The twinkmeister

In the world of male photography, there have been several specialists in young (especially boyish-looking) males, viewed homoerotically: Mel Roberts (here) and Bob Mizer, with posed but artless-seeming shots, and most especially Howard Roffman, who’s still flourishing at his craft. I think of Roffman as the twinkmeister, for his focus on the type of young man known in gay slang as twinks.

A sample of his work that is viewable on this blog:

Four X-rated shots on my X Blog, here, where I note that

Most of his photos are of nudes — solo shots, couples, threesomes and more. Mostly playful or affectionate, and mostly in b&w or sepia (though his photos of Bel Ami boys are in color).

(On Bel Ami boys — young pornstars for Georges Duroy’s Bel Ami Studios — see here.)

Three things to talk about: Roffman and his career; the morphological construction in twinkmeister; and the history and use of the term twink.

On Roffman. Here’s the Wikipedia story:

Howard Roffman (born 1955) is an American lawyer representing Lucasfilm and a photographer who specializes in the male full frontal nude photography.

He attended the University of Pennsylvania and in 1977 obtained a law degree from the University of Florida College of Law. He served as a law clerk on United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and afterwards, at the Washington D.C. law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. In 1980 Roffman joined the movie production company Lucasfilm to do legal counseling and afterwards, was promoted to general counsel.

Photography is his professional hobby. His pictures became famous in 1991 after the publication of his postcards and calendars with young males posing nude. He has published many gay themed photo-albums. He is known to recruit models by giving his business-card to people at restaurants, on the street, and in discos.

He’s published an average of a book a year since the early 1990s, plus calendars and postcard books.

Roffman’s own account, from his website:

I am a 56-year-old white, Jewish man who grew up in a decidedly white middle-class section of Philadelphia, who now lives in San Francisco with his [male] partner of 34 years and whose career has nothing to do with photography. So how do I find myself publishing book after book of photographs of deliriously beautiful young men? I often find myself asking that very same question.

My interest in photography dates back to when I was a child. Don’t be shocked, but so does my interest in beautiful young men. Somehow, the two interests have always been connected. For as long as I can remember, whenever I saw a gorgeous boy, I dreamed of being able to capture his beauty in photographs. For so long, it was a dream that seemed far beyond my reach, a fantasy, a frustration.

It wasn’t until 1991 that my fantasy became a reality. It happened when I met John and Gary, an attractive young couple in San Francisco who wanted to be photographed. You can read the gory details in my book THREE [1996], but suffice it to say that my first session with them was a turning point in my life — the point, in fact, when I turned from being a frustrated voyeur into being a photographer. Suddenly I realized that if I asked people to pose for me, I could bring all those pictures locked in my head into reality.

People respond to Roffman’s work in different ways. Some are creeped out by the focus on attractive boyish men who can pass as under 18 (though to stay within the law, the models must all be 18 or over) — seeing his work as “child pornography”. Others see Roffman’s photographs as an artful depiction of the ideal type of Boyish Masculinity, as opposed to the ideal type of Mature Masculinity — an opposition sometimes cast as Apollo vs. Priapus. (In the overheated climate of recent times, it’s unfortunately difficult to talk about the sexuality of young people and about their sexual attractiveness without setting off harangues about child abuse and pedophilia.)

On twinkmeister. The formation here uses the combining element -meister, in the snowclonelet X-meister. Quinion’s affix entry:

A person regarded as skilled or prominent in a specified activity.
[German Meister, master.]
The original is found in German words such as Bürgermeister, a mayor, and kapellmeister (German Kapelle, court orchestra), the leader or conductor of an orchestra or choir. Modern terms in -meister are American in origin, derived from German under the influence of Yiddish. A well-established example is schlockmeister (Yiddish shlog, wretch, untidy person), someone who sells cheap or trashy goods; a less common one is webmeister, a person who runs a World Wide Web site, a webmaster. The form is also used to make transient terms, sometimes mildly derogatory: gagmeister, pornmeister, talkmeister (a radio talk-show host).

And the Wikipedia entry:

Meister has been borrowed into English slang, where it is used in compound nouns. A person referred to as “Meister” is one who has extensive theoretical knowledge and practical skills in his profession, business, or some other kind of work or activity. For example, a “puzzle-meister” would be someone highly skilled at solving puzzles. These neologisms sometimes have a sarcastic intent (for example, “stubble-meister” for someone with a short, neat beard or “crier-meister” for someone who often cries).

