Gay Marketeers

By Schulman, Sarah | The Progressive, July 1995 | Go to article overview

Gay Marketeers


Schulman, Sarah, The Progressive


When first started working as an openly lesbian journalist, there were hardly any out women in non-gay publications. Most everyone who was out was restricted to volunteer papers like Womanews and Gay Community News. At that time, being an out lesbian journalist meant paying a high professional price. As my grandmother would say, there was no money in it. As a result, the gay press, with a few exceptions like The Advocate, was run by disorganized but community-based collectives. If you could survive the collective, you could probably get your article published. Traditionally, people on professional journalism tracks stayed in the closet while the gay enterprises that had no professional future were left to the communities.

Today, gay journalism is a highly controlled and rigid phenomenon. Most of the glossy gay magazines or mainstream magazines with significant gay content subscribe to uniform styles, narrow scopes of coverage, and a sparse collection of opinions. Even though the idea of homosexuality has more social visibility, the spectrum of gay and lesbian opinion and experience represented in the media is far more narrow now than it was fifteen years ago.

In an effort to win advertising from producers of prominent luxury items, like Absolut Vodka and Kenneth Cole shoes, the glossy gay press represents its readers to advertisers as people with large discretionary incomes. Some gay magazines, in their prospectuses, claim readers with an average income of $55,000 a year. They claim gay men are the "most brand-loyal consumers" in the country.

The vast majority of gay and lesbian people end up with no representation of their lives in the media. Instead, we are bombarded by the A-list, white, male, buff, wealthy stereotype that becomes the image, in the American mind, of the average gay person. Even more importantly, it becomes the standard by which gay people increasingly measure ourselves.

This process works slightly differently for lesbian readers than for gay men because, as Esther Kaplan has observed, there is no standard preferable body type in lesbian culture. The female images in glossy gay magazines are almost all extrapolated from the gay male model. So women readers don't see female images that refer to their lived experience or collective fantasy.

In addition to market-driven changes, there has been a transformation of acceptable intellectual practice within the framework of gay print media. For a while, wild debate was once considered desirable, but it is now frowned upon and repressed. Criticism and disagreement have been replaced by the smooth veneer of a commodity. Our leaders are no longer intellectuals but marketeers.

I attribute this to the emergence of a gay management class - a coterie of people who went to the same universities, who are not exactly artists or activists themselves, but who have more power than any individual artist or activist can have. They have this power by being part of a corporate media organization, and they use it to contain individual voices and to market communities.

I know a lot of people who believe that there is a kind of class war emerging within the gay and lesbian world - that the gay conservatives and the gay pure capitalists will simply push the rest of us out of the picture with a kind of de-facto blacklist. I'm not sure I agree with this analysis, but I think it's worth examining. Obviously, people with radical political beliefs are being increasingly marginalized within the gay community and are losing access to platforms, publications, and income.

It's hard to ignore the increasing similarity between the mainstream media and the gay press's versions of gay life. This dissolution of dissent has a lot to do with the commercialization of homosexual life.

Publishers of AIDS-related periodicals will tell you that the glossy, national gay magazines have virtually abandoned AIDS advocacy. "There is still a sense in the glossy gay magazines that AIDS is downmarket - bad for the image," says Sean Strub, publisher of POZ, a magazine for people with HIV. …

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