In his masterpiece, Death in Venice (1912), Thomas Mann includes a picture of a tragic twink who refused to change as he aged.
…the apparent youth was no youth at all. He was an old man, beyond a doubt, with wrinkles and crow’s-feet round eyes and mouth; the dull carmine of the cheeks was rouge, the brown hair a wig. His neck was shrunken and sinewy […] and the unbroken double row of yellow teeth he showed when he laughed were but too obviously a cheapish false set.
In historical terms the man described here is Decadent. Perhaps once in the past, he was a beautiful boy. Art may have inspired him, with statues of hard-bodied young men and paintings of full-lipped youths with piercing eyes. For a time, this man may well have looked like an artwork. But life is not art, and people change. His refusal to change signals his Decadence—his finger up to the course of nature.
What’s needed, I suggest, are new images and models which take the twink into the future. We need sustainable twinks. And where will these visions come from? Not from America, at least not at present.
The All-American Fast-Twink
American visual culture and gay porn are awash with twinks. But the majority are fast-twinks: quick off the production line and once used, chucked away. In the mainstream, we have the likes of Adam Rippon, Troye Sivan, and Timothée Chalamet. In both life and work, these twinks present themselves as temporary apparitions. Two of Chalamet’s major films, Call Me By Your Name and Beautiful Boy dramatize the fragility of the beautiful boy, ever on the edge of destruction and eradication. Troye Sivan’s music videos present him as a giggly, girlish boy interested in nothing very important, and Adam Rippon’s affected style draws the attention away from his skill as a gay figure skater.
Rippon’s queeny persona is aestheticized, and therein lies the catch. By aligning himself with a queer trope, he signals his disinterest in real life and the fact that his body is changing as the years pass. In a sense, all are acolytes of the Cult of Now, with little thought for long-term development.
The American Twink in Porn
American gay porn is a factory house for fast-twinks. I’m talking of the likes of Helix Studios, Boy Crush, and Next Door Twink. Almost all these twinks look barely out of puberty, even though all are over 18. If they’re growing body hair, then they’re invariably shaving or waxing it off. To be sure, ‘twink’ entails some flexibility in terms of look. Toned comes under its aegis as much as skinny. But the American twink factories are almost entirely fixated on the skinny. The twink vision in these studios is very much on freshness, but not the freshness of twinkiness. No, its freshness is simply a new face, a new body to be consumed and enjoyed by porn-wired brains looking for a new dopamine fix.
So, is there any alternative? Is there a sustainable twink on the horizon? There is, but we need to look Eastwards.
The Eastern European Twink
For centuries Russia and Eastern Europe developed along different lines to the West. You can still feel the difference when you walk around cities such as Kyiv or Bucharest. My own ancestors were peasants from the Ukrainian Steppe and the Carpathian Basin, so my model of twink comes from Russia, where he was an integral part of the culture. Kuzmin Esenin, the Pasternaks, Nijinsky: all of these were twinks who developed along their own lines.
Contemporary Eastern European twinks are found on diving teams as well as in the ballet. Maxim Zenin, Roman Malyshev, Vyacheslav Gnedchik: these are just a few of the twinks out there in artistic professions. Their self-presentation differs from the typical American twink because there is less emphasis on trying to be an artwork and more on trying to be an artist. In other words: they’re not building up a brand of themselves which is dependent on a transitory moment in their physical development.
The Eastern European Twink in Porn
When it comes to gay porn, you almost instinctively know when you’re watching an Eastern European. Not only is their physical presence striking, but they’re in it for the long run. In studios like Staxus or Bel Ami, the models retain some of their natural boyish charm and physicality, as in the two models featured. Many have hairy legs and a treasure trail, and they’ve resisted the all-American slick college look which blights the American aesthetic.
More importantly, the models aren’t afraid to be male, even if in being male they expand what we think male can be. It doesn’t have to be super masculine. But there’s a sense of camaraderie and unaffected intimacy. Even when you come across a submissive bottom twink like Yuri Adamov, who likes to get fucked by very masculine athletic men, his self-presentation seems entirely natural. He’s expressing his personality. His body invites you to contemplate who he is as a person.
In essence, then, what we need are more twinks who plug their bodies into their personalities. The way to Decadence lies in an infatuation with externals and fashioning the body to an aesthetic ideal. Decadence hates the internal, the world of personality. To be a sustainable twink, you need to balance the growth of body and soul. Because when push comes to shove, don’t we all long for someone who just fits their body–who is comfortable in their skin?