My intention in twinkmeister was to convey that Roffman is a specialist in twinks.

On twinks. The history of the term is somewhat cloudy (and was eventually confounded by the Hostess Twinkie snack cake), but the first OED cites (in the Additions series of 2003) go back only to 1963, where it was a slur referring to effeminacy:

1963    Amer. Speech 38 171   An effeminate young man, a sissy…Some of the less frequent, but more expressive, phrases are:..pansy-ass, petunia, punk, swish, twink, and weenie.

The OED tentatively relates the word to the noun twink ‘a winkling of the eye’ and related words, like the verb twinkle (which eventually turns up in twinkle-pie and twinkle-toes for reference to effeminate men, as Green’s Dictionary notes). But then the word was reclaimed by gay men and narrowed in usage to refer to a specific type of gay man:

“Twink” is a gay slang term describing a young or young-looking gay man (18–23 age category) with a slender, ectomorph build, little or no body hair, and no facial hair. In some societies, the term chick or chicken is preferred. The related term twinkle-toes, which implies that a man is effeminate, tends to be used in a derogatory manner. The terms can be complimentary or pejorative. (Wikipedia link)

Later OED cites clearly show the shift:

1978    A. Maupin Tales of City 194   Where are the twinks, anyway?..Who needs to waste a night staring at these tired old Gucci queens.

1980    A. Maupin More Tales of City 85,   I found this gorgeous twink carpenter in the Mission.

For Armistead Maupin (as for Howard Roffman), a twink is a good thing to be; twinks are attractive, and old queens aren’t.

By the 1970s, twinks had become one of the many specific types of men in gay men’s configuration of their social universe: twinks, bears, (flaming) queens, (old) trolls, leathermen, clones, preppies, fem(me)s, butches, A-gays, etc. Insofar as twink is used derogatorily in this world, it comes from guys of other, very different, types — especially bears, leathermen, and butches. The opposition between twinks and bears is especially notable; it’s played on for laughs in the gay romantic comedy Bear City.)

(By this time, there were recognized subtypes: femme twinks, Euro twinks, muscle twinks, leather twinks.)

Then came twinkie, which the OED 1993 Additions has (somewhat inaccurately, in my estimation) as

U.S. slang. A male homosexual, an effeminate man; also, a child or youth regarded as an object of homosexual desire.

with cites from:

1980    Maledicta 1979 3 221   Terms for the young and more or less innocent are..pretty, tail, twinkie.


1988    Amer. Speech 63 176   His sense of gay history and identity will be instructive for all twinkies, clones, and other unenlightened folk.

Here, twinkie and twink are effectively synonyms, with perhaps an extra connotation of cuteness in the diminutive twinkie.

The OED’s 1993 Additions entry notes that twinkie is “popularly associated with the Twinkie cupcake”, and this association has been embraced by many gay men and is accepted in the Wikipedia twink entry:

The term’s namesake is the “golden-colored phallic-shaped snack cake” Hostess Twinkie, commonly regarded as the quintessential junk food: “little nutritional value, sweet to the taste and creme-filled.” Cream is among the well-known food-related euphemistic terms for semen.

So: phallic, tanned (“golden-colored”), of little substance, sweet, and cum-filled. The connections are hard to resist, whatever the actual etymology.

[On the snack cakes:

The Twinkie is an American snack cake made and distributed by Hostess Brands. They are marketed as a “Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling”.

Twinkies were invented in Schiller Park, Illinois in 1930 by James Alexander Dewar, a baker for the Continental Baking Company. [originally banana cream filling, then vanilla cream, then banana cream was reintroduced as an option] (Wikipedia link)]

7 Responses to “The twinkmeister”

  1. And on bears… « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

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    […] (Posting on twink here.) […]

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    […] of linguistics — back in February and March, on Howard Roffman (on AZBlogX here, this blog here), and in the interim, Max Vasilatos has been sending me several series of postcards by male […]

  5. After the election « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] on the occasion of the U.S. election returns earlier this week, a postcard with a sweet and sexy Howard Roffman photo, which I have amended with a headline and rainbow flag stickers in honor of the […]

  6. -licious sex | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] as a variant of the usual twinkie.) Discussion of these items (and on the Hostess snack food) in a posting of mine on male photographer Howard Roffman, who specializes in twinks. Here’s an Urban Dictionary […]

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