Why I Left the Gay Press
I’ve never put into print the reasons I stopped writing for the gay press — that is, for gay and lesbian newspapers, magazines and websites around the world. Starting when I was 17, I wrote for these publications during college, during my 3-year stint as a corporate guy and as a full-time job until I stumbled onto bookselling as a career. The answer about why I left this career comes in several parts, but here are the top three.
The first is my general discomfort with the lifestyle of a journalist. I still identify strongly with the label “journalist”, but I don’t like working under pressure and I’m no good at coming up with ideas for stories. I deal poorly with stress, and the life of a working reporter is overflowing with stresses from both editors and sources. The deadline is always looming and the story is never quite as good as it could be. The source never calls back when she says she will, and media reps never provide exactly the information they say they will.
The second reason for my departure from the gay press resolves around my changing political beliefs. Gay press is, like all press, biased. To write for a gay publication, you must believe in the organizations and leaders that are at the forefront of the gay political movement. Questioning them in a gay paper isn’t really allowed — although I managed to do it more often than most. More generally, you have to have a belief that the overall gay political movement is taking the correct approach, something of which I can never be sure. And even more generally, you must have a true interest in politics, because ever gay issue — from the beating of gay man at a club to lesbian couples marrying in churches — has a political angle. For me, age has brought a lack of confident in our political system, but more importantly, it has brought a lack of interest in it.
Finally, a combination of choices and situations led me to place too many of my eggs in a basket from which the bottom fell out. I began writing almost exclusively for a one particular collection of gay papers. I knew at the time I was taking a risk doing so much business with one company, but the company had some money and I couldn’t maintain any long-term relationships with any others that did. They dominated my time, paid me reasonably and the checks came on time. Then, they made the decision to buy a major publication to add to their stable. That sounded like good news because they would need even more words and I would get greater exposure. It had to mean more money, too. But the checks stopped coming. They were saving up to complete the purchase, I was told, and things would return to normal soon. Weeks turned into months and the checks didn’t come. By the time they did, I had lost confidence in the integrity of the people for whom I was writing. It’s hard to write about something when you have very little commitment to the cause and an uncertainty about whether you will be paid. I took very few writing assignments of any kind after that relationship ended.
As a side note, the editor and publisher at the paper group that stopped paying me on time may be surprised to learn that their missteps were involved in my decision to leave the gay press. I wasn’t making very much money from them, but at that time, my income was our household’s second income and we’ve always lived simply, so the small amount was enough that I didn’t have to seek out much other work. Our budget depended on me making some money but allowed for times when I didn’t make very much. Losing access to my biggest source of income made the whole business model crumble.
I don’t miss writing for the gay press, and I do expect to always remain a writer. You’ll probably never see my byline in a gay publication again, but you might. Despite the stress and my ethical and financial dilemmas, it was great fun.