November 28, 2000
8:28 PM   Subscribe

Advertisers Who Hate XY a letter from the editor of the gay youth magazine about institutional bigotry. and i think it is way out of line. [more inside]
posted by palegirl (24 comments total)
If this particular Calvin Klein ad were in XY, the ad would be called porn. On Marvel Comics it's not. But that is just because we're a gay youth magazine and people automatically call anything associated with a gay youth magazine porny. That is to say, Calvin Klein is porny if it gets too associated with gays. It is 100% homophobia, pure and simple.     Abercrombie's latest ad campaign is entirely about college wrestling --a fantasy of simulated gay youth sex. But Abercrombie chief Michael Jeffries says he doesn't care if his catalogs are too sexy: "It's within the context of friends... and caring for one another." Yet he places ads of a locker-room wet-dream teenage rape fantasy in Out, and his company boycotts XY because we are, according to Peter Wert, "too on the edge"--which is the same as saying too sexual, too gay.    But when Polsky says "mainstream," she really means "straight." Teen People, Details, and the others are for straight young people. Although they cover gay issues once in awhile, the values on every page are that all kids are "straight". In XY, the values assume people are gay. But the other magazines are no more "mainstream" than us--they are just "straight" when we are gay. And while XY is the most important gay youth magazine in the world, neither Details nor Latina is the most important "straight" youth magazine in the world and Karen Polsky is not treating me--or any of you--with respect. . . Like most bullies, they think young gay men are wussy and an easy mark. They dis us because they think they'll get away with it. They think their most devoted, trendsetting customers are weak and wussy and that we'll just keep handing over our money while they dis us. They think I am so shitscared of them and their advertising dollars that I won't tell you the cowardly things they said. They think young gay men will support their brands blindly, not knowing we're being humiliated every time we buy. We're being slapped in the face and laughed at by establishment America, just like always. This is a system of discrimination. It is just like hating asians or latinos.
is this editorial appropriate? it states over and over that the whole purpose of XY magazine is to make young gay boys feel safe and okay with their sexuality and to combat homophobia. he says, "Freedom for gay kids to live publicly was the largest social change of the 1990s, and for many people XY was the personification of that movement." [i would guess that a huge block of their readers are older gay men who are into the kids...] but if his stated mission is true, than is it appropriate to ask those young gayboys to tell them that "Although more sneakily than before, America still tries to shut us up and make us suffer. So I write in this 25th Anniversary Issue to ask for your help. Please read the article and then help us. I am fighting the same bullies as before, only this time they wear suits. But underneath, I find, America hasn't really changed at all" ? i do not think that it is.
Of course, nobody in particular admits being bad or antigay, and I don't think Peter Wert, Joseph Janus or Karen Polsky is personally a bigot. But that's the whole problem: everyone knows society as a whole is anti-gay-youth, but nobody admits being personally bigoted. That's how bigotry works: you get bashed, but nobody is responsible for the bashing.    the brands are owned by chains who are owned by national corporations--almost all retailing in the country is now controlled by four companies, which is why Joseph Janus is running scared. It's the shareholders of these companies--that is, America itself--who are trying to stop XY from showing that gay boys can love. Like I said, it is a national system of bullying us into shame.
the idea of institutional bigotry is an important one. but i think it is wrong to make lonely, scared, fourteen year old gayboys in, say, wyoming, feel bashed now when they walk into abercrombie to buy those fabulous pants we love to see them wear.
posted by palegirl at 8:29 PM on November 28, 2000

What a waste of breath (ink). The advertisers don't stay away because of the content of the magazine or the lifestyles of the people who read it, they stay away due to the consistent lack of quality. I mean why advertise in xy for $5000 when you can buy space in your local high school yearbook for $500. From an insiders perspective I also find it amusing that Peter mentions selling out to someone like PlanetOut. Peter had a deal set up with PlanetOut to give them the magazines content for an interactive venture ( When Peter insisted on publishing this article (which includes current and potential PlanetOut advertisers) the shit hit the fan and the deal was dead. The editorial is out of line and obviously was the result of years of built up frustration. At some point in our lives we've all handled our problems like Peter Cummings has, but then, fortunately, we grew up.
posted by brian at 8:51 PM on November 28, 2000

why place an ad in XY for 10 times the amount? Cause you'll probably get way more than 10 times the reach, and, for many products, a more suitable demographic. I mean, my highschool yearbook sold maybe 1500 copies tops, and XY reaches waay more people than that.

