The word magazine is an Arabic term for storehouse. Although periodicals had been published before, it was first used to describe a publication in 1731 with advent of the Gentlemen’s Magazine.
Other magazines followed in the eighteenth century, coinciding with the rise of literacy – The Lady’s magazine and The Lady’s Monthly Museum were however only affordable to a small section of elite female British society. By the 19th Century, the target audience changed: middle-class women were the new readers of titles like the Englishwomans’ Domestic Magazine and Charles Dickens’ Household Works. The formula for a magazine included lengthy pieces of fiction as well as articles known as ‘improving material.’
It was not until the 20th Century, with the advent of cheap printing technology, that magazine publishing became a more commercial affair, with its main source of income from the advertiser and not the reader.
The first gay magazine, Der Eigene, was published in Germany in 1896. It was not sold on the market stand but could be obtained from listed sources and underground merchants. This mode of sale lasted until the 1920s when gay and lesbian magazines could be found in German kiosks alongside newspapers and mainstream magazines.
The publishers of Der Eigene, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld and Adolf Brand, formed the world’s first gay liberation movement, the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, in 1897.
In the English-speaking world, gay liberation took longer to take hold. The first gay magazine of consequence, One, was published in 1952 by the Mattachine Society.
In 1948 two books that would bolster the cause of gay liberation were published: Gore Vidal’s fiction The City and the Pillar – which argued that homosexuality was a normal impulse and not a perversion – and Alfred Kinsey’s ground-breaking study, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male – which showed that there was a discernible gap between the myth of heterosexual mainstream and the fact. Nevertheless, the late 1940s witnessed the beginnings of a moral panic in the United States that led to the Communist witch-hunts. The demonised figure of the homosexual was swept up in this hysteria.
Harry Hay founded the Mattachine Society in 1950 in the wake of a clampdown on homosexuals, who, according to a US Senate committee, lacked “emotional stability” and would “frequently attempt to entice normal individuals to engage in perverted practices.” Members of the Mattachine Society attempted to emphasise their respectability, for example, turning up to events wearing hats and ties.
One magazine worked to dispel these myths through a combination of articles by doctors and psychologists to the personal accounts of its members. Its focus was on public education and not political activism.
The first lesbian organisation, The Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), was founded in 1955 with chapters in New York and Chicago. In 1956 its co-founder Phyllis Lyon became the editor of The Ladder. This was not the first lesbian magazine to be published in the US, however. That was Vice Versa, which was distributed privately in Los Angeles between 1947 and 1948.
At first the DOB cosponsored events with the Mattachine Society, but they quickly found the men to be condescending. There was no woman’s movement to speak of at that time, and they found voice for their concern in The Ladder.
As the 1960s progressed, the Mattachine Society and the DOB seemed out of date. The tone of the magazines in the pre-Stonewall era was apologetic. This was no longer right for the era, as was shown in the hard-hitting Los Angeles Advocate, which was first published in 1967 and is still running as The Advocate.
The Stonewall riots in June 1969, in which gay men and women hit back after a sustained period of intimidation by the New York Police, spelled the end of the era of the Mattachine Society and the DOB.
One had already closed in 1967. The Ladder published its last edition in 1972. As membership of the Mattachine Society fell away, a new organisation: unashamed, youthful, radical and uncompromising began to take its place – this was the Gay Liberation Front. Gay Liberation ideology consequently changed the tone and content of the magazines of the era.
The Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance were a far cry from the predominantly non-confrontational approach of the Mattachine Society. This was echoed in publications such as Fag Rag, and Gay Sunshine, which took a sexual liberationist approach; Gay and Come Out!, which reflected the militancy of the time; and Off Our Backs, the proactive lesbian feminist publication (not to be confused with the racier On Our Backs).
The only paper that tried to present a balance of gay male and lesbian representation was the Boston based Gay Community News.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in Britain in 1967. The Polari lexicon used secretly in the 1950s was on public display in the BBC Radio drama Round the Horne. In 1971 the homosexual love-story Maurice, a work by one of the century’s greatest novelists, E.M. Forster, was published posthumously. Quorum was published in 1971 and ran to 1976.
In 1972 the Gay Liberation Front was founded, Gay News (which was published as a broadsheet newspaper) and Jeffrey were published, and the first Pride march was held in London.
The founding of Millivres Ltd in 1974 brought soft-core to the British market with the publication of HIM. Millivres has since gone on to dominate the gay market, and now publishes GT (formerly Gay Times), Diva, AXM and the Pink Paper.
Gay News was effectively sunk by an archaic blasphemy trial in 1976-1977, led by the ‘moral crusader’ Mary Whitehouse (a former headteacher). Founding the Clean up Television Campaign (later to be the National Viewers and Listeners Association), Whitehouse claimed to have the ‘support of half a million housewives’ during her glory years. At the end of the trial the editor of Gay News, Denis Lemon was fined £500 and sentenced to nine months in prison while Gay News was fined £1000.
After the trial Gay News stuttered along until 1983. It was relaunched in 1984 in magazine format as Gay Times. Diva was launched as its “little sister” in 1994. Smaller, alternative magazines for women such as Curve and Velvet Magazine also surfaced, as well as the gay and lesbian art’s magazine Square Peg.
The magazine with the largest circulation in the UK is currently Attitude, founded in 1994. The Northern and Shell Group published it until it was sold to Remnant Media in 2004. It was briefly in the ownership of Giant Clipper and Attitude Publications Ltd before Trojan Publishing Ltd purchased the “intellectual property rights” in 2008.
The major publications in Britain are now published by the adult industry.
In 1970 it was illegal to engage in homosexual acts in every state and territory in Australia. In that year the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) was formed. This was followed by the formation of the Gay Liberation in 1972 at Sydney University.
Campaign, the country’s longest running commercial gay magazine, was launched in 1975.
Australia had its Stonewall moment in 1978 when police arrested attendees at Mardi Gras. This provoked protests across the country and those arrested were released without charge.
From the 1990s the major magazines were mostly lifestyle ones, with a heavy emphasis on physique pictorial, such as Blue, launched in 1995, and DNA, launched in 2000.
The Return of the Torso
The physique magazine AMG was first published in 1945. It was, under the guise of sport, the first gay soft-core, and preceded the more political publications in the US. The 1970s witnessed the rise of a more sexualised for the mainstream gay press but it was not until the 1990s, with the mining of the Pink Pound (UK), the Dorothy Dollar (US) and the Pink Dollar (AU), that this imagery defined the gay magazine.
In the UK this is shown in Gay Times, AXM, and the free publications Boyz and QX, all of which feature a high degree of nudity and advertisements for hard-core pornography.
The US publication Out was launched in 1992, and is similar to GT in that its coverage focuses on pretty boys, shopping, and clubbing. It does not carry hard-core advertising, and in this respect is similar to the British publication reFRESH (founded 2002).
The Internet Age
The printed magazine has had to adapt in the Internet age.
The relationship between the magazine and its online counterpart has, nevertheless, not so much changed the magazine itself as it has added a dimension to it.
To get this relationship right, it would seem, is the Holy Grail of all magazines.
GT and Attitude have started sites that are Web 2.0 insomuch as they employ forums and user-profiles. The sites are, however, an addition to the magazine and there is no degree of significant interaction between the two.
The Advocate maintains a successful website because it highlights features of the magazine, maintains blogs, and offers daily news updates. The site supports and adds to the paper-magazine. There is nonetheless a clear dividing line between the two.