Gay mags, straight reading

You might think the lad-mag generation wouldn't be seen dead reading gay men's magazines. Well, think again

Jade Garrett
Monday 26 March 2001 19:49 BST

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Louise Thomas

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The unthinkable has happened. British heterosexual men are putting their prejudices behind them along with their lad's mags and beginning to explore the world of gay magazines.

The unthinkable has happened. British heterosexual men are putting their prejudices behind them along with their lad's mags and beginning to explore the world of gay magazines.

According to the editors of some of the UK's most established gay titles, straight men are happy to browse through issues of Gay Times, Fluid or Attitude - magazines that aim themselves very firmly at a gay male readership.

From next month Gay Times will begin advertising in the national press and the more mainstream men's health magazines to target a new readership. While their intention may be to capture "a closet audience", the appeal of gay men's magazines is widening and they now attract a significant heterosexual readership.

Former Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell, occupies the front cover of this month's Attitude magazine, a move expected to raise sales to heterosexual readers to about 15 per cent of the total. While the singer has a close association with gay readers, largely as a result of her friendship with George Michael, she also has a very mainstream appeal.

Adam Mattera, Attitude's editor, says that without any deliberate attempt to change the magazine's readership, more straight readers are picking it up.

"We're definitely getting more straight men and women reading Attitude," he says. "When we put Kylie Minogue on the front cover last year about 10 per cent of our buyers were straight and actual readership was a lot higher than that.

"This is all part and parcel of how gay culture has evolved - it's no longer underground - gay people have lots of straight friends these days."

Mattera says Attitude's combination of mainstream advertisers such as One2One and spreads like "The Naked Issue" featuring both male and female naked celebrities, along with an upbeat and irreverent editorial style, has led to a broader appeal.

He agrees that in some cases readers may not even be sure at first glance that it's a gay magazine they're picking up. The current issue features an exclusive interview with Simon Fowler, lead singer with Ocean Colour Scene, who is giving his first interview since being "outed" by the Sun a couple of years ago. While he talks about how this affected him and his relationship with his family, it's not a flag-waving piece about his sexuality; there is also a strong focus on his music and a forthcoming album.

Other sections of the magazine cater very obviously to a straight audience. This month offers a review of six nightclubs - three gay, three straight - written by gay and straight journalists. There is a 24-page fashion supplement with catwalk reports and the usual lifestyle and fitness coverage.

Cary James, the editor of Fluid magazine, says the arrival of television programmes such Queer as Folk and Metrosexuality - the Channel 4 series featuring two gay dads and their straight son - means straight men feel comfortable about picking up a gay men's magazine.

"I definitely hear of readers' straight mates who are picking up Fluid, and on a scale of one to 10, we're about a nine in terms of how 'gay' our content is," he says.

Proving the point, Fluid, which now has 50,000 readers, always features a male model on its front cover. This month it offers advice to readers on "How to Change that Body", including the best way to wear a tight T-shirt. There is also a make-over feature on five gay men and advice on how to tackle decisions on cosmetic surgery. Forthcoming issues will deal with bulimia and steroid abuse.

At the glossy Gay Times the focus is more on serious news journalism, lifestyle and travel features, and a comprehensive listings guide. "The quality of the writing will be of interest to anyone - gay or straight, male or female," said Kim Watson, Gay Times marketing director. "We have always been in competition with style magazines like The Face and Arena, and we're starting to win some of those transient readers."

Gay Times, Fluid and Attitude can all be bought at many high-street newsagents, while more provocative titles such as Boyz are distributed free at gay bars and clubs.

In the past year Gay Times, published by the Millivres-Prowler Group, has appointed a new editor, had a complete redesign and widened its remit to make it appeal to a wider audience. Others predict that a name change to GT, or something less "gay", would complete a transformation to the mainstream.

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