Farewell To A 'Venerable' Radical Gay Magazine

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"Farewell to a 'Venerable,' Radical Gay Magazine"

by Ben Thayer (May 6, 2010) (Ben Thayer is a nom de plume for a well-known gay writer.)

[Rex Wockner, the noted gay media monitor, first used the term ´venerable´ to describe THE GUIDE, in his announcement of the PTP press release.]

Pink Triangle Press of Toronto announced April 22, that it would stop publishing the print edition of the THE GUIDE, after a 30-plus year history of what was a remarkable, unique monthly gay male journal. PTP bought THE GUIDE from Boston-based Edward Hougen in July 2006. Hougen´s last issue was August of that year, and the corporate offices moved from Boston to Montréal in 2009. PTP said that the final Guide magazine in print will be dated August, 2010, and is due out at the end of July this year. Beyond that time, PTP says it will enlarge and improve the Guide website, www.guidemag.com , focused exclusively on gay travel. “For more than three decades,” the PTP press release said, “Guide Magazine has been renowned for providing gay male readers with a quirky blend of gay travel information, culture and politics.”¨

What PTP fails to mention is its own major revamping of THE GUIDE in the past two and a half years – removing the intellectual and literate editors, French Wall and Bill Andriette, and slowly replacing the Guide´s major progressive prose pieces and bold editorials with more standard news stories and little editorial content. This in itself is a disappointment to many queers in the US and Canada, since PTP emerged from the similar political Body Politic tradition of Toronto.

“THE GUIDE has been [for some time] virtually the only gay magazine with a radical editorial policy.” commented David Thorstad, a prominent U.S. gay liberation writer and theorist. “THE GUIDE provided a forum for radical ideas that was practically nonexistent elsewhere. When Xtra [the PTP Canadian national gay newspaper group] took it over, it lost that unique voice. I suppose its demise reflects a general trend toward marketization, commercialization, domesticization, corporatization, conventionality and assimilation into the capitalist market that characterizes the co-optation… of much of homosexuality these days. An era has passed, and only the moneygrubbers are better off for it.¨ (Quoted from an email to a colleague of this writer).

Bill Andriette, the long-time Guide features editor, terminated by PTP in 2009, won a Gay and Lesbian Press Association prize for his articles on the age of consent controversies in the U.S., and in 2008 was honored at the first annual ´Sexies´- - journalism awards for sexually positive writing. “The grim reaper is doing fast work of gay publications,” Andriette wrote in an email to New York gay activist attorney Bill Dobbs. ¨”It´s amazing that what started as a Boston bar rag with ties to disreputability, lasted so long. It´s the last of the papers that emerged out of that intense´ 70´s Boston chrysalis, along with GCN (Gay Community News) and Fag Rag. Pity it all gets boiled down to a death notice written in corporatese.” (Ibid.)

French Wall, the senior editor who resigned in protest at Andriette´s sacking, summed it up: ¨”Obviously, as gay identity is commodified, sexual liberation is shunted aside as unmarketable; too bad PTP didn´t seem to understand they had such a unique voice on sex lib issues, and has instead joined the rush to market.¨ (email to a colleague of the writer)

THE GUIDE did in fact begin as a simple gay ´bar rag,´ in 1981, as one of many commercial bar magazines in Boston at the time. It was first owned and edited by Gary Dotterman, a gay bar owner who later became an aide to gay Boston City Councillor, David Scondras. Dotterman sold THE GUIDE to Ed Hougen, a Metropolitan Community Church pastor, in December 1983, and Hougen put out his first Guide in January 1984, publishing continually through August of 2006.

Rev. Hougen and his wife, Rev. Margaret Hougen, had been leaders of the Boston/Boise Committee, a group which supported the rights of defendants from Revere, outside Boston, in an infamous media-generted gay sex scandal of the late 1970s. BBC, under Hougen´s leadership, attracted major support from Gore Vidal and other prominent gay liberation writers. By the time he bought THE GUIDE, Hougen was a well-known activist. Though their church supported their work in the Revere cases, they left MCC, because the Hougens decided they could not support the notion of a paid clergy.

Over the next nearly thirty years, THE GUIDE involved itself in every major gay issue, always taking a provocative and progressive stand. French Wall, who was also an aide to Scondras, became editor in 1987, just as he and Dotterman were fired by the Boston City Council for their alleged ¨radical sexual views¨ involving the Civil Liberties& Sexual Freedom Committee.

