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Weekly reads from CJR for February 18, 2021

Michael Waters on the beginnings of queer media

Bachelor magazine debuted in April 1937. Its inaugural issue, wrote a reviewer for Time, was “the size of Vogue” and sought to reach an audience “a social cut above Esquire's.” Its founder, Elizabeth Criswell—a socialite and former Ohio newspaper editor who worked on Bachelor under a pseudonym—told reporters, “It’s time somebody started lending glamor to men, especially unmarried ones.” The magazine folded after just a few issues; still, in its limited life span, it found an audience of queer readers at a time when many struggled to find themselves represented in print media. With Bachelor, Criswell “wanted to apply a heterosexual female gaze to men and men’s fashion,” writes Michael Waters. “In doing so, she created an opening for queer men to express their desires through Bachelor, too.”

At the time, magazines that spoke directly and unambiguously about queer life risked persecution and punishment. “Although very few publications explicitly said they were meant for the queer community, queer people made space for themselves anyway,” Waters writes. “They hijacked the personal-ads pages of fan magazines, sprinkled references to same-sex desire in general-interest publications, and kept up with homophobic press coverage in order to seek out cruising spots.” Bachelor thrived on coded exchanges between its staff and its readership. It is unknown whether Criswell intended to reach a queer audience, but those who worked on the magazine gave Bachelor its distinct—if necessarily sly—queer aesthetic. “The joke is on any chance heterosexual readership of Bachelor,” wrote historian Elspeth H. Brown, “though not, of course, on the gay men who surely read it.”

The legacy of a magazine is built by its audience as well as its creators. “The queer coding in magazines like Bachelor wasn’t just meant to wink at queer readers,” Waters writes. “It was also the only way a publication that wanted to discuss queerness could survive.” In its short life, Bachelor enabled queer people to see one another, and to see themselves—feats that remain rare in contemporary media.
––Brendan Fitzgerald, senior editor

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