twink responsibly

Is ‘twink’ a slur? The hard truth.

gay couple walking away together

If you’re gay, thin, don’t have very much body hair, and are on the younger side, you’ve probably been called a “twink” before. It’s a term that’s as ubiquitous in the gay community as “top” and “bottom”, and it’s just as loaded. And while some people embrace the term, others take offense to it. 

So, is the word “twink” a slur? Should you be offended the next time someone calls you a twink? Or is it just another part of gay culture? Here, we dive into the history of the word and attempt to find out if the word belongs in the gay lexicon in 2022.

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What Is A Twink?

According to the Urban Dictionary, a “twink” is usually considered a “homosexual male with attractive, boyish qualities. Typically from the ages of 18 to 25, and often thought of as a young, white, fashionable male”. 

Gay angry teenager couple looking back to surprised woman

Where Did The Term ‘Twink’ Originate?

The origins of the slang term “twink” are rather muddy. There is no official etymology for the term, but there are countless theories.

The most popular theory – for obvious reasons – is that “twink” is a shortened version of “Twinkie”, Hostess’ snack cake that’s “white, sweet to the taste, cream-filled and offers no nutritional value”. You can easily see why people make the connection, but linguists remain skeptical. 

In fact, the only real connection Twinkies have with the LGBTQ community is a dark one – the man who was convicted of assassinating gay activist and politician Harvey Milk claimed that, at the time of the killing, he was in a diminished mental state – pointing to his high consumption of unhealthy foods like Twinkies as “evidence”. Thus the existence of the legal slang “Twinkie defense”, which describes an outlandish or highly improbable legal defense.

While “twink” may not be a shortened form of “Twinkie”, some believe that the gay slang may be shorthand for “twinkletoes”. A 1919 novel of the same name centers on the story of a young female dancer who goes by the nickname “Twink”. 

The term “twinkletoes” also shows up in a 1972 book called The Queens’ Vernacular, which describes someone who you call “twinkle-toes” as an “effeminate person”, kind of like how “fairy” and “princess” do the same.

By 1975, “twink” appeared in Drummer Magazine, a publication dedicated to leather and S&M culture. In it, “twink” was defined as the “submissive” or “masochist” in S&M relationships.

How “twink” evolved from “effeminate” and “submissive” to “thin, hairless, and young” isn’t clear, but a 1978 language survey called the Maledicta related the term “twinkle-toes” to “youthful and effeminate young men”. 

By the 90s and early 2000s, as the internet boom made porn more accessible (albeit loading at a snail’s pace), porn sites became filled to the brim with images and later videos of waif-like, hairless young men labeled as “twinks”. Soon after, “twink” would surface in gay and then eventually mainstream media. 

Today, “twink” is an almost inextricable part of gay vernacular, regarded as the opposite of a “bear” or a “daddy” and often associated with effeminate young men who have a proclivity for dressing well. Twinks are often stereotyped as being vapid and rather ditzy as well, and can be looked down on by other members of the gay community – especially for being outwardly feminine.

Shoppers hand holding a package of Twinkies

Is Twink A Slur?

Some people may consider the term a slur or a “hate term”, as writer Mitchell Sunderland once called it in a piece for Vice. “…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,” Sunderland wrote. 

“Because many homosexuals have internalized society’s hatred for feminine gay men, being labeled a twink means you embody all of their self-loathing,” he added. 

But for folks like author and LGBTQ+ activist Dan Savage, who later wrote a short blog in reaction to Sunderland’s piece, the term is used with “affection, irony, and longing far more often than it’s used to put someone down.” 

“It’s also a term that many young and hairless gay white males embrace – including some of the guys Sunderland interviews.”

Indeed, in Sunderland’s piece, which consists of interviews with young gay men who have been called twinks at some point in their lives, some respondents labeled the term “derogatory”, while others seemed to be more receptive to it, particularly because they fit into the body type which the term describes. 

One key takeaway from this particular interview is one respondent’s answer about how “people’s tones” when using the term made him realize that “twink” could be used derogatorily. It reflects a larger truth about slang terms in general. 

Whether a slang term is derogatory depends on the context in which it was used, much like terms like “queer”, “f*g”, and “homo”. You have to ask yourself who’s saying it, how they’re saying it, who they’re saying it to, and what their relationship is with the person they’re speaking to. 

Still, unlike these other reclaimed words, “twink” is still seen by many as understandably reductive. “Twink” describes a particular body type – thin, young, hairless, and oftentimes white. And for a lot of gay men, this term – along with words like “bear”, “cub”, and “otter” – are helpful for dating purposes. 

But the word has also become loaded with so many connotations, including submissiveness, ditziness, effeminacy, and having an inclination towards bottoming. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, nobody should be stereotyped based simply on their body type. 

gay couple cuddling in bed

The Bottom Line

Is “twink” a slur? Well, it depends on a few factors: who’s saying it, how they’re saying it, and whether the person they’re saying it to deems the term as offensive.

Unlike slang terms like “queer” and “f*g”, “twink” wasn’t really used by straight people as a pejorative to out gay men or to put them down. Instead, “twink” is more of an insider term, familiar mostly to people who identify as queer. It may be hurled as an offensive term from one gay to another, but it doesn’t seem to hold much water outside of the community. 

Regardless, the term can be hurtful, particularly if it’s used to put someone down for being “too feminine”, “too submissive”, “too skinny” or whatever other stereotypes are attached to the word. So, while it may not be a “slur”, it may be a word that some people feel sensitive about or may not appreciate being called.

The bottom line? Unless you’re sure that the person you’re speaking to is fine with being called a twink, save it.

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