h1

XY Magazine: A Man, A Mission, And A Magazine – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Peter Ian Cummings, Founder & Editor, XY Magazine…

March 29, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Relaunch Story…

“What you’re paying for with a magazine is a work of art. It’s a finely-designed, carefully constructed, beautiful, physical item. A fine magazine is like a sculpture and it’s carefully created. And what you’re paying for is not just a bunch of words, but the beautiful creation of the item by the people who created it. The articles go in a certain order, certain fonts are used, next to certain kinds of photos in certain sizes. It is not the same as just reading the words on the Internet, because you’re paying for the artwork of the creator.” Peter Ian Cummings…

XY Magazine was first launched in 1996 in San Francisco. The magazine folded not long after the economy crashed and the dotcom bubble burst upon the scene. Late last year, the man behind the original launch brought the magazine back to life. Peter Ian Cummings, founder and editor, has that same invincible spirit as his creation and the two are complete soul replicas, reveling in creativity and images that are both controversial and beautiful.

I spoke with Peter recently on a trip to Washington D.C. and we talked about this XY resurrection. Peter is convinced that with the current direction of the LGBT movement, XY is needed more today than ever before. He notes the issues that the LGBT is concerned with today, such as gays in the military, same-sex marriages, and the transgender bathroom concerns, while important, are not the foundations that the movement was built upon. No one is speaking about sexual liberation or the wonder of being a gay man. This is XY’s point of view and a voice that Peter said needs to be heard again.

So, I hope that you enjoy this lengthy and intriguing interview with a man who defines himself as someone who represents the majority of gay men, Peter Ian Cummings, founder and editor, XY Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On the folding of XY Magazine and then the relaunch: XY was it launched in 1996 in San Francisco, and then we moved to San Diego, then Los Angeles, but the thing about XY and why it closed in 2010; it didn’t close for lack of interest. It closed because the magazine was owned by three different people, me and two others, and the other two people were only involved in the business parts, and the whole editorial staff was pretty much the same from beginning to end. What happened was me and the two other guys who owned it got to the point in 2010 where we couldn’t stand each other and couldn’t even speak to each other. We published B magazine in between, which was essentially the same magazine, but it didn’t sell as well as XY because people didn’t know what it was, so they didn’t really see it. The first issue of XY, which we just put on sale, Issue #50, sold really well because people recognized it. We didn’t do any promotion for it, it just sold itself.

On the DNA of XY Magazine: XY started as a magazine for young gay men. The spread of demographics in the gay community was different in 1996 than it is now, some 20 years later. At the time, there was no magazines for anybody under 40. When you look at the average age of the readers of the other three big gay magazines at that time, OUT, Genre, and subsequently, Instinct, all of their average age readers were over 35 or 40. And I don’t think OUT magazine even measured readers under 30. So, for us to launch a magazine that was visually aimed at 16 to 25 year olds, was a market that was completely unserved. And still the average age of the readers of gay magazines is around 50. So, when people say that our original readers are probably in their 30s now, while that’s true, we’re still the only gay magazine that serves teens, 20s, 30s, and even 40s. And that’s quite a different thing.

On whether anyone asked him was he out of his mind to bring back a print magazine in this digital age: People always say that about print, and it’s not true. People buy magazines; people like magazines. And there have been all kinds of surveys that I’m sure you know about, which show that teenagers today really like print magazines more and more because they’re having a rebellion against social media, which must worry Facebook and others.

On whether he feels XY and himself are the leaders in the gay movement today: Well, the problem is that the movement barely exists. The majority of gay men have a certain aesthetic and cultural point of view, and feeling about themselves. I believe that XY represents 80 percent of gay men and that the gay institutions, the LGBT magazines and the LGBT movement, do not represent the culture and aesthetic of the majority of gay men in America. Very rarely has a national movement and culture been so out of touch with its rank and file. Two other examples are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. They’re totally out of touch with their rank and file. They don’t represent anybody.

On the biggest challenge he thinks he’ll face and how he plans to overcome it: The biggest challenge that we’re going to face is that the political situation in the country is terrible and it’s rapidly changing. It makes producing the editorial content of any magazine very difficult in this political climate. I don’t want every article to be Trump, Trump, Trump; he sucks all of the oxygen out of the room. And our issue isn’t even against him or for him or anything; our issue is about sexual liberation. And we have to really focus on that.

