An image sticks out in my Facebook News Feed. The lead singer of one of my favourite bands – Grizzly Bear – looks at me from the cover of a new magazine for gay men: Hello Mr. Trumpeting itself self as a new voice for gay men, the magazine promises to be an ‘overdue response to the unending clichés that surround current gay lifestyle publications’ and a chance ‘to expose our vulnerabilities and redefine our identities.’
Just what vulnerabilities it is trying to expose, I’m not quite sure. If the trailer for the magazine is any indication, perhaps it’s our vulnerability when we’re perched on a windowsill drinking tea or reading a book. Or maybe it’s the difficult task of maintaining just the right amount of stubble to seem like you haven’t tried at all.
Alternative gay press like Hello Mr. is of course, nothing new. Internationally, Butt magazine has successfully promoted itself as an alternative outlet for gay men. Though much more risqué (OR SHOULD I SAY RIS-GAY?) than Hello Mr., both magazines form an important part of a growing alternative gay subculture predominated by bands you haven’t heard of, clothes you couldn’t afford and hairstyles that look more at home at a Hitler Youth camp.
My characterisation of this subculture is pretty reductive, but it’s clear that this subculture is a direct move away from mainstream gay culture and publications like DNA, where muscle-bound men stare vacantly from magazine covers wearing nothing more than designer swimwear. But is this a good thing?
Hello Mr. proposes to avoid ‘perfecting appearances’ but flicking through the pages of the first edition you would be forgiven for thinking that wasn’t the case. Maybe the muscles are out, but surely spending hours perfecting your disaffected look is just as superficial. The men remain, like in other gay lifestyle magazines, uniformly attractive. In other words, the currency might look different, but the unattainable lifestyle remains.
I also find the magazine’s mission statement incredibly difficult, and this is the real problem. The magazine’s central proposition: that it will help ‘redefine our identities’ seems to imply that currently there is something wrong. Which leads to this problematic question: by selectively airbrushing parts of queer identity and history we are uncomfortable with, are we not falling back into the trap of internalizing society’s homophobia?
Time and again, gay men have attempted to redefine themselves in a way that implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) rejects the predominate stereotype of gay men, but what motivates us? Is it the realisation that suddenly reading literature and listening to bands from Sweden is cool? Or is it the fear of seeming too ‘gay’ itself? Too often it is the second question and this is the problem with Hello Mr. We should never be motivated by the idea that parts of gay culture are wrong; it’s unhealthy and only feeds self-loathing.
Certainly there should be room for alternative gay voices in the media; for too long the conversation hasn’t been about what, as gay men, we can offer intellectually, spiritually or creatively, it has been about how much iron we can pump at a gym. But we should always be vigilant. We shouldn’t forsake part of our identity in the hope of starting another one that is cooler. The danger then, is that in creating an alternative outlet for gay men, you simply establish another unattainable stereotype motivated by the same internalised homophobia that has held gay men back for so long.