A Survival Guide for Gay Teens

Written by J.T. Leroy on . Posted in Books, Posts.

Benjie Nycum
you’re gay when you’re young can be very scary. Way before you’re
proud and out, there are all these treacherous land mines to navigate. The editors
of XY, the sexy-hip magazine for boys, have put together The XY Survival
(XY Publishing, 172 pages, $9.95) to help lube the transition. It’s
full of information for teen queers on coming out, hanging out, drugs, STDs
and so on. I spoke recently with XY’s Benjie Nycum.

XY originally wanted
to do a club and travel guide that we could market as a handy little supplement
to the magazine. As we were throwing around ideas on how to do it, we started
adding bits. The first planning meeting didn’t focus on underage clubs
or travel destinations at all. Instead we kept injecting new ideas like, "Oh
I think there needs to be a how-to-make-schools-safe guide, and should we do
a bit on safe sex, and what about coming out… Oh, and kids need to know about
what to do in abusive situations." We always get carried away. If we had
made a travel and club guide the cost would have been about $40,000 lower to
make it, and we would have still been able to sell it for $9.95.

That is pretty cheap.

Isn’t that a great
price? How many books can you get for $9.95? We wanted it to be accessible.
I had always felt it would be great to make a complete guide for young gay life,
since there is really so much to say about it. I got started and it didn’t
take much time to realize how much information is missing out there, and I knew
I had my finger on all of it.

Aren’t there a lot
of gay guides out there already?

See, there are so many guides
out there about being gay, but they are marketed to the crowd that have basically
already been through most of their issues, have developed their sexual identity
and are ready to laugh about it, make fun of it, make fun of the gay stereotypes,
make fun of their moms’ reaction when they came out, etc. Gay teens simply
aren’t in that head space. Their issue is, "Do I have any chance at
surviving this future of mine?" Gay teenagers are often too busy getting
through school, dealing with growing up–not to mention dealing with abusive
homophobes–to sit down and make a guidebook for their peers. So no one
was really ever going to do that. I also felt that any guide out there was only
about sex–like the Joy of Gay Sex, an excellent resource–or
about everything but sex. This struck me as odd. It was compounded by
the fact that in most school programs sex is still a foreign issue, and gay
sex is not mentioned.

Did you have a plan or formula
for doing this?

Yeah. Accessible information
equals knowledge and experience equals higher self-esteem, and confidence equals
better/safer decision-making equals longer, happier lives equals more alive
gay kids to help other gay kids.

Did you learn things you
didn’t know about before?

One way writing the book
changed me is that now I feel like I am full of soundbites and facts that I
can reel off to trigger a response in people. The media coverage for the book
is a great way to talk about issues surrounding young queer life. And the media
at large is really fascinated by this kind of thing right now…

Another thing I learned,
but have a hard time remembering, is that we are now in a phase where there
are actually many, many happy young queer people out there leading happy lives.
That’s a new phenomenon. The young gay out demographic is a new one…

Has gay media been supportive?

The respect and support
young gay kids get from straight agencies and people is much higher than what
the gay media or gay agencies give. In terms of The XY Survival Guide
that has meant a lot more straight media coverage and institutions with straight
people behind them wanting copies and being really supportive. I haven’t
heard very much from gay media. I’ve done a few gay radio interviews, and
I know of one review written in a gay paper. Which is odd, since you’d
think the gay press would be really happy about this, and we sent 300 review
copies out to the gay press. The only resistance to the book so far has come
from university gay groups, who refuse to review the book for some strange reasons,
which I think have to do with the people in charge wanting to feel powerful
enough to say no or something. I find that strange and sad. When I was writing
and compiling the book, the straight agencies that deal with youth in general
were overwhelmingly supportive, and the gay agencies were sorta, "Oh…uh-huh,"
and acted kinda snooty, like I was wasting their time. Even GLSEN [Gay, Lesbian
and Straight Education Network], who provided a lot of the material and did
a full review edit of the book at about the 85 percent completion phase, didn’t
want to do an endorsement on the back cover until they saw the final printed
version–an impossible thing, since we would have to reprint to include
their endorsement. I find that so strange, but maybe they had other benevolent
and perhaps bureaucratic reasons.

You must be like a lightning
rod for kids who’re coming out and are isolated. How do you deal with that?

We get about 100 letters
a week from readers who are really glad that our magazine exists. About 50 percent
of these specifically involve our readers coming out because they read a particular
article that inspired them, or, in some cases, their parents found the magazine
in their rooms or something like that. It’s really an amazing thing to
be trying to help run this struggling magazine and often feel deflated and like
the whole thing is doomed, and then to get a phone call or a letter from someone
thanking us for helping them… It would be great if we could operate at a profit–right
now our phones are even cut off since we can’t pay the bill, but hey, the
Survival Guide is out there and that mattered more. And someday, when
we have the advertising revenue of any other magazine with our kind of circulation–70
to 80,000–we will.

What are some of the stories
you’ve heard from young guys trying to come out or just be queer in isolated

Kids in remote places who
have been to the Barnes & Noble on a weekend shopping trip 150 miles from
home have seen our magazine and read it, and realized they are not so strange
or alone in the world. I hear a lot of stories about kids who are really scared
because they are getting beaten up at home by stupid parents. I have coached
kids who forced their school to have a diversity day… I have heard from Mormon
kids who are afraid to jerk off. I have heard from boys who feel they are straight
but they also happen to be obsessed with the Backstreet Boys and wonder, "Is
it true that XY did an issue on them? Just wondering." I have an
e-mail from someone who lives in Laramie and says that "not a fucking thing
has changed since Matthew Shepard." He’s still scared to death when
he’s not in his house. We get lots of messages from boys who go into their
local newsstand and find XY with the porn…

We get some wild letters,
too. Sometimes wannabe models send us some wild things to get our attention.
We get amazing submissions, also about 100 a week, that are often so good it’s
a really hard job to decide what to put in. We get letters from older readers
who are very supportive and in tune with our mission and ask what they can do
to help… And of course, J.T., we get calls like the one that came from you
back in March asking us to review your book. You had so many nice things to
say, if you can remember. You don’t know how much that one phone call sustained
our spirits. Our readers have a lot of power to motivate us, I guess.

XY fills a very unique
and important niche, yet it has had problems getting advertisers. Can you tell
me about that?

There is a general bias
with big-time advertisers–and especially big-time ad firms–because
they feel there is a risk, although they never say that, in advertising in our
magazine. They always give reasons like, We don’t have a big enough circulation,
or We don’t fit their demographic. In some cases those are valid reasons.
But in most they are just lies… Our rates are among the lowest going. The
thing about big-name advertisers is that they place ads over a long period of
time. One or two big advertisers could sustain this magazine no problem, since
we only have four on staff and very little overhead…

What happened with Calvin

About Calvin Klein: nothing
is going on with them, although we have heard through the grapevine that CK
director of marketing Joseph Janus plans to sue us for quoting in Issue 25 what
he said in front of 150 of our readers at the underage New York dance party
Kurfew when we were having an XY event there. He said, "You know,
Calvin Klein would love to be able to advertise in your magazine, but we can’t
when you print shit like this"–pointing to a cartoon by Joe Phillips
showing a skateboarder whose jeans were falling off a bit. I’m not sure
how he could sue us for saying what he said in front of 150 of our most loyal
fans, since everyone there was so shocked by it. It was really memorable, and
very unfortunate that he said that in front of them. I felt really embarrassed
for him.