On the most pleasant moment throughout the relaunch: I have a pleasant moment every day, because people write to me every day; we get this huge volume of reader mail and we always have. They write to us every day and tell us how much they love the magazine. We have so many great writers in this issue of the magazine. We have the producer of Frontline; we have the president of the largest minority gay youth group in the country; my co-editor, who is the former news editor of Lesbian News; Steven Underhill, who is a famous photographer, but in this issue he writes an article about sociology. I’ve got the two biggest fashion photographers in Europe.

On who Peter Ian Cummings really is: Number one, I represent the majority of gay men and I am absolutely clear about that. XY has thrown gay club night all over the country. We had gay club in Oklahoma City and we had a line going around the block that came from a six-state area. We’ve thrown events everywhere, not just in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, but as I said, in Oklahoma City, in Texas, Ohio and Michigan, just everywhere. And I know that with the vast majority of gay men, we’re representing what they’re thinking.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly to his home one evening: If I’m home, which I’m not always home, this year, if I’m home, I have been spending hours every day reading The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Guardian and The New Yorker, and watching MSNBC, PBS NewsHour, and watching Stephen Colbert, which I do all of, every day, ten times per day. I’m obsessed with all of the news and finding out the latest thing. And this is bad, I am going to have to go on a news vacation next week.

On the point of view the magazine represents: I think it’s the correct one, because the point of view of the kind of classical gay movement, which we represent precisely the classical gay movement that came from Stonewall and through the ‘70s about sexual liberation. The LGBT mainstream movement has gone in another direction now, about transactional political rights like gay marriage and gays in the military and transgender bathroom rights, things like that, which are all important. But that’s not what we’re doing.

On what keeps him up at night: Primarily, I’m worried about the cruelty of American culture. Almost everyone I know who are Americans are just feeling like they’ve been betrayed by the country and I mean left, right, just everybody. Everyone feels really sad; we’re a very lonely country and there’s a certain economic meanness about the country and I think I could talk about that at great length.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Peter Ian Cummings, founder and editor, XY Magazine.

Samir Husni: Peter, this isn’t your first time with XY, you started it years ago and then exited the marketplace. You also launched two other magazines, and now you’ve brought back XY. Can you tell me about the relaunch?

Peter Ian Cummings: XY was it launched in 1996 in San Francisco, and then we moved to San Diego, then Los Angeles, but the thing about XY and why it closed in 2010; it didn’t close for lack of interest. It closed because the magazine was owned by three different people, me and two others, and the other two people were only involved in the business parts, and the whole editorial staff was pretty much the same from beginning to end.

What happened was me and the two other guys who owned it got to the point in 2010 where we couldn’t stand each other and couldn’t even speak to each other. We stopped getting along and we just couldn’t reach an agreement, so because we each owned a part of the magazine, we couldn’t reach an agreement on what to do with it, so we had to liquidate it.

It had nothing to do with the market; it had nothing to do with anything, it was just us, the owners, we couldn’t get along. And it took me seven years to reassemble all of the trademarks and rights, which I was working on for a really long time. We went through a lot of litigation for six or seven years, which isn’t interesting, just the typical stuff that happens in business. And then at the end, the editorial staff was all still there and finally I was able to reassemble it all and relaunch the magazine.

We published B magazine in between, which was essentially the same magazine, but it didn’t sell as well as XY because people didn’t know what it was, so they didn’t really see it. The first issue of XY, which we just put on sale, Issue #50, sold really well because people recognized it. We didn’t do any promotion for it, it just sold itself.

Samir Husni: For those people who aren’t familiar with XY, could you tell me a little about the DNA of the magazine?

Peter Ian Cummings: XY started as a magazine for young gay men. The spread of demographics in the gay community was different in 1996 than it is now, some 20 years later. At the time, there was no magazines for anybody under 40. When you look at the average age of the readers of the other three big gay magazines at that time, OUT, Genre, and subsequently, Instinct, all of their average age readers were over 35 or 40. And I don’t think OUT magazine even measured readers under 30.

