12:01 AM |
The Ups and Downs (and Ups Again) of Gay Magazines in the Philippines [UPDATED]
"You can't be close-minded in this world, it's 2016," declares actor/model Tommy Esguerra, the cover boy of the latest issue -- for June, and the fifth for the new rag -- of Team Magazine, the Philippines preeminent and currently its only gay magazine. In what the magazine dubs as its Youth Issue, Team proclaims Esguerra as the prom date we all deserve, leading as he does "the pack of young straights who fight for love and sock it to bigots." In the same issue, there are articles and spreads and mentions of Bretman Rock, Pepe Diokno, and "flashbacks on youth from Boy Abunda, the King of Talk." It makes me all smile. I like the stark minimalism of the cover, and I like the hip vibe of the magazine over all -- and then it quickly reminds me that there has been a run of these magazines in the country since the late 1990s, and they never seem to last.
Magazines are important cultural signifiers and cultural arbiters/caterers. As a reflection of specific cultural communities with special interests -- feminism has Ms., avant-garde art has Interview, surfing has Tracks and Surfer and various others, bridezillas have Brides, alternative rock-and-roll had Ray Gun -- they become chroniclers of a particular scene, and when they are around just enough to impact culture, they become bibles of lifestyles. Magazines are the easy maps to navigate a certain life, fulfilling in the way of instant gratification our wishes for a certain type of knowledge. They are the colour-photograph, typography-laden fulfilment of our fantasies, the cheap way to obtain our aspirations -- all available for newsstand price and ready for the taking in the palms (or reading grips) of our hands. Today, they come in all forms: e-zines in online form, and plain zines for those private publications we make (and sell) as shrines to our passions.
Gayness as lifestyle quickly demanded a magazine. In the U.S., The Advocate was established in 1967 and is the oldest and largest LGBT publication in that country, and today it is the only surviving one of its kind that was founded before the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. There has since been others like Pink (a quarterly launched in 1990), Out Magazine (founded 1992, and now with the highest circulation of any LGBT monthly publication in the United States), Next Magazine, (launched in New York in 1993), Compete (launched in 2006 for LGBT athletes), OMG! (launched 2009), and a bunch of smaller national and regional periodicals. Other countries have their own successful counterparts: Australia (DNA and Q), Canada (Perceptions and Fugues), Brazil (G, now defunct), India (Bombay Dost), Japan (Barazoku, Badi, G-men, and Samson), Singapore (Element), Germany (Blu), Italy (Pride), Mexico (Ohm and Anal -- yes), The Netherlands (Butt), Spain (Shangay), Turkey (Kaos GL), and United Kingdom (Attitude, Bent, Pride Life, and Diva).
In the Philippines, our history of putting out gay magazines have been quite spotty. The granddaddy of them all wasn't even conceived as a gay magazine. Chika-Chika was a showbiz rag in the mid-1990s that had an unmistakable gay slant -- and often featured minor celebrities in various modes of undress. It was of course a huge success, especially among the "parlor gays" -- but a success ghettoised into a niche, nobody really took it seriously. In 1999, Valentino came into the picture.
In his short history of gay magazines in the Philippines Michael Kho Lim wrote of Valentino's inception:
[It] was the brainchild of business tycoon Ignacio B. Gimenez or more popularly known as IBG in the business sector because of his brokerage firm, IBG Securities. IBG is not gay nor is he a gay advocate. He is just simply an entrepreneur. His first publishing venture was Buy and Sell, the free ads paper, which took five years to break-even. Even though it did not give him good immediate returns, he took pride in being the first one in Asia to produce such a publication and enjoyed the glory of being recognized as the innovative entrepreneur.
With the success of Buy and Sell, IBG threw parties from time to time exclusively for the press and media people to strengthen his public relations. It was in one of those parties -- the Christmas Party of 1998 -- when he met showbiz reporter Jobert Sucaldito who was involved then with Chika-Chika. Both the writer and the entrepreneur enjoyed a nice conversation, particularly because Sucaldito was able to share with IBG the business success of Chika-Chika.
With the peso sign flashing in IBG’s eyes, he called for a management committee meeting quickly. Seeing the market demand and the absence of a product to an existing and available market, IBG thought that an unpretentious gay magazine would be a hit.
Copycats followed right from the very beginning. After only its second issue, almost all Valentino's editorial staff absconded to make a rival magazine, Male View. To counter the competition, Valentino's publisher went for its own spin-offs. Gigolo was launched in 1999, five years after Ladlad was published, this time catering for an audience (the C/D market) with a supposed taste for the "hairier" models, and more lascivious features -- plus a penchant for showbiz Chika-Chika was known for.
