Saturday, September 10, 2016

Forever BUTT

The cover of BUTT Magazine #18
This doesn't really have anything to do with games, directly, but: I want to talk briefly about a gay mens' magazine called BUTT.

I never realized before how BUTT was such an important influence to me, until a photographer asked me to pick out things from my apartment that informed my work -- so I picked out "Forever BUTT", a best-of compilation book. At first I thought about how funny it would be if the word "BUTT" was literally printed in the photo, but then I realized there was some truth to what BUTT meant to me.

Growing up, my early understanding of gay men consisted mostly of hiding random gay crypto-porn, talking with my mom's fitness instructor, and wondering about Tigger from Winnie The Pooh. I knew abstractly about AIDS, hate crimes, gay bars, musical theater, and mid-century modern art, but I didn't really connect any of those things to my life. All I knew was that I wish Zangief played more like Chun-Li.

And then one fateful day, while walking into an American Apparel store without any intent to ever buy anything, I saw the cover of BUTT issue #18 on the shelf -- a casual portrait of a smirking burly bearded dude printed on milky fuchsia-pink paper. He wasn't a glossy supermodel with perfect cheekbones, he was just some random cute guy somewhere, and so he deserved to be on the cover. It all seemed clearly gay, yet also didn't really fit my young idea of gayness at all.

What... was this... ?

BUTT offered me (and countless other gay dudes) a very different idea of what it meant to be a gay man. This was a gayness that was not-American and American. Gay was dirty, clean, horny, sexless, white, black, young, old, hairy, smooth, chubby, skinny, urban, rural, daddy, twink -- and most importantly, pink -- all at the same time. (Society's current obsession with daddies, and the 2015 trend with beards? As with many things, gay culture was already doing it decades ago.)

In brave pursuit of that mission, they photographed and interviewed countless gay activists, artists, authors, event organizers, musicians, gay twins, designers, filmmakers, porn stars, sex workers, parents, even transwomen... each issue helped me develop a genuine sense of unity and continuity within gay history, to counter my typical cynical teenage nihilism at the time. Grouping everyone together, famous and totally unknown, also implied that all this history was still happening today, and that I could be part of this long tradition of thought and feeling.

I could feel it from the first time I saw that big thick beautiful logo: BUTT. It was radically horny and loved itself for it.  I often feel like straight people "tolerate" gay people only in abstract, as long as gay people don't actually talk about the actual mechanics of gay sex or relationships -- and here was a magazine that talked about sex in very frank and playful terms, with no shame nor apology. I now recognize that much of my recent gay sex games' tone and approach to sex comes from reading BUTT.

Through those pink pages, gay men and gay culture became real to me. Compared to the ahistorical sexless pandering bullshit that was the popular mainstream US TV sitcom Will And Grace, BUTT Magazine felt so fresh and important and honest.

Today, BUTT has long ceased its print run and exists more as a website, but it managed to inspire a great number of successors. My favorite "child of BUTT" at the moment is Gayletter, which has a local focus on the gay party circuit in New York City, but also does photographs and interviews and editorials.