So, for us to launch a magazine that was visually aimed at 16 to 25 year olds, was a market that was completely unserved. And still the average age of the readers of gay magazines is around 50. So, when people say that our original readers are probably in their 30s now, while that’s true, we’re still the only gay magazine that serves teens, 20s, 30s, and even 40s. And that’s quite a different thing.

There’s a second thing though, which is that we have a lot of gay men of all ages and many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight people who read XY, because it’s not a news magazine. XY is a philosophical journal essentially and we write articles about issues such as the relationship between sexuality and economics, the way gay men treat each other, the psychological nature of people’s sexual construction, and international affairs.

We really are a kind of philosophical journal, which is really unique. There’s the Harvard Lesbian and Gay Review, which is now called The Gay and Lesbian Review. But there really aren’t any kind of commercial magazines like that, so we have a very specific thing. The last issue was called “Wonderland” and it was about the direction of the United States. And we had a lot of high-level writers talking about the things that we’ve lost culturally during the rise of inequality, and also about technology. And those aren’t the typical subjects of gay magazines.

So, I’m not saying that XY is for all LGBT people; it isn’t. The majority of gay men and many LGBT people who are looking for a magazine like this, for them it really is meaningful and they treasure it and it’s the only place that represents that point of view, which I think is the point of view of the majority of gay men in the country.

And we could talk about how we believe that the national LGBT press and the LGBT movement have lost their way, because they have stopped being interested in sexual liberation and in sexual construction and in real civil rights.

Andrew Sullivan, who is a famous LGBT writer, and this is paraphrasing, but almost exactly what he once said: effectively, all we need to do is have gays in the military and gay marriage, and a couple of other things, and the gay movement will have done its job and we can go home. But what we’re interested in is sexual rights; we’re interested in the age of consent, and not just in the tolerance of gay male sexuality, but the celebration of gay love and the wonder of gay men.

We always thought that gay men were really special. And that they represent something special, which is kind of a unique point of view and we’re the only ones who really talk about that in the U.S. It’s a very European point of view, and I think it’s quite a Japanese point of view. In Japan, many straight girls really idolize gay men’s relationships, but we just don’t have that kind of culture in the U.S. I think most gay men feel that way, so we represent the hidden majority of gay men, and that has always been our success.

I want to say something else about this, which is that XY has always been relatively high-priced, it sells for $10. We don’t discount our subscriptions, it’s expensive. We don’t have any advertising, but we sell a lot of copies on newsstand, and we have a high percentage of sales. We’ll sell 60, 70 or 80 percent of our copies at $10 per copy, and we don’t do any promotions. We don’t send out 300,000 copies and sell 15 or 20 percent like a lot of magazines. We’re a high-cost magazine and people buy it because it validates their whole existence. And we have a million people out there who idolize XY and came out because of it. It’s not like just any other magazine out there, so it’s a different economic model from the others, because it’s supported by newsstand and by retail sales. The biggest source of income that XY has is retail sales, because our magazine costs twice as much as everybody else’s and we sell a high percentage of copies and we’re now a non-profit, so we don’t have investors, and the magazine pays for itself. It doesn’t need to make a huge profit.

Samir Husni: When you decided to bring the magazine back…

Peter Ian Cummings: Which is something that I always wanted to do. The thing was, in 2010, I wrote that I was leaving and that I was looking for someone else to take it over because I was trying to figure out a financial solution. I didn’t want to involve all of the readers in my petty bickering with my two partners. And I don’t think they did either, because that’s not what the magazine was about. The magazine was about LGBT culture, politics and the meaning of that in life. And I never wanted to involve the readers in that kind of petty, typical business thing. That’s not what it was about.

Samir Husni: But did anybody come to you and ask you were you out of your mind to bring back a print magazine in this digital age?

Peter Ian Cummings: Yes, people did ask that. You know, a certain number of bookstores closed, but now there’s been a huge increase in the past two years in the number of independent bookstores. There are a lot of them. I’m not trying to print 80,000 copies of this monthly magazine; I’m only trying to print 15 or 20,000 in circulation and it’s a quarterly. All of the copies will sell, because we print less copies than people want to buy. If I could print fewer, I would. Right now, I print the minimum number of copies, so that they’ll all sell.

