First of all, why am I even bothering with this most easy target? We all already know that mainstream gay mags suck. It's not like my pointing it out is going to make them any better. It's not like you're buying them anyway. It's not like there aren't a million more things to write about. But I just thought I should state the obvious. What did you want, an article about how great gay magazines are? O.K., then, that's what you'll get.
Mainstream gay magazines are glossy, slick, and printed in four colors. Mainstream gay magazines are something you can be Proud to put on your coffee table. If your mother happens to come to visit, you can be proud you have a mainstream gay magazine on your coffee table. She can leaf through it and not see any offensive sex ads or naked photos. She can read it and learn how successful gay men-- oh, and lesbians--can be under American laissez-faire capitalism. She can read about how white collar workers at major corporations are able to be at the cutting edge of gay activism by getting benefits for their domestic partners, as long as they've been together for at least three years.
I will start with the BEST (wink, wink) mainstream magazine, the longest- lasting, the most popular (well, they have a smaller per-issue circulation, but publish twice as often as their nearest competitor) -- The Advocate.
The Advocate has been around since you were in diapers. It used to be printed on newsprint and kind of looked like the New York Native (what's that? Oh, that magazine that started Christopher Street as a fundraising thing, or the other way around. Christoper Street? Oh, never mind.) The Advocate went through a brief period of catering to trendy queerness a few years ago, a state brought on by competition from Outweek. (Remember that one, the magazine from New York that spawned Mike Signorile and the outing "controversy"?) After firing Richard Rouilard, the editor who brought them awards for editorial excellence, the Advocate has entered a new phase of gay conservatism.
Just out of curiosity, when an offer of a free trial subscription arrived in the mail recently, I sent in the card, naturally with no intention of continuing after the three-issue trial was up. A couple months later, a mysterious black plastic bag emblazoned with the cryptic initials "LPI" arrived in the mailbox. Inside was a piece of toxic waste that polluted our gay home.
Every other issue features a column by gay conservative "thinker" Bruce Bawer. The magazine has never looked more male or whiter. During the Rouilard regime, they at least acknowledged the existence of Lesbians. Now, the token is Janis Ian, who writes a column as shockingly bad as those in the worst bar rags. In this particular issue, her column was all about how fat ugly lesbians who dress badly are causing the religious right to hate gay people. In other words, a bunch of stereotypes trotted out in support of some fallacious logic. And this from the woman who many years ago penned the song "At 17," a song about highschool looksism.
At least the Advocate's readers seem to send them plenty of letters of complaint. (I sent 'em one about Janis' column, which they didn't print; they printed two letters saying what a fool she was, and one from a lesbian bimbo who felt validated that there were others like her.) But why do they keep reading the piece of shit? I sent in my cancellation before the free subscription was even finished.
The runner up for 2nd-best (nudge, nudge) mainstream gay magazine is Genre. I'm not sure why they picked that title--it isn't even a clever pun or anything like most gay magazines. The word it most brings to mind is "generic." This magazine always mentions review quotes like "a gay G.Q." or something like that, but it resembled nothing more than an International Male catalog. This is a magazine that really hasn't heard that women exist. It's very modelly and so L.A. Ho hum, I haven't even glanced at a copy in so long that I can't even think of anything else bad to say about it.
I suppose this is about where I have to mention Attitude. A very aptly named magazine, this is a British import, and was only launched this summer, which might be why you haven't heard of it. It's kind of like Arena or the Face, only gay. It's fashion oriented, and kind of the British counterpart of Genre. It's like the kind of mainstream pink pound gays who go to Heaven, and you can go read any British queer zine to find out more about how nauseating the whole gay scene there is. Attitude is curiously lacking in political reporting for a British publication, maybe because it's published by some major corporation. It's a taste of how good Time-Warner's aborted gay magazine would have been. They get points for doing a story on Klaus Nomi, though.
I'm not going to examine the rest of the British mainstream mags in detail, since I haven't even seen the trendy ones like Phaze. Gay Times is simply rather dull. And there's Rouge, which is kind of leftist. It's the Tom Robinson of gay magazines. The lesbian magazine Diva actually seems o.k. though.
Next up is 10%. 10% is named for that famous inflated statistic, but I doubt their market share is anywhere near that. This is another rather bland one. It does acknowledge that homos come in both sexes. Yawn.
Out is named for how proud we are of being able to have a magazine whose name reflects our Pride as...uh...um... This magazine actually has some decent political reporting on the radical right and so on. Maybe The Advocate will be the next target of infiltration by leftist reporters in bad wigs and polyester pantsuits. The editor is a guy as young as some zine editors when they don't lie about their age. Yet he seems to identify with the boomer generation, and their coverage doesn't get much more daring than drag queens with major label contracts. When they do mention musicians without major distribution, there's no contact info. And how about doing a zine article, folks? This magazine is about as co-sexual as they come (all the better to sell subscriptions with, my dearie.) In circulation terms, it's nipping at the Advocate's heels, or past it, but it publishes half as often, thus killing only half the trees. The cover's printed in some goofy lima bean ink that sweated off on my hands when I got a free copy at the Castro Street Fair.
And there's Poz, which is for people living the HIV lifestyle. (Hopefully I won't be struck by lightning for being too daringly politically incorrect by saying that.) It seems like there's treatment bulletins that cover the scientific aspects, political groups to handle the politics, and zines that deal with the rage and humor, so who really needs a glossy?
Deneuve is unfortunately not a magazine about vampire lesbians. Deneuve comes in for criticism from lesbian zines for being too upscale, and for only featuring skinny lesbians.
Girlfriends (published by defectors from On Our Backs) actually doesn't qualify for this article, because they have naked pictures that you couldn't show your mother--she's never seen breasts or genitals before. It's worth a look for the other contents besides the skin. New boy on the block Wilde also features nude photos, and they refer to themselves as a gay Playboy. Not like I think naked pictures are going to mean the magazines are going to have good political reporting and coverage of challenging art and music-- there aren't any porno mags I've heard of that excel in that area. Those naked penises and/or tits will certainly sell a few more magazines, but if that's what people want, won't they just buy solid porno? Nobody buys Playboy for the pictures, y'know.
Why should mainstream gay magazines even exist? With a couple hundred queer zines, isn't that all the reading matter you'd ever need? Zines editors could work on extending into some areas that the magazines are supposed to cover, like doing some investigative reporting, sucking up to barely uncloseted pop stars, etc. Supplement that with reading your local free bar rag owned by an alcoholic fascist bar-owner, and you can save a forest-full of glossy trees.
Written in 1994. Originally published in Fucktooth.