Saying that PlanetOut chickened out of dealing with XY because of their content I don't think really proves that this editorial is wrong, in fact wouldn't it tend to prove XY's point?

It's a pretty much undisputed fact that some advertisers ARE scared of advertising in certain magazines because of various pressures apart from "is this buy a good deal?", so if this guy wants to write an editorial urging his readers to contact advertisers and let them know that the pressure goes both ways, what's the problem with that?
posted by beefula at 10:26 PM on November 28, 2000

Every non-service magazine has the exact same advertising problems. Speak nearly went out with a whimper a few issues ago because they didn’t print enough mountain biking and snowboarding articles. Granted, Speak couldn’t claim homophobia, but they could claim anti-intellectualism.

Peter is pissed and I don’t blame him. Doing what’s right is expensive, and not neccasarily in cash.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 10:26 PM on November 28, 2000

so if this guy wants to write an editorial urging his readers to contact advertisers and let them know that the pressure goes both ways, what's the problem with that?

the problem is who his audience is. i don't think it's right to tell these young boys that they're constant victims of bigotry. they have long lives ahead of them to discover it on their own. it's too much for kids to handle.
posted by palegirl at 10:43 PM on November 28, 2000

XY's audience is boys of the 30 year old variety.
posted by treebjen at 10:54 PM on November 28, 2000

i don't think it's right to tell these young boys that they're constant victims of bigotry. they have long lives ahead of them to discover it on their own. it's too much for kids to handle.

huh? its just a view, a strident one admittedly but I doubt whether it would be too much for anyone to handle, young or old. Are you suggesting that the editorial dumb down everything just because the readership is young?
posted by lagado at 11:34 PM on November 28, 2000

To me, this guy seems to be whining about his lack of ability to sell advertising.

A gay young man's magazine is a pretty small demographic for an advertiser to focus on, especially with the possible negative press they would have to deal with. The pitfalls don't seem to outweigh the benefits, they're capitalists not social trailblazers.
posted by owillis at 12:21 AM on November 29, 2000

"people automatically call anything associated with a gay youth magazine porny."

Is "porny" actually a word?

And what's so wrong about being homophobic? I'm openly homophobic and proud of it, and anyone who disses homophobic people is being prejudiced. We can't help ourselves. It's like, genetic or something..
posted by ZachsMind at 12:48 AM on November 29, 2000

Two things:

1) Whining because you can't sell advertising is perfectly reasonable - a magazine cannot survive without advertising. You only have to watch The Insider to see what effect certain groups can have on journalism generally. Seems to me at some basic level, this guy claims to represent an audience who certain big brand labels won't DIRECTLY ADVERTISE to (just in case their image as all american is tarnished), while simultaneously making their products particularly attractive TO that audience through indirect marketing and homoeroticism. Imagine an alternate world, where "magazines for straight man" collapse because no one will advertise in them (because they are too controversial), while simultaneously slapping half-naked big busted women with wet t-shirts rubbing themselves up against average looking men on all their packaging and advertising. You might think your money was good enough but your voice was not...

2) "i would guess that a huge block of their readers are older gay men who are into the kids..." Excuse me? Am I the only person here who thinks that this is a disturbing and insulting thing to say?
posted by barbelith at 1:48 AM on November 29, 2000

treebjen: go to your room and hush up. shoo.

can it really be a bad thing for the deal with planet out to fall through? i think and nearly every other mainstream gay pub (paper and web) is now owned by advocate media. given the youth of the audience, the content should stand apart. no reason to duplicate.

rebekah, judging by reaction from some of the gay kids i work with (heard about this earlier today): most were more threatened by the hysterical tone than the actual subject matter. it DID, however, make a few of them realize that gay men are regularly objectified and neutered by mainstream media, and *that* pissed them off. one's starting a letter-writing campaign, another decided to return some clothes he just bought at abercrombie. pretty cool.
posted by patricking at 2:04 AM on November 29, 2000

A small technicality there Patric. PlanetOut owns Liberation Publications, Inc. (LPI), the largest gay and lesbian publisher in the U.S. whose properties include The Advocate and Out magazine not the other way around as you suggested. And I do believe that in the long run it will be a bad thing that the deal did not pan out. It was probably the last saving grace to a magazine that is doomed to failure without outside intervention.
posted by brian at 3:28 AM on November 29, 2000

i don't think it's right to tell these young boys that they're constant victims of bigotry. they have long lives ahead of them to discover it on their own. it's too much for kids to handle.

