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Among the new guard of queers, there’s a palpable ennui around the gay media outlets that D.C. built. Criticized for their lack of coverage of people of color, transpeople, ciswomen, working-class folks, and a growing population of gender-nonconformists, the Washington Blade and Metro Weekly can sometimes read like they’re chatting one another up in the bathroom of the HRC. (For the uninitiated, that’s not a compliment.) Gay media should challenge, provoke, and seek out marginal perspectives. It should think deeply about what it means to be queer in an era of rapid social progress. It should practice the inclusivity it preaches. But so often, lately, it doesn’t.
Some younger publications have tried to take up that mantle. BYGays, Brightest Young Things’ homo vertical, was once an edgy cultural tastemaker that was named 2010’s Best New Nightlife Blog in City Paper. Its bloggers wrote critically about touchy topics like the homogenization of Pride parties and using sex to numb emotional pain. Now, the original content on BYGays almost exclusively consists of drag queen photo roundups and RuPaul’s Drag Race recaps, and the BYGays Pride parties have become, well, homogenized. There’s Tagg, a lightly edited local lesbian magazine that launched in 2012, which might be our best hope for coverage that looks beyond the G and into the LBTQ. Tagg is at its best in first-person essays that touch on complex issues like gender presentation, transphobia, and race and class intersectionality, but its other content reads like a checkout counter women’s magazine: relationship quizzes, pet-care tips, and articles about air-conditioning service scams, all rendered in reductive hot pink.
Bright spots exist: MW and the Blade keep close tabs on the local gay political leaders and organizations that mainstream media overlook. When a member of our queer D.C. community needs help, or has something to brag about, one of those two main print outlets typically steps up to tell the story. And both publications are taking active steps to diversify their subjects and stable of writers. (Before I worked at Washington City Paper, the Blade invited me to a meeting to discuss writing for them, but nothing wound up coming of it.)
Still, there’s a looming identity crisis in gay journalism: When gay media reporters’ diligent political coverage has helped us win all the marriage equality, all the employment protections, all the battles for surrogacy and health care and adoption rights and birth certificates that match our genders, will they have written themselves out of business? Many artists, musicians, and public figures who once sought the subversive limelight of queer media don’t want to be pigeonholed any more. You’re gay? So are half the chicks on my block in Bloomingdale. Just being out, in a city like ours, isn’t always reason enough for us to care anymore. When Laverne Cox poses for the cover of Time, practically the definition of a mainstream publication, who will seek out gay media’s smaller, less-publicized version of the story, and how will it be different? I know there’s an answer, a future for gay media—there has to be, if we want to avoid the assimilation and complacence we’ve criticized in so many of our older peers. And I’m still holding out hope for one of D.C.’s outlets to be the one to find it.