The Magazine

"Pedophilia Chic" Reconsidered, Part 2

Jan 1, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 16 • By MARY EBERSTADT
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At OutProud--another site recommended and linked by leading gay organizations--visitors are routed to a comic strip called "Queer Boys." It features two boys who are said to be 16 and look younger. They set off for Manhattan ("Let's run away to New York, where it's safe to be Queer!!" "Kewl!"), where they triumph over evildoers (i.e., parents and reparative therapists) and find happiness at last thanks to the habitues of a bar in the West Village. ("A gay rock club! That's so cool! Damn! I wish we were old enough to get in!!" says one of the boys. "Damn those politicians! Damn them all to hell!!" replies the other.)

For a final example of how pedophilia is being defined down, consider XY magazine--which would doubtless have run afoul of the obscenity laws until very recently. Started just four years ago, XY is now, according to its founder and publisher Peter Ian Cummings, the "third largest gay magazine in the U.S., selling over 60,000 copies per year and [having] more than 200,000 readers." (These numbers are unaudited, but would put XY on a par with the Advocate in circulation, though lower than Out magazine's 120,000.) Cummings also reports that "you can find XY on sale in Borders, Tower Records, Virgin Megastores, B. Dalton, Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, and many others."

What gives XY its unprecedented niche is that here, for the first time, is a mass-market magazine "officially targeted toward 12-29 year old young gay men," every issue of which, as one admiring journalist puts it, "features scantily clad young men in several photo spreads and on the cover." Then there is the non-photo content. The first issue was stamped "Underage." Another issue included a sympathetic pro-and-con interview with a prominent member of NAMBLA. An article in another issue was titled "F--the Age of Consent." There is also a smattering of self-help that can only make minors easier to find--for example, advice about what kids should do if their parents install a filtering system that prevents them from reaching gay cyberspace (answer: get around it).

In sum, if one had taken on the challenge of designing a magazine for pedophiles, it would probably look a lot like XY, which is why its market niche and evident reader support invite reflection. So too, for obvious reasons, does the public (gay) reaction to all this. On the one hand, Out magazine referred to XY's debut as a "dubious achievement" and suggested that it was equivalent to child pornography. Similarly, Philip Guichard complained in his Village Voice piece (headlined "I Hate Older Men"): "Mainstream gay culture dresses up its kiddie porn in a pretense of serving teens. As nice as it is to believe that magazines like XY and Joey [a recent competitor] are actually consumed by gay teens, it's obvious to me that the shirtless kids in provocative poses who fill their glossy pages are there for older men." What's more, XY's publisher has complained of "pedophobia" on the part of his gay critics; and most advertisers, by Cummings's account, including those popular with the male gay market (Calvin Klein, Abercrombie & Fitch, the Gap), have demurred from buying space in its pages. Apparently, the fear of supporting child sex, or the fear of appearing to do so--or both--remain potent corporate motivators.5

At the same time, however, to judge by the endorsements on XY's website, numerous other observers have weighed in favorably. The San Francisco Examiner says that of all magazines, XY is "the one most on the cutting edge of change." The Ft. Lauderdale Express Gay News calls it "the most courageous magazine in America." The general-interest entertainment guide Time Out New York observes that "XY has boldly established itself as a unique publication that tackles sex, romance, and other issues facing gay teens and men." But perhaps the most accurate indication of XY's community standing comes from the business publication Advertising Age, which noted: "XY is playing a significant role in mainstream online media. . . . The magazine's site can be accessed directly via America Online, and the magazine is also providing content to the 'youth channel' on" This success is a sign of the times. Some of the largest and most respected gay organizations in the country now list XY, of all things, as a "resource" for gay youth--this, alongside a burgeoning number of websites also aimed at minors and replete with personal ads, chat rooms, "pen pals," and other forms of anonymous contact rife with the potential for subterfuge.