Come on, kids this age are already experiencing homophobic comments every day in school. They're already handling a lot. While I agree it's important to help them avoid a victim mentality, as a parent of a 14-yr-old who doesn't clearly fit into boy culture, I can tell you: the narrow-mindedness of his peers is disturbing. My son won't wear or own anything purple because of the gay pride taunts he'd have to face. I can only imagine how painful it is for boys who know they're gay and have to endure the same verbal barrages.

I don't have a problem with a young gay men's magazine per se and I think advertisers, who have knowingly marketed fashions via gay sex to adult men for years, are being two-faced and paranoid about marketing to the younger set.

Come to think of it, I know I saw XY at my local Borders. I'm buying a copy to see just how edgy it is.
posted by debrahyde at 3:53 AM on November 29, 2000


yes, porny is a word

and i really hope you weren't serious about being proud of being scared by people being true to themselves

posted by sawks at 6:34 AM on November 29, 2000

What a waste of breath (ink). The advertisers don't stay away because of the content of the magazine or the lifestyles of the people who read it, they stay away due to the consistent lack of quality.

First of all, I think it's clear that the advertisers do stay away because of content. Like the Calvin Klein rep saying "You know Calvin Klein would love to be able to advertise in your magazine...But we can't when you print shit like this."

I don't read XY much, as it's aimed at a younger group than I, but I've read it some and I wish like hell it had been around when I was in high school. Even today I like that it's not the over-polished cleaned-up "face of gay america" that's manufactured by Out, the Advocate, and PlanetOut.

As for "lack of quality" - I've never found XY to be lacking in quality. Indeed, for an independent magazine I find the quality to be quite high. And it's also a catch-22: sure, it may not have the ritzy flash of Out, Vanity Fair or other big name mags, but it doesn't have the same budget due to (you guessed it) lack of big-name advertisers.

Unfortunately, Cummings has pretty much shot himself in the foot here. If Abercrombie already wouldn't take his calls, now they almost certainly never will. It may be that XY needs new management to help save it, but I hope that doesn't mean getting bought out by Liberation Publications - there is more than one voice to gay america, and I'm sick of all gay media getting swallowed up by that one company.
posted by dnash at 7:58 AM on November 29, 2000

XY's problem with advertisers is that they see it as explicitly validating under-18 sex in a magazine with a significant under-18 readership. Note, not _gay_ under-18, just under-18 sex.

Broad-market brands simply will not countenance any such thing in a magazine which has a significant under-18 demographic. You better believe that nothing in an editorial voice at "CosmoGirl" or "TeenPeople" _ever_ does anything to suggest that it is cool or proper to have sex before age 18, whether you're a girl or a boy or straight or gay.

Niche brands, which thrive upon parental and social disapprobation, like hip-hop musicians and skateboard manufactures, can tolerate it, and brands of all sorts are OK with alternative-weeklies and other publications which aren't actually aimed at kids having some content which seems to condone underage sex.

XY's solution would be to try to disaggregate teen gay sex from teen gay identity and validate only the latter. They might well refuse the attempt, and, even if they did attempt it, I strongly doubt whether the parents and shareholders of America would actually believe it.

posted by MattD at 9:58 AM on November 29, 2000

I have to say, what bothers me more about this article is the unquestioning adulation of fashion and what is 'mainstream,' as he himself puts it. When I decided to attend a certain very queer college in a certain very queer city, I somehow had the romantic notion that the kids would be more radical and more interesting and all that stuff. It took me about a week to realise that that was not the case. But it still disappoints me every time I'm faced with the fact that queer kids and queer media are just different versions of the same old thing. Gay and bisexual people really are just like everybody else, I guess--and it's too bad. 'Cause it means they can be just as shitty. As far as I'm concerned, queer kids should see that what they rail against in the form of homophobia is connected to larger social issues, but that frequently does not happen, and the attitude of this editorial hardly expresses that awareness. It just assumes that it's good to support mainstream culture and its values and to try to be a part of the mainstream media. Maxim and Teen and all those other magazines aren't bad because they're 'straight'--though that is a big cultural problem. Those magazines are bad because they are bad, and they reflect poor, degenerate cultural values.
posted by Annabel.Gill at 2:15 PM on November 29, 2000