People always say that about print, and it’s not true. People buy magazines; people like magazines. And there have been all kinds of surveys that I’m sure you know about, which show that teenagers today really like print magazines more and more because they’re having a rebellion against social media, which must worry Facebook and others.

Our magazine is not just a throwaway item that you can read on the Internet. People love to have the physical magazines. Not only that, they’re a good investment, because the back issues auction out on eBay for $100. But separate from that, everybody likes the magazine and they like to have the physical product. It isn’t the same as the Internet.

Some people think that we just put our articles online, and this is what I always say to that, I can get a canvas and splatter paint on it and sign Picasso at the bottom. Or I can give someone a blank canvas that has Picasso’s name at the bottom and someone can stick their baby pictures on it; does that make it a Picasso? Or would you like to take one of Picasso’s collages and cut it up into 12 pieces and give it to your grandma and have her put it onto her own canvas in any order that she wants?

What you’re paying for with a magazine is a work of art. It’s a finely-designed, carefully constructed, beautiful, physical item. A fine magazine is like a sculpture and it’s carefully created. And what you’re paying for is not just a bunch of words, but the beautiful creation of the item by the people who created it. The articles go in a certain order, certain fonts are used, next to certain kinds of photos in certain sizes. It is not the same as just reading the words on the Internet, because you’re paying for the artwork of the creator.

You can get someone to write a description of a Picasso painting: Dear Sir, am writing to let you know that a harlequin was standing against a blue background and at the bottom is written Picasso in some kind of old Spanish script. Is that the same as having the picture of the harlequin? No, these things aren’t the same. And I think that people who appreciate a fine magazine know that it’s not the same.

Samir Husni: That’s one of the best answers I have ever heard to that question.

Peter Ian Cummings: Thank you. But the thing is, most people who have made magazines aren’t doing it for that reason. There are artisanal magazines out there, but the thing that makes XY unique is, number one, it is an artisanal magazine, but it also represents what I think is the highest national inheritance of a national movement, the gay movement. The gay movement, as it started at Stonewall, was about sexual liberation and XY is the natural inheritor of the gay movement more than anything else in the country.

Samir Husni: And is that the reason that you went to a not-for-profit, dot org instead of dot com? Do you feel that you’re the spokesperson for this movement now, or the leader of the movement?

Peter Ian Cummings: Well, the problem is that the movement barely exists. The majority of gay men have a certain aesthetic and cultural point of view, and feeling about themselves. I believe that XY represents 80 percent of gay men and that the gay institutions, the LGBT magazines and the LGBT movement, do not represent the culture and aesthetic of the majority of gay men in America. Very rarely has a national movement and culture been so out of touch with its rank and file. Two other examples are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. They’re totally out of touch with their rank and file. They don’t represent anybody.

But, you know, the LGBT movement is not far behind. They do not represent what most gay men stand for and what most gay men feel. We’re a magazine for gay men, by the way, but I’m happy that lots of other people want to read it, because I think that people should admire gay men because gay men are wonderful.

There are no other serious magazines in the country that are for gay men. It’s almost considered politically incorrect not to have a magazine for all lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender. If you try to have one just for gay men, everyone is mad at you for not serving lesbians. I’m not qualified to serve lesbians. This is a matter of gay male aesthetic and the magazine is about gay male aesthetic. When you try and serve everyone, you can serve everyone, but you don’t serve anyone very well.

All I’m saying about XY is it’s an intersection of three things, which makes it uniquely sellable. One is it’s the pinnacle of the aesthetic for gay men, which represents 80 percent of gay men when nothing else in the country either politically or aesthetically in publishing does. That’s number one.

Number two, it’s an artisanal magazine and very few magazines are like that. And it’s the number one thing that validated so many people’s lives. So many people did not commit suicide because of XY; met their boyfriend on the old XY.com; it gave their lives meaning. And people remember it. And it did that for several generations of gay men. And I think that we can introduce it to a new generation, which is what we’re trying to do. It’s absolutely valid and it’s just as needed as it was before, probably even more today.

