The Rise (And Fall?) Of Gay Media

Gay MediaGay media fascinates me. As ‘gay becomes mainstream’, the question is: do we still need our own media, and if we do, how should that media represent and reflect us?

Add to that already interesting mix the issue of digital disruption that’s rupturing old media business models, and things go to a whole other level. The rise of blogging platforms and social media in the first decade of the naughties is often attributed to the almost decimation of traditional print media. But is that really the case?

Sure, there’s been an impact. But is that impact the fault of the new and emerging media, or is it the old media’s inability to be agile and responsive that’s led the industry to where it finds itself now? And where exactly is the media industry now anyway? It’s hard to get a clear picture. Because while there have been some well documented closures and downscalings, a crop of new zines and niche publications have popped up and are flourishing.

Which in some ways, in my own opinion, reflects where media (including media aimed at our community) is heading. It’s going to break away from the dominance of a few major players, and in that vacuum, smaller, niche, grassroots media will take root – both online and off.

So in some ways, maybe it’s not all doom and gloom. Maybe we’re actually at the dawn of a new era in creative media creation and consumption?

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So these are some of the thoughts I’ve been having lately. As a small scale, independent and alternative blogger living hundreds of miles from civilisation in Australia, I reached out to someone who I admire and respect greatly, who is by any measure of success a fucken big deal in gay media and who lives in pretty much the epicentre of gay media culture, Brooklyn – Chadwick Moore.

As the Editor-at-Large for Out and The Advocate, as well as being a contributing writer to Playboy and The New York Times, Chadwick is well positioned to have a solid understanding of the current state of the media.


Chadwick Moore

His work has taken him to the gay underbelly of Moscow in the aftermath of Putin’s anti-LGBT propaganda law; to the streets of Queens where undocumented, Latina, transgender sex workers struggle for survival; to a ranch in Montana to explore Native American two-spirit identity; to the homeless youth shantytowns outside Salt Lake City; and one month in a gay Crossfit cult.

Chadwick recently took time out of his insanely busy schedule to share with Little Gay Blog readers the stories that have bought him to tears, the dumbing down and straight-washing of gay culture, not being afraid to piss people off and his thoughts on the current and future state of gay media.

Here’s my chat with Chadwick Moore:

Little Gay Blog – You’ve covered a lot of interesting topics in your writing career so far, what’s been one of the the most impactful articles you’ve ever written on a personal level, and how did it affect you?

Chadwick – I woke to texts from my editors at Out and The Advocate asking me to get to the airport as soon as possible just hours after the massacre in Orlando ended. I was there all week and it was a struggle to keep my emotions in check and to do my job.

I remember the day I left to come home, at the airport in Orlando, the moment I passed through security I broke down and didn’t stop crying until I got back to New York. For the next month I barely slept or ate. The only place I wanted to be was in gay bars, around my people–not that that’s so unusual for me.

What I found most powerful, I think, went beyond the senselessness and horror inside the club that night and beyond the wonderful people I met, the tragic and cruelly ill-fated stories I heard. The aftermath–the solidarity gay people across the planet felt during that time, the celebration of ourselves and our community–was overwhelming.

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After that, it was no more Mr. Nice Gay for me. It awoke in me a new politics that I’m calling gay-exceptionalism and when I’m vocal about it, it pisses off a lot of other gay people, and that’s fine by me. A sense that we’ve been sanitised and straight-washed in the media and by straight people for so long–for some good ends, like gay marriage.

We may be forced to live in straight society, but the gay bar is still our church. You can go into any gay bar on the planet and feel perfectly at home. Every gay person on earth intimately knew the people inside Pulse that night without having ever met them and that gay bond–when it comes down to it, as we’ve always known–transcends race, class, age, and gender.

That’s what makes us so wonderful and, in my opinion, superior to the straight world, and that’s what was attacked in Orlando that night.

Before that, I would have said the story that impacted me the most was a piece I did for Out about Native American two-spirit societies. I went to a two-spirit gathering in Montana one weekend. I shamefully admit, I anticipated the story to be this funny, wild romp through an oddball sub-subculture, which are the sort of stories I like best.

I was there five minutes when I realise this was not that story. I met so many fantastic, interesting, and colourful people with such heart, humour, and joie de vie. But below the surface lingered incredible pain, trauma, and cultural grievance.

There was a moment on that trip–and I never use this word–that I had what I can only call a spiritual experience and, at the risk of sounding too grand, haven’t viewed humanity and western civilisation the same since.