Bill Andriette joined as features editor in 1989. Andriette, then in his mid- 20s, later also became editor of Gayme Magazine, a respected underground gay journal. Despite his own sex-activist background, Andriette was able to interact positively with gay editors, writers and artists, and he achieved great respect as a writer and editor. Wall is a Harvard graduate and Andriette is a Cornell graduate – both had received major fellowships and academic honors.

The array of topics covered by Andriette, Wall and other writers for THE GUIDE is quite remarkable. He wrote notable, carefully researched pieces on amputee sex, coprophilia (¨A Lot to Digest¨), bestiality (¨Laying with Beasts¨), and the Catholic priest sex scandals (¨Castrating the Church¨). He also wrote articles about Arab homosexual attitudes and practices, the controversy about gay men in the Boy Scouts of America, Iran´s hanging of two youths convicted of sodomy, the U.S. Supreme Court sodomy decision, and homophobia in Jamaica.

Wall´s first major breakthrough was a 1988 piece on then Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, condemning his statement that ¨gays are a threat to children,¨ which generated protests against Dukakis in 17 states. Other bold statements from Wall included, ¨Beyond Equality,¨ which criticized the Human Rights Campaign for its assimilation mindset; ”At the Core, Not on the Fringe,” which championed a liberation approach to what he called the sex panic; No More Prisons,¨ against the push for more and more incarceration in the U.S.; "Who Killed Father Geoghan?," excoriating the anti-priest hysteria; ¨Illegal Aliens,¨ linking gay rights and immigrant rights; ”The Torture President” (Bush)." making the connection between gay issues and torture; ”Reverend Right on Race,” on the pervasive racism in America; and “Jury Duty,” subtly advocating jury nullification of sex and drug cases.

Both Wall and Andriette, as well as other writers, took on radical AIDS issues. They proclaimed the Guide´s opposition to gays in the military as well as gay marriage modeled on the straight institution. THE GUIDE was literally a voice crying in the gay wilderness, as it assailed assimilationist agendas of what had begun to call itself glibly, “the glbt community.”

The yearly April Fool´s issue, with features by regular Guide correspondent, Jim D´Entremont, sharply lampooned these self-styled ´gay leaders´. Three hilarious faux travel pieces appearing in three April editions, was about a place called Monda Behinou, where gay practices included elbow-sex and onion fetishes. Remarkably, readers actually wrote in, asking for directions to this unusual (and obviously fictitious) destination.

D´Entremont was the most prolific Guide writer after Andriette and Wall, with his own wide range of insightful and off-beat topics. He left his stamp on THE GUIDE with his well-crafted and thoroughly researched writings on politics, law and a wide range of off-beat topics. He did several important and ground-breaking reviews of the mounting sex-offender panic in the U.S., including torture practices like the plesmograph (peter meter), as well as on the repeating American penchant for censorship.

In its dramatic support for unpopular criminal cases involving gay men, THE GUIDE may indeed have been partly responsible for freeing Al Baker in a case involving gay s&m (Baker went on to write for THE GUIDE), and Bernard Baran in a day care center scandal (with a series of hard-hitting articles by D´Entremont, which in the Baran case garnered the attention of the Wall Street Journal). Not as successful were its courageous articles supporting Father Paul Shanley, the openly gay Boston priest, thrown to the wolves by the Catholic Church, and the victim of recovered-memory testimony.

Jonn Mitzel, a writer of gay fiction and founder of Fag Rag, as well as a history of the Boston/Boise Committee, was a monthly columnist, with biting commentaries on topics like the gay fascination with American film star divas, as well as skewering gay priests caught in porn houses, all from his perch in a series of gay porn and book stores, including as manager of Boston´s Glad Day Books, and in recent years as owner of his own Calamus Books. Mitzel wrote scholarly but sexy treatises on queer life on Boston streets and subways, on the raunchy under-side of U.S. history from the Pilgrims to the Kennedys (with whom he was clearly infatuated), and on the lives and books of great gay writers, including Gore Vidal whom he knew well. The archive of his columns back to 1998 is a rich trove of gay history and culture, and deserves a close read while it is on the webmag.com site. Michael Bronski, another intellectual queer radical, also wrote a monthly column reviewing books and film. To its credit, PTP retains (for now in the print version) both Mitzel (as a gay book reviewer)and Bronski as a writer of social commentary.