There’s this idea that because everyone was able to come out, therefore they know everything. And that’s not true. In the 1970s when people came out, they went to gay clubs. The drinking age was 18 when I came out, but it wasn’t enforced. People who were 16 and 17 also went to gay clubs, that was the only way to meet people. They met older gay men and many other gay men. They were introduced to gay male culture and they learned about things. They learned about responsible drinking and responsible sexuality.

Now, the entire gay socializing has been relegated effectively to Grinder and the Hornet, which is a more socially responsible, better toned network than Grinder, but in this country Grinder is the biggest. And people have said that we don’t need gay clubs because we have Grinder; we don’t need gay magazines because we have Grinder. All of these people come out by just having one night stands, and not real great ones at that. It’s destroyed all of the questions.

So, XY, in the philosophical discourse that it represents, is much more needed today than it was before. We think that because everyone gets to come out now, and they have gays in the military and the right to get married, the gay movement has made gay marriage a proxy for gay rights. They say that they achieved gay rights. We didn’t achieve gay rights because forty-year-olds get to get married; we have no process of socialization for gay teenagers anymore, because they just do it on Grinder.

In the past, when we didn’t have gay marriage and gays in the military, paradoxically, people were much better adjusted at younger ages because they were socialized.

Samir Husni: What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge that you’ll face and how will you overcome it?

Peter Ian Cummings: The biggest challenge that we’re going to face is that the political situation in the country is terrible and it’s rapidly changing. It makes producing the editorial content of any magazine very difficult in this political climate. I don’t want every article to be Trump, Trump, Trump; he sucks all of the oxygen out of the room. And our issue isn’t even against him or for him or anything; our issue is about sexual liberation. And we have to really focus on that.

One of the problems with Trump is all of his complicated discussion about not judging the discussion. I have opinions about a lot of the stuff he does that I don’t like. I like a little bit of what he does, but mostly I don’t like it.

But that’s not the point, because no one in the country, democrat, republican, or anybody, is really talking about sexual liberation. We need to keep considering questions such as, are gay men nice to each other, how do we conduct our relationships, what would make us feel satisfied with our lives, how do we negotiate our relationships with people, artistic questions, and how do we have wonderful lives? How do we be creative and what is the purpose of gay men in the world? Questions like that.

And we have to really consider those questions and not be drawn into the question of just fighting and fighting, and have every article be about Trump. And yet the landscape of all of the news is shifting so rapidly. And this is a problem for all journalists. It’s just really hard. We’ll have the whole magazine done and then there’s hundreds of crazy developments in the world and we have to delay it. Like right now we’re three weeks late with an issue because there have been so many crazy things that have happened that we have to rewrite everything. We plan to have a comic about somebody who is in the news, and then they’re not in the news anymore, there is some other crazy person in the news. Everything is moving so fast. That’s the problem for all magazine publishers and it’s our biggest problem.

Our other biggest problem is editorial. If we could produce editorial easily; if the world was easier to produce editorial about, it would be much simpler. We have a magazine that everybody wants to buy, and we’re making enough sales to pay for it. That’s not our problem. Our problem is that the world is difficult to write stories about. We don’t just write news stories. We have to come up with some philosophical understanding of the world, and it’s changing so rapidly and it’s so crazy that it’s hard to get anything done.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment throughout this relaunch?

Peter Ian Cummings: I have a pleasant moment every day, because people write to me every day; we get this huge volume of reader mail and we always have. They write to us every day and tell us how much they love the magazine. We have so many great writers in this issue of the magazine. We have the producer of Frontline; we have the president of the largest minority gay youth group in the country; my co-editor, who is the former news editor of Lesbian News; Steven Underhill, who is a famous photographer, but in this issue he writes an article about sociology. I’ve got the two biggest fashion photographers in Europe.

Then there is Max Ryder, who used to be a porn star with the same studio where Glenn Greenwald used to work, and of course, Glenn left and became a journalist with The Guardian and blew the Edward Snowden story and now Max Ryder has left the same porn studio and he’s become a journalist. And all of these great, amazing people are writing in the magazine. We have a black and white teenaged couple kissing at the monuments in Washington.

There is all of these great people in the magazine, and people write in great stuff about the magazine every day, so I never feel bad about the magazine. It’s always been really hard for me to write the articles. People write in and tell me that they really enjoy the articles I write and how amazing they are, but all of the writers in that magazine work really hard on their articles.

