Content note: sexual content.
I’m going to make an analogy. It’s going to be flawed, as analogies always are, and if I get stuff about this wrong I hope the people concerned will tell me.
But we didn’t make the magazine for them. We made it for us. When the writers were writing, when the photographers were shooting, when the illustrators were drawing, when the editors were deciding which photos and stories and illustrations and essays and news items to include, we thought about dykes. We thought about the lesbians and bisexual women who were hungry for authentic sexual images of ourselves, who were hungry to see our sexuality recognized and reflected, who were hungry for new ideas about hot things to do in bed. We thought about the dykes who were hungry for a feminism that celebrated the huge variety of lesbian sexual possibilities (i.e., that didn’t shame women for being into kink and dildos and porn).
We never thought, “What will our straight male customers enjoy?”
There were probably male customers who genuinely enjoyed the magazine’s rawness and authenticity. There were probably male customers who wanted to better understand authentic lesbian sexual experience (while getting off, of course, let’s not kid ourselves). There were probably male customers who were just hot for girl-girl action, and didn’t care what form it took (or who subscribed before they figured out what our deal was). It didn’t really matter.
We included images of fat women, butch women, pierced and tattooed women (way the hell before it was cool), women of color, middle-aged and old women. We included erotic stories about all the above. We included articles and essays about homophobia, internal lesbian politics, feminist sex toy stores, battles with anti-porn feminists. We included pictures and stories about pissing, fisting, hard kink, genderfuck, and just plain old sex. The magazine reflected dyke perceptions of sexual attractiveness and sexual desire — lots of dyke perceptions, as many dyke perceptions as we could cram into 64 pages. It was lesbians and bisexual women, talking with each other about sex. The tagline was “Entertainment for the Adventurous Lesbian.” If men were paying attention, they were doing it from the sidelines. If they shared their opinions with us, we mostly ignored them. It wasn’t for them.
When I hear black writers and artists say their art isn’t for white people, that’s what I hear, and that’s the context I hear it in.*
When black writers say that Beyoncé’s Lemonade is not for white people, when Aamer Rahman says his comedy isn’t for white people, when any movie or book or piece of music is described as not being for white people, that’s what I hear, and that’s the context I hear it in. I can enjoy it if I like, it’s nice if I get something out of it — but it isn’t being made for me. It’s being made by and for people whose experiences are different from mine in many ways, people who share cultures and contexts I’ll never fully understand, with language and images and references that are going to go whizzing right by my head. And my opinion about it is not interesting to anyone, other than myself and my immediate circle of friends.
And that’s fine.
It sucks a little — I’m a writer, when I watch a piece of work as extraordinary as Lemonade my reflex is to write about it — but I get it, and it’s fine. My opinion isn’t being solicited, any more than men’s opinions were being solicited at On Our Backs. The overwhelming majority of mass-media art and culture is already made with white people in mind. Some things get to be for other people. Not everything in the world has to be for me.
*This isn’t always what “this isn’t for you” means, of course. Sometimes it really means “go away, this is our space.” And that’s valid.