Just yesterday this. One in a long stream of legal battles XY has had to deal with. Again, unprofessional and a complete lack of quality. Now what page did you want to put your ad on?
posted by brian at 2:23 PM on November 29, 2000

You can't expect people to be politicised just because they have had a hard time. I had a hard time and I became politicised, but EVEN THEN your drive can fade after a while. You do what you can, you care about what you can and you try to get on with your life.

Much political struggle is based around anger, and gay people had to be pressed quite hard originally to express that anger in any large number because the vast majority of people internalised it and redirected it towards themselves. You ask me, these people just find being out a relief rather than a call to action.

I wish it were not so, but it is. And frankly if that's what they need to do, then who am I to buy them tie-dye clothing and throw them in a protest march.
posted by barbelith at 3:38 PM on November 29, 2000

Re: Brian's link to the lawsuit. I don't think that reflects badly on XY, I think it reflects some extreme naivete on the part of the models. They were posing for Steven Underhill, after all, whose career is based on homoerotic photos of frat-boy-ish young men. Without a picture of them I can't be sure, but the twins involved there may be the two featured in a Steven Underhill calendar that's been decorating my apartment all year, and if so I can't see how they didn't know what they were posing for - wrestling in their underwear, cuddling by the pool, etc. And I may be wrong about this, but aren't photographs generally the property of the photographer? Meaning he can sell them to whatever magazine he wants to. Probably there hasn't been an issue of XY without an Underhill photo in it, so they really should have expected it. It sounds to me like they made the right decision by not continuing with modelling careers, if they truly were dumb enough not to know what they were getting into.
posted by dnash at 7:10 AM on November 30, 2000

Yes. I think they made the right decision. heh.
posted by brian at 1:34 PM on November 30, 2000

Ah - those aren't the twins on the calendar I mentioned. :)
posted by dnash at 2:43 PM on November 30, 2000

I don't expect people to be politicised "just because they have had a hard time." Anybody has the right to be as political or apathetic, as conservative or progressive, as they like, whether they are a member of an oppressed group or not. But what I find objectionable is purely self-serving single-issue politics. The XY rant was not apolitical, it was just political on one point which pertains to the writer and his audience. The women around my college campus are a perfect case for this. They are certainly not apolitical, and they make a lot of noise about being radical, but frequently the only issues they actually care about, when you get right down to it, are gay issues and women's issues, particularly the right to an abortion. These are the things that affect them personally. I think these are important issues, but there are other things which are equally, if not more, important. But these wealthy, queer women's highest, if not only, priority, is issues that affect the queer community and women. Being a member of both of those groups, I quite frankly find this attitude difficult to reconcile. If you are going to agitate about an issue because it affects you, it is both irresponsible and hypocritical to be passive about - if not outright condoning - the larger social picture.
posted by Annabel.Gill at 3:33 PM on November 30, 2000

I just don't agree. I mean - clearly it's a good thing to care about other issues other than the ones that ONLY affect you specifically, but have you any idea how MANY other issues there are?! You choose your battles - that's always been the way. And I think that you over-estimate the extent to which people concentrate their political action - just because entry in the military is a "gay" issue doesn't mean that it is one that affects me directly, and yet I think most gay people would campaign for it. Similarly those who were not bullied for being gay at school still fight for those who were. And when you look at the sheer range of places where (for example) gay politics "crosses over" into talk on liberalising education, the role of the church in the state, parenting issues, workplace discrimination etc etc. These issues are all shaken up as part and parcel of the same package of moves. So I guess to summarise, I'd argue that: 1) People have to be selective about what they campaign for - while 2) I don't think people ARE as selective as you suggest, nor do I think that what appear to be superficially "gay issues" have no impact in general on the more general communities of people at large.
posted by barbelith at 9:29 AM on December 1, 2000

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