Samir Husni: Where did you grow up?

Peter Ian Cummings: I grew up between New York and Washington. My dad used to work for the Federal Government, and his job was in both New York and Washington, so growing up, I lived half in New York and half in Washington. And I used to be the Washington correspondent for the Sun Herald newspaper in Mississippi. And I lived half my life in England. I’m a dual national of the United States in the U.K.

And one of the reasons why I came up with XY in 1996 was because I was able to see American gay culture in the light of British gay culture, which at the time, and even now, is so much more advanced than American gay culture. You almost have to live in another country in order to see your own country in any kind of perspective. And with any young American I would always encourage them to go live in another country. How many Americans have gone and lived in Europe for a year and have had their entire perspective changed?

Samir Husni: So, do you consider yourself a rebel, a leader of a movement to be, a journalist, a gay man; who is Peter Ian Cummings?

Peter Ian Cummings: Number one, I represent the majority of gay men and I am absolutely clear about that. XY has thrown gay club night all over the country. We had gay club in Oklahoma City and we had a line going around the block that came from a six-state area. We’ve thrown events everywhere, not just in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, but as I said, in Oklahoma City, in Texas, Ohio and Michigan, just everywhere. And I know that with the vast majority of gay men, we’re representing what they’re thinking.

And by the way, the reason Trump was elected was not because the Republican Party did something great, it was a failure of the left. It was a failure of the Democratic Party to do anything to represent what actual gay people, black people, Latinos, and everybody else who doesn’t live in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington and New York were and are feeling. We represent what people out in the country are feeling, to the degree some people might say gay men are some kind of minority.

Who are the largest degree of XY’s readers? Gay men in the Midwest, Utah, Intermountain West, Southwest, Texas, Oklahoma and in the South. We have a lower readership in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington than OUT magazine, and we always have. But our readership out there is higher than any other in the flyover country; higher than any other gay magazine. And we understand what that is.

When people out there in the middle of the country, even wealthier, white voters, who are not here in Virginia, which is five miles outside Washington D.C., everybody knows that both Democrats and Republicans don’t give a damn about anybody outside those four cities. It’s an aesthetic thing, about people who are living in the bubble, the New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco bubble, which by the way, are the four cities in the U.S. that I’ve lived in, well, I lived in Miami for two years, but that’s kind of the bubble too.

I have a Toyota Prius that I bought in 2003 and I have driven it to 48 states. I spent seven years not having an apartment between 2010 and 2017, mostly not having an apartment, and driving all over the country. And I love the actual aesthetic of the country. I love rolling up to the big box store and going to the diners in Oklahoma, and I feel totally at home there. And it’s really great. Given the choice between living in Washington D.C. or living in Mississippi, of course, I’d live in Mississippi.

People out there in the country looked at both Clinton and Trump and they saw that these are people who not only have a faint dislike of the real American culture, which represents 95 percent of the country, but they don’t even know what it is. And I know that XY represents that. We don’t just represent that; we represent the beauty of that and the beauty of Manhattan and the beauty of everything else. We represent actual America. And if the Democratic Party or some other party really got out there and really stood up for a certain set of values, but they also serve an aesthetic that represents the real country, they could get 75 percent of the vote and demolish everybody. But they don’t, and that’s why the left stayed home. That’s why gays, blacks, Latinos and people in the Midwest, South, Intermountain West, and even the upper middle class; that’s why almost every demographic stayed home and didn’t show up and vote for the Democrats. The Democrats lost Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin because XY readers didn’t show up to vote. Bush was elected because XY readers in Florida didn’t show up to vote, because they weren’t inspired by the Democrats.

XY represents the vast majority of gay men and that’s why it’s so easy for us to sell a piddling 15 or 20,000 magazines. If we had money for marketing, we could probably sell 100,000 magazines.

I’m not exactly a rebel. I think I’m a good magazine editor, and really I’m a student of American studies. I’m an American studies theorist. And I’m also a very good photographer. I will say this about me, a lot of the time people start “gay youth” magazines, but we’re much more than a gay youth magazine.

