Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Response to a Comment Received from Sarah

On Saturday, March 12, I received the following comment from Sarah, to the post titled "The Gay Lifestyle":

You know, Rick, when I was trying to do a little "background" learning before I started as a facilitator at that youth group, I bought a few LGBT magazines, as well as that collection of coming out stories you knew about. I think you've mentioned this before, but I was really struck by how much of the magazine (one more so than others, of course the name escapes me, but it was a Canadian publication) dedicated space to fairly trivial and sex-related stuff, as opposed to articles about issues facing gays and lesbians, or just current events/political issues, and how they affect the LGBT community. Given the volunteer work I do (at the Calgary Sexual Health Centre) I'd certainly describe myself as "sex positive," so I don't mean I have anything against sex, but there was just a very casual, "how to hook-up" feeling to the articles, it didn't represent the gay men who I know very well (you included, if I may presume to say I know you!) Anyway, I think what you're doing really fills a void. As you write these posts, perhaps some day you'll consider putting them together into book form? It could be a really wonderful thing for young people who are just coming out/beginning to navigate within the LGBT community to have. I would, of course, be honoured to proof-read for free!!

Here's my response:

Thank you, Sarah, for this comment.  What you wrote not only validates the content of some of my posts here, but also gives me, and my readers, the point-of-view of a straight mother, someone with a fresh perspective, and a positive and supportive attitude toward LGBT people.  

With regard to your discovery about the content of the magazines you bought, you are right, I have written about this before, and many publications intended for gay men are filled with inconsequential articles and overly-sexual advertising. Every time Chris and I go into Little Sisters, the gay and lesbian emporium in Vancouver, we see stacks of free magazines at the entrance to the store.  In most cases, they aren't worth the paper they're printed on, and the ones on the newsstand often aren't worth much more.  

That said, two of my favorites are The Advocate and Out, both of which are difficult to find on newsstands (which is why I subscribe to them online).  I believe they strike a better balance between interesting and useful articles, and those that are merely titillating.

Still, here's what I found:  In the March issues, Out contained a total of twenty-eight advertisements, eighteen percent of which featured some form of male nudity, and The Advocate contained a total of thirty-four ads, twenty-six percent of which featured some form of male nudity.  And, by the way, several articles in both showed semi-dressed or virtually naked men, from Darren Criss (Blaine in "Glee"), to male models, to Francois Sagat, a French gay male porn star.  The content of the March issues is typical for these magazines.

In general, my issues with gay publications are the following:
  1. As you write, the emphasis often appears to be on sex and "how to hook up," as opposed to something gay men can really use.  There's a big difference between wanting to meet someone for sex (which I find meaningless) and wanting to meet a life partner (which I find meaningful). I'd like to see articles on how to be the best person you can to prepare yourself to meet a life partner, which, in my opinion, is more constructive. But, of course, sex sells, sex ads generate a lot of revenue for publications, and gay men seem to like sex.  So... 
  2. As if it isn't bad enough that the self-esteem of many gay men is battered by those who discriminate against us.  In our own publications, we see picture after picture of handsome, hunky men, displaying ripped bodies, and selling a fantasy image and lifestyle.  Sooner or later, we all start to ask ourselves, do I look like that?  Do I measure up to this ideal?  Am I obsessed with trying to live up to an unrealistic example of what I'm told gay men are, at the detriment of more important things, which is just about everything else?  
  3. Youth, youth, and more youth.  I don't know who these magazines cater to, but the population demographic is changing along with the aging of baby boomers.  In the next decade or so, older gay men will outnumber younger. Their spending capacity will be significant, and they will look for representation of themselves in terms of positive images in the media. Those who provide the images, as well as thought-provoking pieces specifically for older gay men, will realize the windfall.  We can no longer afford to ignore grey gay power.  Being gay is no longer about just being young and beautiful.
Yes, it's true, Sarah, you and I have never met.  But, believe me, you know me better than most people because you've read my blog, and because I've shared with my readers personal parts of myself I've never discussed with anyone.  So, when you say you don't think the material in the gay magazines you bought represent me, you're right.  I try to be thoughtful and introspective, to look at what being gay means from a different angle, and to make the road to being out and fully realized easier for those who come after me.

