Beyond Vassar

Persevering Magazine Promotes Gay Pride and Openness

By Michael Rambadt ’95

XY Magazine may stand out from the stacks of periodicals found on newsstands for the simple reason that it’s not afraid to address issues that other publications won’t touch. XY was intended to provide a forum for young gay men to exchange ideas and information, and it delivers. Launched as a quarterly publication in March 1995, it soon became bi-monthly and is now publishing 10 issues per year. The XY staff of four has produced 35 issues since the magazine’s inception.

Publisher Peter Ian Cummings ’83 recently talked about why he started XY. "I wanted a magazine that would affirm pride in gay teenagers and assert positive ideals toward sex instead of shame and guilt," Cummings said.  "And I wanted it to be different than the usual teen magazines on the market. Most do not talk openly about serious topics or issues relating to sex. I am trying to provide the information teens need to make smart decisions." With an architectural history degree from Vassar and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern, Cummings has been working in the publishing arena on and off for almost 20 years. His professional credentials include The Advocate, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and 3-D Magazine as well as various fashion magazines in the United Kingdom. (And we can’t forget his 1983 stint as editor of The Miscellany News.)

Not long after graduating from Vassar, Cummings moved to London, where he lived for 10 years. He said he "got used to the social and sexual openness" there, and when he returned to the United States, he found this country more conservative, and its citizens "more repressed than ever. Gay people [here are still] trying to fit themselves into the conservative mainstream norms that have been established by those outside our community," Cummings said. "As long as we continue to do this, the gay community will not thrive or reach its full potential."

Believing that the spirit of the gay community has been squelched, Cummings sought to introduce a publication that would teach and promote gay pride and openness. "People are scared of XY Magazine," Cummings said, "because it takes on important issues no one else will touch, and it tells the truth. Whenever necessary, XY is willing to criticize itself, the gay community, and American society to make its point." And this, he added, sets XY apart even from other gay magazines.

"OUT Magazine and The Advocate [where Cummings worked during the 1980s] avoid printing stories that might offend their advertisers. Consequently, advertisers have great control over content. We at XY continuously make assertions that mainstream advertisers would not necessarily like." But XY Magazine would rather speak the truth than censor its contents, Cummings said. Many of the articles in the magazine discuss topics such as non-discrimination policies, tolerance versus acceptance, depression and suicide, safe sex, and how gay teens can talk to their parents.

The price XY pays for its honesty is financial. "Abercrombie and Fitch and Calvin Klein, among others, refuse to advertise in the magazine," Cummings reported. "They claim XY is too ‘porn-like’ for their clientele. Yet, both companies do advertise in magazines that classify as pornography. The difference is that XY is a magazine for gay youth. Because XY holds firm to the right of gay teens to be treated as adults, we are considered controversial and have virtually no advertisers."

Peter Ian Cummings '83
Peter Ian Cummings '83

Cummings is currently setting up a London office to support a U.K. edition of the magazine.

A typical magazine, Cummings pointed out, makes its money first from advertising, then from subscription sales — both of which cover losses from poorer newsstand sales. XY, on the other hand, is paid for entirely by its readers. "Because most gay teenagers live someplace where [it is unsafe for them to] receive this magazine in the mail, only 8,000 of the 60,000 issues sold are purchased via subscriptions," he said. Eighty percent of the magazines are purchased on the newsstand and in bookstores, and the XY cover price of $6.95 makes it one of the most expensive gay magazines.

Still, XY has the highest newsstand sales of any gay magazine on the market, according to Cummings. "People are reading it," he confirmed. "And while one might think our highest rate of sales would be in urban areas, XY actually sells more magazines in the Midwest and in the suburbs." In 1996, the average reader age was 23; in 2001, it dropped to 18. "We receive countless letters, thanking us for what we are doing at XY," said Cummings. "That is the true measure of our success."

Rambadt graduated from Vassar with a degree in English. He is currently director of alumni affairs at Simon’s Rock College in Great Barrington, MA.