Can a woman embrace gay publications without being assumed to be a lesbian? Not in my experience. Is there something to be gained by reading materials that weren’t written with you in mind? Absolutely.
When I’m in a crowded subway with the cover of the Advocate or Xtra clearly displayed to the other passengers I don’t think twice about what their perceptions of my sexual orientation may be any more than I’ve ever questioned my sexual preference while reading magazines targeted to a gay audience. I am a straight woman who regularly reads queer publications but, since stereotyping is alive and well, I am sure that some people who see me reading automatically assume that I am a lesbian.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I take issue with the idea that someone might mistake me for a lesbian. What I object to is being compartmentalized according to my sexual orientation, to the limitations that are imposed on all of us based on our identities. Everyone should be free to gravitate toward whatever speaks to them, regardless of whether it fits with their demographic.
I’ve never been the type of person to embrace media that is directed at me in terms of gender or race. In some areas my musical tastes are atypical of a black woman, with artists like Joan Jett, Tom Petty and The Clash rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jody Watley and Craig David in my record collection. In the past I’ve been dressed down by friends over some of the white artists that I listen to, so I guess you could say I’m used to being a target of other people’s closed minds.
When it comes to queer mags I’ve been confronted with disapproving frowns from acquaintances who clearly would prefer that I not embarrass them in public with my choice of reading material. When I question the reasons behind their attitude they give me that look as if to say, “Isn’t it obvious?” When I press further I am met with a condescending shake of the head as if I am the clueless one. My friends probably don’t think of themselves as homophobic, but their actions seem to indicate differently.
While I don’t have to share every inch of common ground with the writers of gay-themed magazines I do find that their work is often relevant to me. Indeed I find reflections of my life in some of the topics that are tackled in these publications despite the fact that they weren’t written with me in mind. Even when there are articles that I can’t directly relate to they still offer me insight. We can all learn more about ourselves and about the world by seeing things from outside our own cultural perspective.
What attracted me to queer-oriented publications? As a longtime fan of the ’70s TV series Wonder Woman I rushed out and bought a copy of Girlfriends magazine a few years back when it featured actress Lynda Carter on the cover. There was also the Xtra piece some years back critiquing the TV show Queer as Folk, which was one of my favourite programs at the time. I’d been expecting more coverage about the series in both gay and straight publications, since it was considered to be groundbreaking and controversial, but I don’t recall mainstream sources like Entertainment Tonight and People magazine devoting any coverage to the show.
There are those people who assume that, as a heterosexual woman, my initial attraction to gay-themed magazines must be the handsome men who grace the pages. Not true. Sure there may be good-looking actors, models or everyday men in queer magazines but I don’t flip through the pages hoping to see photos of a plethora of hunky men. The pictures can be a bonus but I pick the publications up for the articles, not the other way around.
I also like to read articles about gays and lesbians — celebrities and average folks — who talk about coming out to the people around them. It can be very inspiring to me even if I cannot directly relate to their experience. It’s more about the struggle a person goes through to get to the point where they feel comfortable enough to declare their sexual orientation. Gay or straight, we all deal with issues that we are struggling with and we can find comfort, strength and inspiration from someone else’s bravery.
I know there must be other heterosexuals — men and women — who feel the same way as I do about queer publications and queer culture more generally. On the other hand there are, and probably always will be, those who believe homosexuality is a deviant sexual behaviour and will continue to shake their heads at straight folks like me for being party to it. But maybe if we straight aficionados of queer culture begin to act as ambassadors some of those folks will come around and realize that we all have something to gain by embracing difference.