I used to worry and now I don’t worry when a new magazine is started, because number one, if anybody did start a magazine like ours that was sexy and was also about cultural theory and gave people a purpose and meaning to their lives and was beautiful; if someone else did start something like that, they would have my full support. I wish someone else would do that. But nobody else does that, and no one else is going to do that.

And I don’t worry about competition. I just think that to produce XY you almost have to have been me. I came from a kind of upper class, political establishment family in New York. And I also have been to Ivy League schools. I’m a dual national of the U.K. and the U.S. I have degrees in architecture, film and journalism. I have been a Washington correspondent; I’ve been a London correspondent and a Paris correspondent. And I speak six languages. I played drums in a band. There is a certain combination of things that I’ve done, while there are people who have done that same combination of things, but most of them are working on Wall Street or Silicon Valley.

Most people with the kind of background that I have go into establishment jobs in finance or in tech. And I make one percent of the amount of money that they make, and I work really hard. A magazine is not a get-rich-quick scheme like a disappearing chat app that you do programming on for a little while and then you have an IPO on and make a bazillion dollars. It’s hard work for your whole life, staying up all night, thinking about theories. It is not a lean startup, and it’s not for everybody. And hardly anybody has the qualifications to do it. And if they do have them, they probably are working on Wall Street and that’s why you don’t see too many products like this. It’s a question of what makes life worth living and what kind of life do you want to have. I wouldn’t choose that kind of life and they wouldn’t choose to have mine.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Peter Ian Cummings: Just that I think it’s needed now more than ever before.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at your house unexpectedly one evening, what would I find you doing; having a glass of wine; reading a book; or something else?

Peter Ian Cummings: Well, you wouldn’t find me having a glass of wine, because I’ve never drank alcohol in my whole life. If I’m home, which I’m not always home, this year, if I’m home, I have been spending hours every day reading The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Guardian and The New Yorker, and watching MSNBC, PBS NewsHour, and watching Stephen Colbert, which I do all of, every day, ten times per day. I’m obsessed with all of the news and finding out the latest thing. And this is bad, I am going to have to go on a news vacation next week.

In fact, one of our writers, Doug Rushkoff , who is the producer of Frontline and chair of the Graduate Media Studies Program at Queens College in New York, is writing an article for this issue about how we should all have a news vacation, because you have to have less news consumption at this time in order to finish the grade, you have to do some beautiful, creative projects. And you can’t do it if you spend all day consuming all of this quick news and none of it matters.

Samir Husni: Do you read them in print or online?

Peter Ian Cummings: I read them all online. I used to tell people that you had to read The New York Times in print, but it’s just become a barrage of news now. In past years, I would lie on the sofa reading a book. I used to read 200 books a year. I would read so many books that I had a library of thousands of books. I would read all kinds, or I’d be writing. I’ve got books that I’m writing and fiction that I’m writing. Or I’d be out editing photos that I’d taken. I take a lot of XY’s pictures and sometimes I don’t even credit them with my own name, because there are so many of them.

I feel like if I write something or I take photos, because it’s me, it draws too much attention to it. If I just go out and take a picture of a bunch of guys at Gay Pride doing something, it’s a beautiful photo, but I just don’t credit it.

If you look at The New Yorker, it has longer articles that are credited, but at the beginning it will have some short articles and they don’t have a name on them because it represents the collective. There are a number of people involved with XY Magazine and they’ve been there a long time, and we work together and we talk all of the time. I talk to the other members of the XY team for some time hours every night. And we’ll have these long, philosophical discussions about the world and sometimes somebody will come up with this crazy angle about something.

The thing with The New Yorker and also with The Economist to some degree, although The Economist has a kind of cutesy take on things, but still these are questions of philosophy. They talk about what it feels like to be alive. XY represents a certain point of view. I’ve always felt like it’s not like I represent a point of view and am trying to spread it among the writers who are mentoring, although we do some of that. But it’s more that certain people have joined the XY team and we kind of bounce off of each other and we formulate a certain point of view. And that point of view is represented in the magazine.

