In its infinite wisdom The Guardian decided to run a (very) thinly-veiled advert for a new gay magazine at the weekend. This advert took the form of an opinion piece on the gay scene and it starts well, with something straight from the mind of your archetypal Daily Mail reader:
If I say the words “gay culture”’, what do you think of? Pride parades with muscle boys in leather hot pants? Kylie Minogue? Antiquated drag queens miming to Shirley Bassey? “Lip Service”?
To most people I would suggest that this idea of “gay culture” would mean only that you don’t get out very much. Here, however, it leads the umpteenth attack on the sex-and-drugs which we’re led to believe make up gay life. We have the sneering reference to Grindr and “sexual hook-ups”, the pitying appeal to people for whom “gay culture begins and ends with the gay scene”, GHB and complaints about how gay men are portrayed on television (‘Queer As Folk’ did it wrongly, apparently, despite its sex-and-drugs mirroring exactly what Paul Burston describes here). It’s like a very boring game of bingo in terms of its tired references to familiar complaints about gay life. You can’t help but wonder where Burston thinks his books (not exactly renowned for their complex or challenging take on gay life) fit into this
But but but! Don’t fret, for Burston and Julie Bindel are here to save you from all that with a proper grown-up magazine for gays! You know that it’s grown-up because its title contains “A Modern Review”. It wants to “tackle issues one doesn’t generally read about in the lesbian and gay press”. Issues like David Bowie! Given the pedigree of its creators, who got firmly behind the “East London is under siege from Muslims” drivel a couple of years back and directly contributed to circumstances which led to the English Defence League attempting to use Pride to stoke up anti-Muslim feeling, the decision to lead with a feature on Islam (and corresponding stereotypical image) is worrying to say the least.
What I find most remarkable about the whole thing, however, is the idea that the problem which needs to be addressed is the need for “a broader view of gay politics, and (to) redefine what we mean by gay culture.” As I wrote previously, this culture (which is infinitely more varied than Burston’s awful caricature would have you believe) grew out of adversity. Let’s accept for the sake of argument that, as Burston argues, this adversity is in terminal decline (not least ignoring the continuing stigma faced by those who identify as transexual.) Why would the logical response to that be to offer an ostensibly ‘superior’ way to be gay? Why not just…be? Certainly there are criticisms to be made of the gay media but I think much of them come from their increasing irrelevance. They cannot possibly hope to represent even a significant fraction of those who identify as LGBT and without adversity to push against (and the corresponding political purpose) they basically have to follow the money. That money lies largely in pictures of semi-naked attractive people and celebrities – things which are common to most lifestyle magazines, whichever ‘culture’ they are seen to represent. Indeed, one person who works on these magazines told me not too long ago that they had tried to move away from this template but every time they tried, sales went down. I imagine this would be true for FHM, Heat or GQ just as it would be for Attitude. They all have their audiences – but only the ‘gay’ publications are faced with the unrealistic expectation that they will represent everyone who identifies as a certain sexuality. A point Burston inadvertently makes himself – if it’s ridiculous that Grindr is seen to represent “gay culture” and there is no corresponding claims made for “straight culture”, why then think that GT or Attitude should be seen differently from any of these other magazines?
In ridiculing the idea that all gay people might like Kylie Minogue or Pride parades, we have the core of the problem – there is no over-arching culture or identity which all gay people share solely because of their sexuality (certainly not the scene). A new magazine set up in opposition to a particular (stereotypical) version of ‘gay culture’, then, is merely chasing the money of a different market from other gay magazines – here it is clearly gay people who see themselves as better than all that naff, horrid stuff Burston mentions. Far from destroying the perceived problem of a “ghetto, with a narrow view of the world beyond”, Gaze offers only a different way of walking through it. If I want to reclaim “all of culture”, I don’t need the prism of condescending gay people to do so. I can read London Review of Books, Adbusters and Private Eye without feeling the need for them to assure me that they know I’m gay. Even more shockingly, I can read these magazines and still go to Soho and dance to Kylie Minogue or look at Grindr. The issue isn’t that we need people to argue for more than one way to be gay, it’s that ‘gay’ is not an absolute identity in the first place and we shouldn’t try to make it one. That is the real freedom afforded by the advances made in the past 50 years. So by all means read your ‘Modern Review’ – just don’t labour under the illusion that it makes you any better than people who get pissed in G-A-Y (and certainly don’t think so when you’ve already been there and done that yourselves).
(H/T to @Fagburn for bringing this to my attention)