PRINT September 1992


Out's Issue No. 1

WE JUST WANT TO BE LOVED—and maybe to spend some of our legendary disposable incomes. This is the premise that brims from the gleaming pages of Out, an ambitious attempt to take queer magazine-publishing into the mainstream. Out, as the first issue’s cover proclaims, is in. A pair of chalky faces beckon with pursed lips. The pose is not so much defiant as it is privileged—manicured, in spite of the man’s four o’clock shadow.

Once mailed in plain brown-paper wrappers, queer magazines are now quite visible, at least in some parts of the world. But for publications like Out, shedding the veil apparently depends on removing provocative material so as to gain larger audiences and national advertisers. Even The Advocate, intent on raising its circulation (and presumably its ad revenues), has taken to sealing up its substantial classified-advertising pages—chock full of porn stars, masseurs, and 1-900 numbers—into a detachable satellite. Apparently, containment is crucial for this motion into the “mainstream” (wherever that utopian realm).

Out’s opening editorial claims that to be lesbian or gay in the magazine’s pages is “matter of fact.” No big deal. “You won’t find a homophobic televangelist in our midst,” the essay remarks—no surprise here; on the other hand, the magazine does promise “the most talented contributors we can muster, doing their most passionate work—with fewer filters.” Inevitably there are still some filters, like the sepia ones covering the men’s fashion pages, making the models look tan—but not too tan—and masking a conspicuous absence of color in the editorial pantheon. Out’s inventors have aped “mainstream” style impeccably; the publication is as white-bread as anything in the Condé Nast stable.

While Out’s editors insist that “Out comes from many viewpoints within a spectrum,” the magazine’s mission—to groom queerness into an attractive life-style—seems to be founded on a singular notion of lesbian and gay selfhood. Rather than capitalize on the real diversity implicit in queerness, articles on the joys of eating asparagus (even if, as the writer observes, it does leave your urine smelling rank) and a profile of CNN’s fashion producer cater exclusively to a privileged constituency. A profile of AIDS doctor Joseph Sonnabend unfortunately ends up a Vanity Fair–style blow-job.

“Anatomy of a Gym: Sweat, Loathing and Big Arms” reveals the implicit paradox of attempting slick consumer-mag writing within the queer field. “We live in a looks-ist world,” the author remarks, “and, as hard as it is physically to make your body fit the fascist model, it’s probably twice as hard to reprogram your brain—and your hormones—to be sexually attracted to a 500-pound object of affection, if indeed you are not.” Solution: “Scores of people have opted for workouts rather than workshops, even if it is the most maniacal conduct we’ve advanced since the whalebone corset.” The writer may or may not understand the implicit politics of the hierarchy of desire that he allows, but he uses certain key words—“looks-ist,” “fascist,” “maniacal”—that at least suggest an awareness. Yet the result remains another feeble life-style piece about gyms, the political consciousness submerged beneath the demands of the writing.

Discussing the drug Ecstasy, another writer might just as well be talking about the experience of perusing Out: “It could be a powerful catalyst for change,” but has not even “become an antidote for what makes clubs and bars such alienating experiences to begin with: the attitude, rudeness and expense, the unbearable noise, the focus on physical beauty above all other concerns.” It’s not that muscles and stupidity can’t be pleasurable, but they have social ramifications that Out, in its current form, cannot begin to address. Intentionally or innocently, in tracking the mainstream Out preserves patterns of domination that sustain the dichotomies of “inside” and “out”—it essentializes lesbian and gay identities and eradicates difference within its own community. In the end, Out’s vanilla agenda only subverts the magazine’s own mission, embracing the strategies that compartmentalize its audience in the first place.

But Out’s troubling vision reflects deep-seated contradictions in queer culture more generally. Profiled in Out, New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott explains that “as a gay man working in the ’mainstream,’ I’m able to look at society through a different lens than most of my colleagues. . . . as a minority journalist . . . all you can do is be professional and tell the truth.” Minority? Truth? Whatever career risks Elliott may have taken by his frankness at the Times, this white male resident of the Upper East Side exemplifies diversity in a highly qualified way. Publishing “many viewpoints within a spectrum” is more than simply a matter of wearing a baseball cap with your business suit.

Perhaps Out is no more accountable for diversity or intelligence than say, W or Genre; perhaps it simply caters to one constituency and that’s enough. Perhaps it will even get better with time. For the moment, despite the impressive four-color separations, Out’s pages are redundantly alabaster.

Lawrence Chua is a writer and producer, managing editor of Bomb, and a commentator for Crossroads, a weekly newsmagazine on National Public Radio. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Transition, and Premiere.