Other outspoken writers for THE GUIDE included Boyd McDonald, whose Straight to Hell¨sported lurid, titillating first-person sex accounts; sex-positive lesbian Chris Bearchell, ironically a Body Politic editor, on the Canadian immigration porn busts of Glad Day Books and Three Sisters Bookstore; well-known philosopher, Richard Mohr, whose “The Pedophilia of Everyday Life”¨ gained attention in mainstream press for its exposure of the media´s hypocrisy on child sexuality and the sexual images of children in advertising; and Liz Highleyman, an anarchist feminist associated with Act Up and the Black Rose collective (who has also written for THE GUIDE under PTP management).

On the commercial side – and against the odds for a radical mag – THE GUIDE prospered even as some other gay magazines and newspapers began to slide. Bobby Stevens, lover of Edward Hougen who met Hougen when he was a student and youth leader in Hougen´s church, is responsible for much of this commercial success – especially in Montréal where he travelled frequently, establishing a huge clientele (where Xtra had never succeeded, perhaps because of its perceived Anglo arrogance). THE GUIDE, as PTP proclaims in its press release, “reached beyond North America to include the most popular international destinations.” Among long-time centers of Guide readership and business were virtually all the major gay markets of North America, the Caribbean and Europe, with forays into South America, Africa and Asia. Travel articles covered literally every continent – even Antarctica, where Hougen and Stevens had sex, documented explicitly in Guide pages.

At its height, between the 1990s and about 2004, THE GUIDE put out 35,000 print copies monthly, with thousands of business clients in hundreds of cities world-wide. THE GUIDE was one of the first gay publications to create a website, as early as 1995. Guide staff noticed that, unlike most of the other gay travel rags, bars and guesthouses tended to keep back issues of THE GUIDE handy, and clients took the magazines home for future reference. Guide staff at the time were amazed at the huge volume of snail mail monthly from literally every country in the world – including many letters from Cuba, as well as those from places like Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Burkino Faso, China, Russia and Bhutan. These letters often contained testimonials to the importance of THE GUIDE for homosexual men in repressed cultures. Every Guide was read and re-read by many people. THE GUIDE became a kind of gay National Geographic for its huge community of readers. When PTP first took over, it increased the print run to 50,000, and the website has received steadily increasing hits monthly. Under PTP, the website has prospered with a more interactive and bold design.

By 2005, Ed Hougen says there was a ¨generally deteriorating climate for print media as an advertising vehicle.¨ This, together with important advertising staff who left the magazine, and his own family and retirement issues, led Hougen to decide to close THE GUIDE. ¨I did not have the resources to continue underwriting Guide losses,¨ Hougen wrote to this writer in an email.

James Dubro, a well-known Toronto crime writer and contributer to Body Politic and Xtra, was sad to lose the radical Guide voice. He put Andriette and Hougen in touch with Xtra´s Ken Poppert, to see if Xtra would step in. They did. One Montréal gay book dealer said a major reason to buy the Guide was it´s success in Montréal, and Xtra´s failure to get into the lucrative US and Montréal markets. PTP had already entered the gay travel business with a media site, but the the Guide would make Xtra a true force on the world stage.

It is perhaps remarkable that PTP kept THE GUIDE more or less as it had been, with its two radical editors, for two more years, before deciding to re-make it in Xtra´s increasingly mainstream image. It is a fulfillment of Hougen´s fear that print media simply cannot compete for dollars in the new corporate, internet-focused environment, that has now led to the end of the ´venerable´ Guide. This may have been inevitable. It is, however, very, very sad for gay culture, gay intellect and progressive gay politics.

PTP says it will continue some political and cultural content on the new website, and has retained an archive of all the old Guides and Guide articles back to January, 1998. All future articles, which will be changed more often than monthly in the website format, will focus on gay male travel only. Renaming the website from ¨”The Guide to gay travel, culture and politics,” to “A World of Gay Adventure,” seems to reveal its future direction. In fact, it may be the increasing direction of all gay media, to become web-based only, and to reduce cutting-edge political content.

Guidemag.com will have travel content of interest to gay men – with detailed maps of several hundred gay communities world-wide. Guidemag web staff will regularly update gay bars, events (like gay pride), lodging and other businesses around the world. They will keep tabs on more than 12,000 listings, with links to websites where they exist. This is to be applauded - if only the politics and culture can endure as well as the adventure! That remains to be seen.

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