Twinks vs. Dolls vs. The Whole Freaking World

Twinks vs. Dolls vs. The Whole Freaking World

Story by Tobias Hess / Photography by Michael Costain
Jul 02, 2024

I was just behind the ring, phone in hand and ready to capture it all, when I realized there may be a cost to my gonzo reporting.

As the competition bore on at the third annual “Twinks vs. Dolls,” things were getting increasingly bodily. A makeout competition slipped unceremoniously into an act of public rimming. A bacchic orgy of twinks was on the precipice of going full Greek before the emcee’s moved things along. The cigarette race, a great rush of smoke and screams, was making us all choke and gasp.

And then there was the spitting competition. It was hot within the dark and humid warehouse, and the warmth from the 2,500-plus un-deodorized members of my community was not helping. I was imagining an air-conditioned heaven when I was struck by a surprising sprinkle. The dolls, it turns out, can spit. And one doll, it appears, hit me with a distributed spray from across the ring.

The things I do for PAPER.

It was my first time at the infamous gathering, organized by buzzy queer bar Singers, and I was excited, if not a bit trepidatious, to attend and write about the whole affair. I had seen it on Twitter for the past few years: a somewhat Lynchian scene featuring twinks and dolls of my ilk competing in surrealist competitions, but I wasn’t prepared for the shock of being in a room full of, for lack of a better word, oomfs.

“It’s like a Twitter block party,” said podcaster and T-shirt impresario Ben Mora, who helped start the annual gathering three years ago with writer P.E. Moskowitz and Singers social media and events coordinator Erik Escobar. Indeed, the frenetic buzz of the digital rang throughout the whole event. You just knew that every moment would be refracted online, giving every micro-moment the drama of a reality TV close-up.

But the craze of the whole event overpowered any sense of anxious digital double consciousness I may have had. Bodies were breaking down, as if by design. Arms were collapsing at the “generational trauma competition” where twinks and dolls were tasked with holding sandbags that represented the heavy burden of their fore-parents. At the end, in the wrestling-in-a-kiddie-pool-of-baked-beans grand finale, literal blood flowed. Top surgery scars were ripped open ever so slightly.

“[I joined because] this was some assertion of public masculinity,” Holden Seidlitz, a participating twink who took second place this year, tells PAPER. “I'm like a year and a half on T and a mere two months out of surgery. I was just kind of like: Alright, I am a boy enough for the rest of these circuit party twinks, and I wanted to prove it.”

I wondered if the gaze of the crowd would provide a tinge of uncomfortable voyeurism, but Seidlitz disagrees. “The call is coming from within the house. It feels very for us, by us, put on by us,” he says. Plus, that gaze was kind of hot, especially during his many moments making out with fellow contestants. “That was hot precisely for the fact that 2,500 people are watching,” Seidlitz says.

Marley Gotterer, who won last year’s competition and returned as this year’s grand queen champion, concurred that the vibe was triumphant and celebratory. Once the proceedings were all but finished, with doll Jae Grumulaitis taking this year’s title, Gotterer descended from above, spotlit and decked in a full pride swimsuit number. “Remember me!?” she roared at the crowd, who was bowing before her. She came down to wrestle the winner and to perform multiple twink-ups (that is: she lifted a twink on her back like a barbell). “I’ve felt so celebrated and held by the community throughout this past year. It never stopped,” Gotterer tells me over the phone after the competition. “People should be treating every trans girl like that.” Indeed, I’ve been out with Gotterer in the year since she won, and the amount of gays who literally kiss her hand because of her title is a thrill to watch.

“This isn’t a celebration of pride,” says Escobar, who was running around the event, making sure it went off without a hitch. “This is a celebration of being shameless.”

“Like I’m disgusting. Being gay and being disgusting is my life,” he tells PAPER. He offers it as the antithesis to the kind of event a “button-up corporate gay creative director” would go to. “They're like, ‘I’m crazy. I’m going to the Brat party. I did poppers.’” I can hear his eye roll over the phone. Because Escobar is saying: I’ll take your Brat party and raise you a toe-sucking competition.

That unabashed filth has made this all become a miraculous pop culture moment and mega-event, referenced year-round. It was even complete with its own half-time show from PAPER fav Mel 4Ever, who literally took it all off amid jubilant screams from the crowd. In a moment where trans bodies are the sight of legislation and discourse, the plain celebration of those bodies in motion, in battle, in celebration, was genuinely moving.

In the hours and days that followed, like clockwork, lore began to form about the mythic event. Clips and images went viral. Queers shot their shot at those they spotted throughout the crowd. And though the memes will live much longer than the beans that made their way inside the wrestlers’ hair, what we will always have is the memories. And maybe even the enduring promise of pleasure? When I wrapped my call with Seidlitz, he texted me, “On the record if I’m being completely honest: another reason I participated this year is to cruise lol”

We all may be destined for a bleak future, but at least for today: love wins.

Photography: Michael Costain