Queer coding in early magazines

This is a fascinating piece on the early days of queer magazines — which is to say, magazines that queer people read, regardless of the magazine’s intention. It focusses on Bachelor magazine, founded by a straight woman for straight bachelor men, but coopted by a gay community just starting to organize itself. The articles seemed to code secret (and not so secret) messages to gay readers throughout, and many young men found their sexuality through it. I remember reading Details when I was in my 20s and a friend telling me it was a mag for gay men. When I heard this I was like, “Wut?” but when I looked back down at it, I went…. “Oh yeah…. Would you look at that.” Didn’t stop reading it, but it sort of changed the perspective for me.

Finding an outlet that spoke to any segment of what we would today call the queer community, Bate wrote, required a good deal of “detective work.” There was Esquire, which was by no means a gay publication, but whose frank discussions of men’s fashion gave it a certain queer appeal. And there were bodybuilding magazines like Physical Culture that many gay and bisexual men latched on to in order to explore their sexualities.

Then, suddenly, there was Bachelor. The magazine was hard to miss: it was glossy, as big as Vogue, and its covers featured close-ups of famous men against garish backdrops. Contemporary coverage said Bachelor was shipped to newsstands in every state and to Canada; Time described its target audience as “a social cut above Esquire’s.”

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