Imagine you’re a gay teen in the late 1990s, before high-speed Internet, Facebook or smartphones. And before it was okay to be a gay teen—let a lone market to them.
For young gay men looking for representation—and community—it was a virtual Sahara.
Enter XY Magazine, founded by Peter Ian Cummings in San Francisco in 1996. Four times a year for 12 years, the glossy publication shared articles, reviews, reader submissions and steamy homoerotic pictorials, (supposedly) for an audience of teens and 20somethings.
The Advocate and Out were too highbrow for Generation Q, and Playgirl and Unzipped were too raunchy. XY was a kind of gay Seventeen: Its greatest asset was that it treated its audience as perfectly normal, even desirable, at a time when that was practically unheard of.
Now, eight years after the last issue hit newsstands, XY is back. Issue 50, the 200-page “Wonderland” Issue, is out this month.
When the magazine folded during the financial crisis, the “XY” copyright was sold to a Chinese game developer. Cummings and his team worked to get ownership back and reformed as XY Magazine Foundation, a low-profit limited liability company (L3C).
The new XY hasn’t strayed far from the original—it’s got the same editorial staff, in fact. Articles in the new issue include “The Rise and Fall of Cruising,” a look at a guaranteed living wage, and Mark Simpson on the Summer Olympics.
And those steamy pictorials are there, too: George Alvin, a.k.a. porn star Max Ryder, appears nude, save for a strategically placed toy elephant.
Cummings told HuffPo that XY is about “sexual liberation, intimacy, closeness, and love. It’s a philosophical journal.”
Yeah, and your dad read Playboy for the articles.
From XY’s earliest days, its pictorials skirted softcore jailbait. A 17-year-old Colton Haynes famously appeared in one spread, shirtless and making out with another boy.
And there was always the question of who the real audience was: Young gay men—or the older gay men who like looking at them?
Controversy also surrounds longtime managing editor Michael Glatze, who left the magazine in 2001, renounced his homosexuality and became an ex-gay activist. His story was recounted in the 2015 James Franco-Zachary Quinto movie I am Michael.
Some might say, with YouTube, twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat at more, today’s queer youth are creating their own content—that the idea of a glossy magazine is obsolete.
“The increasing economic inequality and technological advancement in the country has led to a decline in intimacy and a general increase in meanness,” Cummings counters. “All of this technology that was supposed to make us closer has also led to an increase in loneliness.”
He has a point: A magazine doesn’t have trolls blanketing it with venomous comments, or popup ads interrupting your reading experience.
There’s something, dare we say… pure about it.
XY Magazine #50 is out now.