That was the only other time I broke into tears after a reporting trip. It wasn’t sadness, it wasn’t a white-guilt thing. There was something more profound happening there.

With the emergence of social media, blogging and digital technologies, the way people create, consume and engage with media is changing. What are the some of the biggest challenges facing traditional (i.e. print) media, as well as potential opportunities?

The challenges are obvious. Circulation continues to drop for print, although not as precipitously as before, and there are indications the numbers may have plateaued.

Everyone expects content to be free. I’m one of those people, sadly, because I’m a product of the age we live in. Had the industry got it’s shit together very early on, perhaps we’d be in a place where pay-walls are the norm, rather than the exception, and aggregators that steal content could be sued into submission. But, that didn’t happen.

Traditional media was arrogant and blindsided and now we’re all on the hustle.

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One nice thing that’s come from this: many magazines have revamped their format and become these beautiful objects that you want in your home. OUT’s got gorgeous covers lately, switching to an airy, paired-down design and stunning photography and we’ve been nominated for a few awards.

Paper magazine is another example of the really ambitious cover. And Playboy, who I also write for, did a redesign this year with an entirely new format and paper stock, all with the same goal of making the print issue more of an artistic, showcase object rather than something to toss in the garbage after reading.

How would you rate the current state of LGBT media today, compared to say 10 years ago?

Ten years ago the stakes were higher, politically. We had the religious right still in power and gay marriage and other issues were at the forefront of the agenda.

Still, it doesn’t compare to the golden age of the gay press, which began when The Advocate started publishing in the 1960s, and continued through the 1980s, when the gay weekly was a vital part of gay life. I think at that time the gay press was a little more militant, in a good way, and more irreverent, punk-rock, counter-cultural, and sexy.

Today you’ve got a lot of gorgeous little queer zines publishing that are very much those things.

But in much of the online gay press, there’s this outrage culture and a witch hunt for every slightly homophobic private citizen and public figure in the country. I find it dull and oppressive and Stalinistic.

We should be laughing at Christian pizza shop owners who won’t serve gays, because it’s fucking hilarious. We shouldn’t be sending them death threats.

Then conversely, you’ve got the overly sentimental stuff. Every time a transgender person takes a crap or a gay couple goes to prom it’s headline news and they’re lauded for their bravery. I think it represents a dumbing down of gay people and gay culture and also maybe endemic boredom with our normalisation in society.

But I’m optimistic about the future, I think we will Make Gays Smart Again.

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And lastly, what direction do you see LGBT media taking into the future? Will there still be a need for specific media aimed at our community, or will we become so integrated into society that there won’t be a need for it anymore?

I certainly hope we never become that integrated into society. The gay community is split right now between those who want the heteronormative and to enter into conservative institutions like marriage and parenthood–and that’s all fine and well–and the other camp that still wants to push the boundaries of culture and revel in being outsiders.

So, yes, there will always be a need for the gay press, even if it may be doing a bit of soul-searching at the moment.

Look at RuPaul’s Drag Race. For many, that show is a vital part of our community now. And that’s because it’s unapologetically faggoty and you can’t get that anywhere else. It’s smart, camp, outrageous, and subversive. And while plenty of straight people love that show, too, they can’t appreciate it on quite the same level we do.

Perhaps the gay press could tap into that more. The stories I do for Out you’d never see in mainstream press. They wouldn’t get commissioned, or they’d be watered down to eliminate a strong, gay eye. You know when you read a really gay story in the mainstream press–off the bat you can tell if the reporter is gay or straight, because he may have missed some important detail or there’s an awkwardness to his writing.

An example of the reverse, I’m thinking of Guy Trebay’s beautiful profile of the young man who founded Grindr in The New York Times last year. Thank God they put a gay man on that story! The piece has this whole undertone of loneliness and isolation. It’s stunning. Can you imagine if a straight guy wrote it? How flat it would have been, the nuance he might have missed, how clueless he might have been about the intricacies of Grindr-culture?

The gay press comes at every story with that perspective which always will be different from the straight press. It’s very important to our culture and identity and it’s also a lot of fun.

I don’t know what the future is, but I think it’s bright. I hope all these DIY queer zines keep popping up. They’re lovely. I know I would like to see a lot more humour and camp and mischief in gay media and less celebrity, pop culture, and photoshopped abs–but that’s all media, not just gay media.

Perhaps what the last decade taught us is gays are free to be just as boring as straight people. And that, my friend, is equality.

You can find out more about Chadwick on his website.
You can also follow him on Instagram and Twitter too.

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