It was a project with immediate appeal for me: to quote the pitch, it promised ‘the start of a conversation that extends beyond the images that come to mind when you think of the way gay men are portrayed in media today.’
But I wondered if it could live up to my expectations: if the content would engage my newly avid interest in queer theory and gender politics; if it would prove to be the kind of stimulating queer publication I hoped it could. I would say to friends that it would probably be a bit of a wank, but the kind of thing I’d read anyway.
I picked up Issue 1 in the week of its release last month. And as I closed the final page, I was, on the whole, impressed. The magazine ‘about men who date men’ included a wide range of stories and fresh voices.
But as I read ‘Twenty-Five Things You Should Know About Being A Gay Man Before You Decide To Be One’, I found myself stuck on No. 6:
Dating the same sex is difficult because you will always be comparing yourself to them. It’s hard to tell sometimes whether or not we date a guy because we love them or because we want to be them.
This sentiment was also given a full-length article in David Saniski’s ‘Dating Under the Disco Ball’. Although the article ends on a more hopeful note, I found it frustrating that ‘Disco Ball’ should perpetuate and problematise a theme I’ve often come across in gay writing: the idea that gay relationships are harder because ‘each time lust draws your eyes onto the fractured features of potential suitors, a piece of you reflects back.’
Having experienced the doubt and insecurity this naïve romantic disposition stems from, I can appreciate these authors’ earnest concern. In reflecting on past relationships, it can be easy to attribute their (seemingly inevitable) failure to an experience peculiar to a gay identity.
It’s an attitude I completely bought into until very recently. But in discussing Saniski’s article with my housemate, I recognised its absurdity, realising how many ‘reflections and distortions’ of myself I found in her and in other women: my mother for starters, my sisters, most of my closest friends.
The constant refrain of this deeply ego- and phallocentric fallacy in gay media only lends credence to the sense of isolation from a meaningful community and culture shared by most gay men – the very problem Hello Mr. was created in response to.
Another issue that drew my attention was the use of the now outmoded derogatory term for members of the trans* community: ‘trannies’ appearing on the first page of the first article. A curious inclusion, especially given the negative attention surrounding a reportedly transphobic production at the Sydney Opera House toward the end of last year, in which the social and cultural conditions for transgendered people gained widespread attention.
While I wouldn’t think to accuse Cameron Shepherd, the author of ‘For the Sake of Progress’ of overt transphobia, the use of the term in his article brought to mind Todd Clayton’s criticism that ‘too many uninformed and insensitive lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer persons are doing harm to the trans* community while simultaneously purporting to speak for them.’
It surprised me that the editors didn’t take more care with their words, especially given the proliferation of trans* issues in current media.
There’s no doubt that Hello Mr. represents a formidable effort on the part of its Editor, Ryan Fitzgibbon. In bringing together a community of gay writers, and delivering them to an eager audience, the magazine has certainly created a valuable forum for ‘modern’ gay men.
My interest here is in the thematic mainstays of gay writing: the intellectual vices and limiting thought patterns that remain even after the image has been changed.
If Hello Mr. is to serve as an opportunity for gay men to ‘redefine our identities,’ I only hope we can be redefined as carefully spoken, sensitive, and inclusive of the wider queer community.
Christopher Fieldus is Editorial Assistant at Kill Your Darlings, and Editor of Mary journal. He’s not great with bio lines, but his commentary and reviews have been published in Farrago, on Same Same and Killings.