Lesbian Magazines: An Introduction
(CW: Some images used in this article contain homophobic slurs and discussions of homophobia)
In October 2021 I spent two days at the Glasgow Women’s Library exploring documents, (maga)zines and other material from their Lesbian Archive for my postgraduate dissertation on lesbian and feminist publishing in the United Kingdom. I examined lesbian magazines published between the 1970s and early 2000s, in relation to the current state of the publishing sectors. The magazines I found during my research I categorised as magazines created by lesbian (community) groups, including Sappho, Sequel, Move, and the Bristol Radical Lesbian Feminist Magazine, lesbian lifestyle magazines such as Shebang and Diva, and sex-positive and erotica publications such as Quim and Flirt! These lesbian publications were frequently published by groups or collectives of queer women and lesbians who sought to offer their readers representation, validation and a sense of belonging, and closely worked together with their network of readers, encouraging them to submit writing and artwork. In future posts, I will further explore these magazines and talk about topics such as community and interactions with and contributions from readers in detail, for now I will give a brief introduction of a variety of lesbian publications throughout the decades.
Sappho 5 no. 5 (1977) and Sappho 1 no. 1 (1971)
Community magazine Sappho was published by a group of queer women in response to “the passionate demands of women in the provinces for a magazine to break down their isolation.” The members of Sappho also hosted Sappho Society meetings for members, offering support and a sense of community, as well as organising other social activities like disco nights. In introducing the Sappho magazine, the Sappho team described its aims to start “[a] club to support the magazine. The magazine promotes the club.”
What is Sequel? (n.d.)
Similarly, Sequel was published by a “strong women’s group -- not a circle but a crazy-shaped link-up of women who […] love women” located across the United Kingdom, offering support to their fellow Sequellers through queer and feminist writing and photography. The Sequel collective also hosted a variety of social events such as informal “Sequelscoffs” dinners, “Dilly-Do” chat sessions, and French groups.
Sequel 1 (1978) and Move 6 (1975)
Move was published by the Gay Women’s Group at the Women’s Liberation Women’s Centre in Bristol with the aim to make lesbian readers feel supported and less isolated, and fight for women’s liberation. The group also set out to create safe spaces for lesbians, organising meetings and other group activities. Community magazines, thus, set out to produce material by and for their historically marginalised queer readers, and were published by groups and collectives that further provided support for lesbians and queer women by hosting social events and other support initiatives.
Diva 1 (1994) and Shebang 1 (1992)
Lesbian lifestyle magazines like Diva and Shebang equally aimed to expand lesbian representation, and validate their diverse readership. Diva, recognising that lesbians had historically been severely marginalised and faced erasure, from society and in history – the ol’ “and they were roommates,” just gal pals, friendship goals – set out to amplify and highlight lesbian voices, and “put lesbians centre-stage.” The magazine aimed to represent all lesbians and showcase and celebrate their diversity, publishing for the “[b]ig girls, bad girls, good girls, women in business, in comedy, in academia, on the telly, on the razzle, out at work and on the football pitch” with articles on lesbian and queer culture, news, and media. Lifestyle magazine Shebang had a similar mission, discussing “the [lesbian and queer] arts, the scene, our culture, health and history,” and closely interacting with its lesbian readers. Both Diva and Shebang were produced by larger editorial teams and featured advertisements, exemplifying the more commercialised lesbian lifestyle publications that covered several aspects of lesbian culture.
Quim 2 (1991) and Flirt! 2 (1998)
Like community magazines, erotica publications like Quim and Flirt! were frequently the product of collective working and equally encouraged submissions from readers. Quim was explicitly “pro-sex full stop,” and set out to represent lesbians and “our sexuality in all its infinite variety” through stories, interviews and photography. The magazine was proudly independent and closely interacted with readers, setting out to publish material unlikely to be published by mainstream and bigger publications. Quim struggled to find distributors and faced censorship issues, reflecting the struggles faced by queer sex-positive publications and queer communities more generally in the 1980s and 1990s. Similarly, Flirt! noted and aimed to challenge the influential British mainstream media’s frequently condescending and decidedly negative attitude towards lesbianism and queer culture. The publication explored the “joys and concerns” of lesbian sexuality through photography and writing, and encouraged its readers to share their stories and confessions. Additionally, in its second issue, published in the late 1990s, the Flirt! editorial team discussed its plans to use the internet – “Aah yes, the intenet [sic]” – to further connect and interact with its readers. Thus, both Quim and Flirt!, as erotica publications by and for lesbian individuals, contributed to the expansion of lesbian representation, publishing sex-positive material aimed to reflect the diversity of their community.
Today, (maga)zines continue to be an important medium within radical publishing, being both easy to produce and an accessible and affordable format, and can be found online and in queer bookshops like Category is Books in Glasgow. Since the early 2000s, the internet and social media have become crucial to the building of queer communities and expansion of queer representation. Studying lesbian magazines published in past decades made me realise the importance of these media in connecting and validating lesbian individuals in a time without communication methods like social media. They offer an incredibly interesting perspective of the history of these communities, and the way isolated queer individuals sought and created support systems and a sense of community. In researching lesbian magazines published in the United Kingdom, I also realised that this remains a relatively unexplored topic. Therefore, I want to dive deeper into lesbian magazines, exploring their impact, interactions with readers and content in more detail in future blog posts. The world of lesbian magazines is a fascinating one, and a reminder that, in recent decades – as the editor of Diva noted in April 1994 – while lesbians “may not be everywhere, we’re certainly getting somewhere.”