Another sister publication, Ohm also came out in 1999. Under editor Carmelo Roxas, Ohm for its first issue had a cover story on model Derrick Hibaler, a centerfold article on mountaineer Abel Serrano, an article on Joy (then a popular gay club), a profile on fashion designer Joji Lloren (where they never mentioned his surname), a short confessional about coming out by someone named Boxie from Davao City, flash fiction by Javier Villanueva, an article on vanity, and an article on the seven habits of promiscuity. (Interesting.) Immediately it made a splash: it dared do distribution out in the open, and landed in newsstands everywhere. And it was not easy to ignore: at 11x14.5 inches, it was a huge magazine, and the P70 price tag was quite a sum then. And it must have taxed closeted gay men who might have wanted to buy a copy but couldn't -- for the sheer problem of size. (Not all gay men, alas, are size queens.) Ohm lasted two issues.
Cover Boy was also launched in 1999, with a racier content, but it stopped publication after ten issues, with many insiders saying it had become "too daring."
Only Gigolo and Valentino remained. And while Valentino was unflinching in its goal to cater to the gay taste "without any pretensions," it balked at the pornographic, preferring the suggestive instead. This was where competitors tried to fill the gap, more and more magazines showing skin, there was an absolute saturation of it by the time the early 2000s came around. Kho writes: "What made Valentino flourish was that no other gay magazine existed before it. It was something new. I believe that the gay market was ready for the magazine when it was introduced. In fact, the market was just waiting for it... Valentino died a natural death since other magazines took the risk to go beyond the legal aspects of publishing and created a new underground market and economy. In other words, the competitors sold more skin... Valentino eventually died because of market saturation. There were already too many gay magazines that were mushrooming on street corners, offering the same thing. Innovation lost its glory. Skin reached its saturation point. The market died."
With the death of the mass-market magazines, however, came the "gay glossies," more expensive publications catering to gay men from the A/B market. Rice!, first published in 2001 under the creative direction of photographer Raymond Lontoc (with Butch Franco as editor), was a highbrow attempt at a journal -- mixing photography and literature in a heady mix, and was published in digest form. It lasted four issues.
L Magazine was published in 2004, but had a very short run. Icon Magazine had the longest run, and thus far, was the most successful of them all. It came out in October 2004 under editor Richie Villarin, with a tempting Rafael Rossell on the cover, and lasted until February 2006 with a bunch of Brazilian models in a huddle on the cover -- and then it disappeared without any explanation. Generation Pink soon followed in 2006, but folded up after five issues. Outrage Magazine appeared in 2007, with print issues appearing consistently, until it decided to keep -- following the worldwide downturn in magazine publishing -- a mostly online presence, coming up with a print counterpart now and then. (It's latest print issue is from June 2016.) Ketchup Magazine also appeared in 2008, published intermittently -- and still retains an active social media presence.
Meanwhile, the first lesbian magazine in the country was Echoes, which came out in 2001. It lasted three issues. My Femme Magazine appeared in 2009, but never made it to a second issue.
One interesting note of observance, however: most of these magazines think they are "the only" or "the first" gay or lesbian magazine in the country, signalling a significant lack of knowledge of gay and lesbian magazine publishing in the country.
Team Magazine, under editor Paolo Lorenzana, thus comes to us with us of expectations and a long memory of disappointments. It has a more than modest mission: it aims to "tackle how gay Filipino men relate [to] their identity, from fuckups to fantasies, to where to go for music you can actually dance to. We may not have proper rights in our country but we’re claiming some authority by getting our words and ideas on paper. And though we lack public places to convene, an open publication (and wide-open digital space) is a good place to start." Very bold, and I like it. It sounds like a call to battle.
But will it last? CNN Philippines' Don Jaucian has just written of its existence as a fledgling publication: "It’s hard out there for a gay mag. It’s problematic enough that the print industry is struggling to find a steadier footing. But as you flip through Team, currently the only gay men’s magazine in the country, you’ll wonder where the advertisers are — brands who have proclaimed themselves as allies of the LGBTQ community." But Jaucian continues with a note of hope: "But five issues in, Team has braved the CMYK-waters of print in these tumultuous times and gained confidence as a quarterly publication held up by its loyal following. Issues are available in major bookstores in Manila, and celebrities, like John Lloyd Cruz, have appeared on the magazine’s cover."
And I can believe it has legs.
For one thing, they're doing it differently. A study of the covers past and Team's present reveal a change of tact, for example: gone are the naked bodies of impossibly handsome young men from those older magazines -- and in place are hipsterish (Instagram-ish?) images of beautiful people sans the crude temptation of sex. (Perhaps sex doesn't sell anymore?) Set in a minimalist tone, it has the whiff of the cool and contemporary -- and a promise of timelessness and universality. That can only be a good thing. Lorenzana has a command of the articles, all clue'd in culturally, and doesn't set off gayness as something boxed in and alienating. He tells CNN pointblank: "Our issues are different for sure — I think there’s a need to unify faith with faggotry. In the Philippines, I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface in making being “out” look as appealing as it does in places like the U.S., for example. We’re still dealing with a caricatured view of gay men. Gay relationships need to go mainstream a little more, and so a lot of our content will still explore the normalcy of this in order to make our readers more comfortable..."
Normalcy as aesthetic, as gay magazine philosophy. That can work.
Here's wishing Team Magazine all the pink luck in the world.