And I think it’s the correct one, because the point of view of the kind of classical gay movement, which we represent precisely the classical gay movement that came from Stonewall and through the ‘70s about sexual liberation. The LGBT mainstream movement has gone in another direction now, about transactional political rights like gay marriage and gays in the military and transgender bathroom rights, things like that, which are all important. But that’s not what we’re doing.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Peter Ian Cummings: Primarily, I’m worried about the cruelty of American culture. Almost everyone I know who are Americans are just feeling like they’ve been betrayed by the country and I mean left, right, just everybody. Everyone feels really sad; we’re a very lonely country and there’s a certain economic meanness about the country and I think I could talk about that at great length.

I’m worried about the future of American society, and many times I’ve wanted to go back to England because this place is so mean. The suicide rate is rising among middle class people, among white people; there is a rising rate of immigration among educated, Americans. This has never been discussed. The suicide rate particularly is rising really fast among middle class people.

Every indicator shows that the country is failing and it’s failing 99 percent of the people. There is a vast concentration of wealth within a very small number of people, primarily in Silicon Valley and Wall Street, and as a result we’re all miserable. I’m miserable in so many ways. I’ve been homeless over the past six or seven years several times and I haven’t had health care, and I’ve been really sick a couple of times and couldn’t get health care and have been misdiagnosed. It’s happened to everybody.

Everyone I know, and because of my position in life and where I came from, I do know a lot of people in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street, but that doesn’t mean there are a lot of those people in the country. These are a few thousand people who have everything and the rest of us have nothing. And this is getting bigger and bigger. I travel in both circles, so I understand exactly what it is. But I suffer a tremendous amount because of the cruelty of this country, and not that everybody else doesn’t suffer, but I really suffer. I’m scared to death that I’m going to die in the streets because of some random thing that might happen. And I think everybody that I know who isn’t Silicon Valley or Wall Street, has this underlying terror of ending up destitute by tomorrow morning, even if they have a million dollars.

One of my friends who works in Silicon Valley said he wasn’t worried because he had a billion dollars, and I said you could have a fake age of consent prosecution because you live in California, which has 18 as the age of consent, and I think there are four jurisdictions in the world that have an 18 age of consent, California, Wisconsin, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. And nowhere else in the world has that. And this age of consent in California is used by people who hate gay people to prosecute gay men. I know so many people who have been falsely accused of an age of consent violation. You can’t have that in Canada where the age of consent is 14 or in France where it’s 15.

And I said that not only that, because of the way or society is litigious, you could have your stock price crash and lose your health insurance; you could lose everything because of a stock market crash. We have a very unsteady economy. This is the thing, these people on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley think they’re secure because they have a billion dollars. They could get an age of consent prosecution against them tomorrow and they’re ruined and could spend the rest of their days in jail and lose everything that they have. And this happens because America has random enforcement of cruelty and the bottom is zero. In England, I know I can be bankrupt, but I’ll still have health care. I’ll still have nursing home care. I’ll still get free education. They’re not going to let me die in the streets. But we don’t have that solidarity; we’re the only western country that doesn’t. And that’s what keeps me up at night.

People say that I’m bitching about my own situation, and I’m not. Many people in this country lack altruism; they don’t have a feeling for the country the way that British do for Great Britain or French people do for France. Trump appeals to populism. People here don’t have a feeling of solidarity. People feel like they’re going to be the one to become a billionaire; everyone is Jonesing to get ahead in Silicon Valley; they’re getting paid slave wages in temporary jobs, but they think they’re going to have the next Snapchat and when they do, they’re going to step on everyone else and they don’t give a damn about anybody.

But when someone is mean to me, when someone says to me that XY is just a porn magazine, I don’t take it personally. What I see in them is a tremendous desire to conform, a fear that someone will accuse them of being a Porna gay man, they’re trying to conform. They’re really scared that they will be accused of something embarrassing and lose their job and die in the streets. Those cruel accusations and petty meanness’s that we get from bureaucrats in this country, even Trump; he’s never been accepted to the upper class. I come from the New York upper class, so I understand what that class is. Even Trump will never be accepted as part of the upper class in New York. It makes you feel kind of sad for him; he came from a kind of second class place in New York and he will never be accepted by my ancestors and their peers. He’s spent his whole life trying to get into that class, and he’ll never make it. And that’s why the people in the Midwest like him. I lie around and worry about the meanness in the country and it really upsets me because I’m sad we’ve lost our way. And that’s what keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: