When I was 12 or 13 years old, my father found a porno magazine I accidentally left laying around my room. Of course, unlike many of my friends who endured similarly embarrassing experiences, the magazines I liked were filled with pictures of naked men -- double whamo.
And this fact made explaining the magazine's existence in my room quite challenging since, at the time, neither my father nor I were ready to admit that openly gay teen-agers -- a very Y2K phenomenon -- existed.
Somehow, I convinced my dad that the very dog-eared magazine wasn't mine and I wasn't sure why it was in my room. Because I was so mortified, I said whatever needed to be said to end the discussion.
At the time, I didn't even fully understand why I was so fascinated by the pictures of naked men. All I knew is that I felt strange, disappointing to my parents and alone.
I would love to say that this same situation doesn't exist for millions of teen-agers grappling with their sexual orientation today. The truth is, it does. But thanks to people like Jerry Dunn, the 23-year-old publisher and editor of the new magazine Joey -- named after a fictitious, cute boy-next-door who's comfortable with himself and his sexuality -- things are looking brighter.
At a time when young people exercise their collective commercial muscle to drive bands like 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys, television networks like the WB and an endless deluge of fluffy teen films to the top of the charts, it seems only fitting that a smart young business person would seize the opportunity to offer up a smart, light-hearted magazine for an extremely underserved portion of this market -- young men who also happen to be gay.
Dunn started Joey Online (www. joeymag.com) about six months ago, and the first quarterly issue of the print magazine hit newsstands in March. He says that 15,000 copies of the first issue are on the street, adding that he plans to increase it to 25,000 for the second issue on June 1.
Joey isn't the first entry into the gay teen male magazine market, though. San Francisco-based XY Magazine began publishing in 1996 and reports an unaudited readership of 250,000. Its managing editor, Mike Glatze, says he's very excited about the debut of Joey.
"When you look at society, there are thousands of magazines, television shows and everything you see is straight," Glatze said. "Now there are two of us."
Numbers aside, though, Dunn, a UCLA-educated English major, has big plans for his new venture.
"XY blazed the trail and showed everyone that gay teens exist," Dunn said from his office in Los Angeles. "I meet lots of guys who are just coming out, and magazines like XY, Out and The Advocate make them uncomfortable. I want to make something more accessible."
He definitely has his work cut out for him. In addition to XY and Joey, Glatze said he's heard rumors that a third magazine for young gay men might be launching in the near future.
On the mainstream media side, publishers are picking up on the same market Dunn and Glatze are targeting. On March 28, USA Today included a story that mentioned Joey alongside two new mainstream magazines, TransWorld Stance, a bimonthly covering "emerging" sports such as skateboarding and snowboarding, and MH-18, the younger sibling of established Men's Health magazine.
According to the article, there are 22 million teen-age boys in the United States -- a large market that seems hard to pass up. If we apply the 10 percent rule -- you know, the principle that estimates 10 percent of the population is gay or lesbian -- Glatze and Dunn have at least 2.2 million potential readers. That's huge, even in mainstream publishing terms.
But at the end of the day, what we're really talking about here isn't marketing, advertising or circulation. The issue is the opportunity to inform, educate and empower young men.
In his first editor's letter, Dunn wrote, "I want to show all the guys out there -- gay, bi and straight -- that people like us do exist. I want to show the parents, the teachers, the best friends and the siblings that we're here and that we need their love and support. You might know of someone who's openly gay at your own school. But for every person like that, there are probably five more who have chosen not to tell anyone yet.
"So I want to be the one to give a voice to the gnawing thought in these boys' minds -- a thought which they want to scream aloud but can't: There are more of us than you think ... ."