, the best top; now an exclusive bottom. He did not have to gym, he was naturally toned. Thought it was a one-night stand. I was wrong. Don’t know how you got access to my apartment building. But, when I opened the door, there he was. Soon I was completely smitten. His six-pack was delicious. I was not ready to commit (in the sense that I wanted to live with him).  Then, another. His parents kicked him out of the house at age 16 given that the homophobia was absolutely rife in that household. I met him at Babylon, I was smitten. He had a boyfriend but added me on BBM. After breaking up with his boyfriend (the opportunity to be with him), I still chose the six-pack. I became insecure soon after. BBM boy and six-pack became best friends. The fuckers. My friend (later an utter traitor) dated a pilot. The pilot was never there and my friend quite alone. They knew my friend was gay; I was just good at hiding it. My friend and I were both filmmakers (or at least that is what we believed). He applied at my company. He contacted six-pack and told him to ask me not to be angry. I simply replied: “he better not tell anyone at work that I’m a fag.” BBM boy was getting closer and closer to six-pack. I thought that my six pack was being licked all over BBM. I walked into the club and my friends asked me where my six-pack was hiding. I looked around and couldn’t find him at first. Then, there he was. Sipping drinks on BBM. A mutual dispersion ensued. Soon after I invited my dear six-pack for a cup of coffee; he had moved on. A few weeks later, I called for another cup. Twice he denied my affections; heartbroken. By this time grindr was a reality. However, it was only for the golden oldies. I thought the app was simply a phase. One evening, in Babylon, six-pack was there. We simply ignored one-another. He truly hated my brother with a burning passion. Again, soon after, I was back in Babylon. Heartbroken and at a miss for my six-pack. Then, I met another. Gilbert had the best personality, the sexiest ass. Skinny enough. Good dancer. When we entered the VIP section, we kissed. Goodbye six-pack. Gilbert wanted to come to my place. I rejected. I wanted to do this properly. It wasn’t a matter of fucking, I wanted us to have dinner at my place the next day. This one liked my brother; my brother seemed to like him. Woke up the one morning to find them playing video games and giggling together. Warmed my heart; it felt like a kind of familial acceptance. Took us a week to have sex, though. He was the first boy I had sex with that was circumcised. Never mind that. He had the most beautiful ass. Best bottom this side of the Apies river. Soon after, my six-pack contacted me. Apparently he had made the greatest mistake of his life. This time, thank god, I convinced myself I no longer wanted a six-pack. Gilbert, my (later) treacherous friend and six-pack knew each other well. This incestuous community was difficult to navigate. Gilbert was on anti-depressants but he just made me so happy. Marijuana and anti-depressants, it turns out, are not the best bed-fellows. He got lazier and left for his parents’ place. He broke up with me via message; soon after, I was hungry for my six-pack. The next time I saw Gilbert, dancing on the Babylon floor, I walked up to him and made sure he would bring up my six-pack. I told him, I’ve been taking body shots for at least two weeks now; after all, a six-pack is the best place from which to take such shots. Six-pack moved in. He hated my brother. He had to go. Why the fuck did he even complain about the dishes? My brother and I were bachelors, not suburban housemen. To make it clear, my mother gave me money to buy a bed. I did not use all of it to pay for the bed. Six-pack hated the cheaper bed. Well, I’m sorry. Drinking money had to come from somewhere. I was a student. Alcohol and students are two sides of the same coin. I had priorities. Again, my six-pack was gone; he did not move out, but he was gone. This time, my heart was not broken. We were always civil, which is weird given the living arrangements. We would rotate dinner shifts and then we would simply go to our separate rooms. I always made sure his bed was ready. Still, my brother was so elated when the six-pack left. I always used a condom, he didn’t. We both slept around while we were still under the same roof, in civility. Again, I returned to Babylon. This time, the dancefloor was home to another boy. He had the most wonderful lesbian friend. For now, let’s call him Franz. I remember giving him a blowjob in his car. Franz and I went to my home one night. His lesbian friend was in the guest bedroom while we were eating each other in the lounge. He later become quiet, the messages weren’t coming through (I think). I saw six-pack again upon another occasion. He knew that Franz and I were now eating each other out. Six-pack fell in love with another older man. Never thought too much of this twink-magnet I call a wrinkle. Still, sex with Franz was indescribable. In his eyes, we were to die together. I wanted to leave him desperately but I couldn’t. Well, at least for a while. All it took was one whole bottle of vodka and Franz was given the boot. Jumping from one heartbreak to the next. From one boredom to the next. From the one gay cousin to the next. It was, sadly, always a competition. Who could fuck the hottest guy. When it came to dating, it was a matter of your partner’s occupation and whether he was a trust-fund baby. We are competitive, it is sad to say. It was like a race, one, I think, is hard to reminisce about. Luckily, grindr is now the meat-market with the greatest variety; one which is seemingly inexhaustible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

Freud, S. (1927). ‘Fetishism’. In: The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (trans. James Strachey), Vol. XXI. London: The Hogarth Press, pp. 152-157.

Shmeur. (2018). Power Bottom Twinks. (lyrics)