I can't realistically assess to what extent I've been successful doing that through this blog, because I never know if what I write makes sense to anyone else.  All I can do is be true to myself, continue to write as honestly as I know how, and hope my words resonate with someone.  I believe what I do here is important work.  I'll be fifty-two this year, I've been out of the closet for twenty-five years, and I'm hopeful living this long in my skin will have the benefit of helping someone understand himself better and accept himself more.  

Certainly, I realize I've accumulated an abundance of written material in this blog over the past two years, probably enough for a book of some sort.  I won't pretend I haven't thought about putting it together and seeking publication--because I'm a writer and, ultimately, that's what I want to do--but I feel I still have more work to do, more posts to write, more areas of myself to explore in the process (after all, part of this is about helping me to better understand myself, too).

I'm thrilled that what I have to offer is available right now to anyone who is open to reading and thinking about it.  If I succeed in helping one gay person to look at himself and his life in a more positive and enlightened way, then I believe the effort I put into this will be worth it.

As always, thank you so much for your ongoing support, your kind words, and your friendship.  I appreciate the difference you've made to my blog and your contribution to the ongoing conversation.

I invite any and all of my readers to be a part of that conversation, too.


  1. I think the issue of overt sexuality in advertising is something women have been aware of for a while, as well as the unrealistic body types presented, and perhaps that awareness is on the way for the gay community as well. As those of us in our 40s and 50s know, youth is fleeting, and gravity is not our friend! Better to acknowledge that, and appeal to a wider audience. I had a similar problem when I was trying to find a magazine for my daughter's xmas stocking: to see what's out there for young women is pretty sad. And while everyone loves the odd time where they read a silly magazine, it's not the only thing that should be
    on offer. I'd like to see more options out there, starting with ones geared toward young people (why not cover issues around coming out, bullying-school or
    workplace, support groups, etc.) It'd be neat if there were something along the
    lines of Vanity Fair's template, where each issue would have an article on a
    historical figure, fashion, interview, geared toward a thinking, adult audience. In
    the same way that it's offensive to women if people think they're defined by
    Cosmopolitan magazine, so it should (and clearly does!) offend gay men to be
    only defined by sex and abs...

  2. ...sorry for the wonky iPhone formatting, grr!

  3. No problem about the formatting, Sarah.

    Three other things I could have mentioned in this post.

    1). I was aware of the comparison between what women have tolerated in their magazines, etc. for years, and what gay men have put up with, too. The similarities have the same effect--to focus us in the wrong places, and to make us feel inadequate and insecure (that is, to negatively affect our self-esteem).

    2). Whenever the argument comes up that gay material should cover the more important topics--for example, self-esteem in gay men--the attitude is always, look for that in mainstream magazines or books. If you want something specific to being gay, buy magazines intended for gays. What they fail to realize is our issues are slightly different and need to be addressed separately. I really don't think it's a case of one-size-fits-all.

    3). I didn't intend to overlook your kind offer to proofread material from this blog if I were ever to include it in a book. I know my writing would improve under your experienced and watchful eyes, so, hey, you never know, I may just take you up on your offer some day.

    Thanks for this comment and the one that inspired this post.

  4. Well, I don't know about improving, but from a purely selfish standpoint, I would looove to see any essays you're writing for that book some day...very fun!

    And I agree that there is a difference with self-esteem, or other issues, in the LGBT community, as opposed to straight society, because you have that extra hurdle of those early feelings of isolation and perhaps even rejection from family and friends. Most straight people dealing with self-esteem issues haven't had to deal with that.

    And whether we're talking about gay men or straight women, any medium that reduces them to an attractive stereotype makes it easier to ignore their very real contributions to society.

  5. Sarah, I wish I were working on essays for a book. Unfortunately, time doesn't allow for that. Besides looking after our household in every respect, I write and publish blog posts here, which are the equivalent of personal essays, and I'm working on a novel. I have about 170 pages written on that, but I'm still a long way from having the first draft finished. Oh, and I write my private journal every day as well. That's about all the writing I have time for.

