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Saturday 10 October 2009

Editorial: Our glbt debt of gratitude to Out! magazine

Posted in: Community
By Jay Bennie - 21st May 2009

Date: The early 1980s.
Scene: Armagh Street, Christchurch, on a cold and rainy Friday night.

Action: A self-conscious young man in his early 20s, conservatively dressed with padded Arbuckles windbreaker, looks furtively over his shoulder then slips into a shabby second-hand book and magazine shop. Down the back of the drably laid out bins of well-thumbed 'literature' sits the gnome-like Ringo, for whom the shop is named, munching a pie and idly scanning a magazine. Near his counter is the adult section full of tatty back copies of magazines with titles like Health and Efficiency and Playboy, and just a few called Out!

The young man's eyes alight on a copy of Out! It has a red border, '70s typestyles declaring it to be dedicated to an "alternative lifestyle" and a black and white cover photo of the most gorgeous, powerfully built, swarthy complexioned, smoldering eyed young man I had ever seen. Oops, sprung!

That copy of Out! magazine was the first time my awareness of homosexuality and my own possible homosexuality took real form. That copy of Out! took homosexuality out of the domain of Truth newspaper, with its breathlessly prurient stories and snippets about the doings of sleazy British vicars and cherubic choirboys, and into my world.

Out! taught me so much. That gay men could be hunky and desirable. That there were venues where gay folk gathered to socialise. That there were organisations fighting for recognition of gay equality and offering support. That you could contact other gays through classified ads. It informed me, a little less reliably, that Alfies nightclub was the centre of an always glittering gay universe and that the Westside and Wakefield saunas, way up in Auckland and Wellington respectively, were glamorous and luxurious havens where elegant and incredibly attractive men met up for wonderfully fulfilling intimate encounters.

I learned that there were places up in Auckland, including another nightclub, a travel agency and adult shop, where to be gay was the norm. Unexceptional. Welcomed.

As I discovered more issues Out! showed me that gay people had their own channel of communication, albeit only every couple of months or so, that its publisher was a bit of a ranter and that accepting second class status and near invisibility in society were not inevitable.

On its newsprint quality inner pages Out! knocked anti-gay politicians and bureaucrats off their smug pedestals. It lashed out at Patricia Bartlett and her fellow Bible-waving homophobes. Backed up by, and to the advantage of, its associated businesses it aimed long-suffering lawyers at the Customs, police, courts and censorship laws which constrained and too often defined glbt people's lives. Out! supported nascent gay rights organisations and it would not be muzzled.

But for some years now it has become slowly clear that the still feisty but increasingly idiosyncratic Out! magazine was not keeping up with the legal and social changes it had helped usher in. Despite its best efforts, made all the more difficult by the death of its avuncular editor Brett Sheppard, Out! became lost in a late '70s time warp. Its heroically tenatious publisher, Tony Katavich, kept pumping it out but times were changing, glbt media was generally becoming more sophisticated and in the end the writing was on the wall.

Today Out! magazine officially became a memory, overtaken by the digital age it now plans to embrace. But in its heyday Out! magazine was magnificent. Thanks Tony, Brett and Graham and Charles Roland deWitt (whoever you were) and all the other people and pseudonyms who contributed over the years. New Zealand's gays, transgenders and even a few lesbains [sic!] owe you a debt of gratitude.

- Jay Bennie Content editor

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Jay Bennie - 21st May 2009