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Socialist Review, June 1994

Jane Lewis

Smart business


From Socialist Review, No. 176, June 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In the last few months a number of gay magazines have come on the market in Britain. The magazine industry has discovered a new consumer group to target. Three new-style gay magazines – Diva, Attitude and Phase – are different from publications such as Gay Times. These are glossy lifestyle magazines which target lesbians as a new consumer group.

Diva describes itself as a ‘lesbian lifestyle magazine’. Its adverts and articles are a showpiece for the pink economy and club scene flourishing in many ‘gay villages’ in Britain’s cities. This month’s Phase features articles on fashion, various gay celebrities and reviews of new clubs and restaurants.

These types of gay glossy magazines are already an established market in the US. Out magazine advertises with most major companies from Benetton to Sony. Benetton is now running an advert in Britain featuring two men who look like a couple. Michael Wolf, editor of Out, sums up the attitude: ‘Politics aside, it is a smart business decision to advertise with us’.

The new magazines are trying to sell themselves on a wave of media hype about ‘lesbian chic’. This is the idea that it is now trendy to be gay. At its most absurd, this is summed up by William Cash of society magazine Harpers and Queen. He says:

‘It takes only the most cursory glance at any moderately smart Hollywood party these days to see that the look, at least, of 1990s lesbian chic is very much in vogue ... You can forget the cliché of lesbians as fat and ugly types à la Greenham Common ... Today’s new brand is more interested in looking and feeling sexy than in radical sexual politics.’

Behind this is the right wing claim that gays have now got equal rights and have nothing to complain about. Being a lesbian is even portrayed as a positive career advantage! This goes hand in hand with all the myths about women being liberated from sexism to such an extent that it is now men who are oppressed by sexual harassment. Just as this argument is an insult to women, it is an insult to gays. There is nothing chic about the high incidence of gay suicide, gay bashing or police raids gay clubs. If being gay is so fashionable how come you can’t kiss and hold hands in public and it is illegal for gay teenagers to have sex?

Sadly, the myth that gay liberation is won is not just invented by the bigots and companies trying to sell more magazines, it is endorsed by many of the gay contributors themselves. The Phase editorial board describes itself as a bunch of non-political lesbians and gay men celebrating lifestyles.

The collapse of feminism has weakened the idea that being a lesbian is a political statement against ‘a male dominated society’. Now a different kind of lifestyle politics is in play. Just as the gay movement in the mid-1970s collapsed into a commercial scene for gay men, the same is happening with ‘lesbian politics’ today. Lesbian feminism is collapsing. Being a lesbian is no longer about political statements, but about being a consumer. It is a sign of the times that there are now ‘lesbian lifestyle’ magazines.

The emphasis on fashion and trivia in these new magazines expresses the idea that gays do not like demonstrations and fighting talk. Even Gay Times has launched ‘a new look magazine’ to compete with the glossies.

This is like many trade unions who have spent a fortune on brochures, credit cards and holiday schemes in the mistaken belief that talking about strikes puts workers off joining the union. Both ideas are being proved wrong by the reality. What the gay movement needs is not more lifestyle politics but the politics of good old fashioned struggle.

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