    I appreciate your comment that self-esteem issues are different for gay people. I think they are too, in some respects. But no matter one's sexual orientation or reason for low self-esteem, I think many feel isolated or rejected in their own way. I believe that's the nature of low self-esteem--you see yourself as inadequate, which, whether it's true or not, makes you feel isolated from those you love and from society.

    If I started writing about the matter of gay men and physical attractiveness, I could go on forever. First, there's the stereotype all gay men are attractive or handsome, which is just as ludicrous as all black people have rhythm. Then there's the focus--wherever it comes from--the gay community itself places on physical beauty, so as to be sexually appealing to other men. But what about substance, guys? I wish that mattered as much as being pretty, tanned, and buff.

    As always, I appreciate your comment. What you write always has a way of helping me to look deeper in myself and gain a better understanding of what's true for me, and I thank you for that.

  6. I totally agree, your blog would be a great foundation for a book! Especially if you were to focus on the topical issues of bullying and self esteem. You have a wealth of insights that would be useful to everyone, gay and straight. I would gladly offer any assistance, however small and inexpert : )

  7. Thank you for your vote of confidence, Doug.
    I won't pretend I haven't given serious thought to turning what I've written here into something more. I'd like to think I have something to offer that isn't available elsewhere, or, at least, not in quite this way.
    At the same time, I know I have more to explore, more to understand fully, and, ultimately, more to contribute. My immediate goal is to keep on doing what I do and see what happens.
    I appreciate your kind offer to provide assistance, as well as Sarah's. A writer always needs encouragement and people who are willing to be there. Both you and Sarah are wonderful writers, and I know my work would benefit from your scrutiny and advice. Who knows, I may well come knocking on your doors some day.
    Many thanks for this comment and for your ongoing interest in my blog.

  8. Advocating superstar life to young people is beneficial. Think about how much of what we buy, what car we drive, how we dress is influenced by other people who seem to know what they are speaking about. Simply put: a gorgeous stud on a high quality paper knows how it is good to live my life. And these "supportive" words make a person to hurt more in life and therefore needing more pleasure in form of entertainment, alcohol, fancy cars, etc.

    How few is said about a person taking care for oneself, making sure that she/he is safe and taking precautions: condoms, vaccinations against HPV (I recently heard from a physician that HPV vaccine is strongly advisable for gay men reducing the risk of anal cancer), regular checkups, eating well, keeping mental and physical part of one active, to grow self-esteem, how to find your passion (read: love) for something and someone in your life.

    I find that people speak a lot about looks, careers and money but little about seeing how little can be more. A young man like me sometimes just feels that what I want to become (a teacher) is pointless, I should just give up all my dreams, become a responsible man and study something important, like medicine, law, earn a lot money, buy a house and have four kids.

    Thankfully there are communities (families) like this who give realistic views on life: that yes it can be hard, painful and unpleasant but the main is to dream on. Even if your purposes in life are not clear, you can still dream that one day there will be something you would want to dream about.

  9. Elevencats, your comments always make me smile. First, I love to receive them, and second, I love the way you express yourself.

    On the subject of living simply, and more meaningfully, well-known Canadian writer Lucy Maud Montgomery said, "Freedom is what you can live without." I've never forgotten this. Once basic needs are met, everything else is discretionary. It's just a matter of deciding what is really a need, and not merely a want.

    On the subject of your dream to become a teacher, I want to share this quote with you from American writer Maya Angelou: "At our best, we are all teachers." If we are all at our best when we teach others, no matter what line of work we're in, imagine what you could as a professional teacher.

    I can't think of a more noble calling. I wanted to be a teacher at one time, too--of English and writing, my two greatest passions. To this day, I remember all the best teachers I had, and how they positively influenced me and the direction my life took.

    If it is your dream to be a teacher, you must not allow anything to dissuade you. Imagine the positive impact you will have on other people's lives. Hold fast to your dream and make it a reality.

    Many thanks for your comment. I hope you will continue to visit my blog and leave comments often.