Based – I confess – on a very limited number of purchases, I cannot help associating gay-interest magazines with the wrong things. One gains the impression that their purpose is to keep the intended market informed with affairs exclusive to their lifestyle, and to encourage a sense of ‘community’ by celebrating what divides them from mainstream society.
Yet all I associate with these publications are the advertisements for gay sex-lines, saunas and construction companies, the homoerotic cologne adverts showing sailors in stripy vests, the occasional rant about the homophobic comments made by some public figure, critiques of films and stage productions that have become ‘gay cult classics’ simply because there is one apparently gay character among the cast, and interviews with middle-aged women worshipped as ‘gay icons’ despite not actually being gay themselves. None of these things ignite my interest, and having passed the phase of finding the top shelf of the magazine rack at WHSmith dangerously alluring, I have no reason to even acknowledge these publications, let alone purchase them.
Earlier this week, I found myself walking aimlessly about the town with an hour to fill before an appointment, and went straight to the library to seek solitude from the crowds and cold. I would have used this time to read, but I had only just finished “The Amber Spyglass” the night before and hadn’t yet chosen a new text. Of the various publications available in the reading room, G_______ was the only periodical remotely relevant to my character. The cover image of gaunt, pouting, muliebrous boys with white hair and vibrant tea-towel thin outfits posing before a minimalist studio backdrop should have prepared me for what I found amidst its pages. But I needed something to occupy my mind. Had there been a magazine on baking, books or Boccaccio, I would have approached them for the same purpose.
Forty-five minutes of entertainment included;
• A yearn about a threesome with two ‘three-legged friends’ that was secretly filmed without the teller’s consent, and how he endured several days of trauma fretting over his career being ruined should the video find its way onto the internet (yet showing no reluctance to share the gruesome details with his readers in the article). But, forever optimistic, he managed to put a positive spin on his troubles by prophesising that a sympathetic constable would take ‘pity’ on him if he reported the incident to the police…
• To honour the advent of Halloween, a selection of ‘horror stories’ from readers detailed their most frightening memories. Of the twenty of so anecdotes published, at least seventeen began with variations of “I’d taken some guy back to my place and we were going at it with gusto when…” or “I’d just finished having sex with some random I'd met the night before when…”
• A delightful piece titled ‘21 Sexual Adventures to experience before you die’ – the words ‘of AIDS’ having been tactfully left to the imagination. Such ‘adventures’ included having sex on your parents bed, seducing a married man, seducing a distant cousin and loosing your virginity to a ‘random’ (‘coz you may as well get it over with’).
• The somewhat gothic tale of a DJ who gained himself a stalker after making the mistake of giving out his business card to a conquest he’d picked up the night before. This Aesopic experience had led him to the conclusion that it is foolish to give private details to the likes one finds in gay bars, and that it is not 'fashionable' to have a stalker (was it ever 'fashionable' to begin with?)
And there were, in addition to these, vast quantities of the things I remembered from my earlier experiences of such magazines; adverts for gay travel agencies, insurance brokers and plumbers, pornographic publicity for a suit-hire service, an interview with a woman with a large, sparkling mouth I’d never heard of (hailed as a ‘gay icon’ despite no indication that she was gay herself) and a furious rant about the apparently homophobic comments made by a journalist over the death of a gay celebrity. Not to mention the extensive directory of sex-lines and ‘over-the-phone’ erotic storytelling that would keep anyone with more money than sense occupied for a lifetime.
It is quite depressing to feel like the only gay man in the world who isn’t interested in sex. Many of the gay contacts I’ve made (and lost once they realised they weren’t as attracted to me as they initially thought, or because I wouldn’t consent to marriage after the second date) spoke of their ‘libido’ as if it were a corrosive illness, curable only by hourly casual sex like a form of medication. Some of them have implied that I am an abomination of nature because I do not follow the same practice and bed every male specimine to enter my field of vision (one couldn't believe that I hadn't had sex with two school friends who were also gay - the implication being that just because all three of us were gay, we automatically had to have sex as if it were a rite-of-passage into the turbulent life of homosexuality). To use an analogy influenced by my recent reading of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, I would feel just as shocked and perplexed if I discovered a world in which gay men had had their ‘libidos’ removed as when Lyra discovered our world, in which people’s daemon’s are inside their bodies. I’ve given up trying to understand why this troublesome affliction seems to affect gay men exclusively – at least those that haunt Gaydar and who write columns for G_______ – and why I seem to be immune to the disease. Could it be a Jungian archetype that appeals to the male homosexual unconscious? Could it pure male egotism? Or could it be plain, simple Conformism – chief mistress of Inequality?
I am determined not to allow such publications as G_______ to mould my judgement of gay men. But when you appear to be the only person amidst the crowd of conformism fighting against the current, you begin to wonder – am I missing out? And do others like me actually exist amidst this fog of frolicking? The first doubt can be taken alone; in my own case, sex simply doesn’t interest me, and so I do not believe I am missing out on anything when I come across articles such as those mentioned above involving the author boasting of their unending sexual conquests and having ‘playmates’ as readily available as tap-water. And yet, the sheer fact I have been prompted to wonder if I am missing out demonstrates the way in which conformism lead us to question our beliefs and decisions, no matter how fleetingly - just as bullying over our skin colour, weight and appearance turns our bodies into burdens. Responding to the second, the answer is far simpler; people who do not conform avoid the fog completely.
In the same way that you never see quiet people because they are quiet, you never see the non-conformist homosexuals because they do not conform – they do not go to ‘pride’ events, work in theatres, purchase G_______ and use Gaydar as a virtual cruising ground. In which case, were would one find them, if one is seeking like-minded individuals? While I have no doubt a gay periodical exists somewhere in the cosmos which isn’t concerned entirely with cruising tips, steroids, drag acts and the treatment of battle scars received after a session of fetish indulgence, I challenge any brave individual with the tolerance to find it on a typical magazine rack. Gay-interest publications can always be identified by the presence of an suggestively posing, bare-chested man or two on the cover, splashed with sexual innuendos in bold letters giving one an indication of the features within (“What’s really between those legs – So-and-so bares all in his first GAY interview!”). Retract the one quality that these publications seem to share in common - what every gay man seems to live and breathe and require on an hourly basis - and how else can they be identified? Will a hint of sex always manage to slip into the picture regardless of the scale? And am I really an abomination of nature because I have yet to seduce my married neighbour, an adventure I am unlikely to achieve before I die?