What it's like running the only gay magazine in the Philippines

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Team Magazine's first issue celebrated all kinds of relationships involving gay men, from partners, friends, to siblings. In it, couple Gino and Eldridge talk about how they met and bonded over video games. Photo from TEAM MAGAZINE

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — It’s hard out there for a gay mag.

It’s problematic enough that the print industry is struggling to find a steadier footing. But as you flip through Team, currently the only gay men’s magazine in the country, you’ll wonder where the advertisers are — brands who have proclaimed themselves as allies of the LGBTQ community.

But five issues in, Team has braved the CMYK-waters of print in these tumultuous times and gained confidence as a quarterly publication held up by its loyal following. Issues are available in major bookstores in Manila, and celebrities, like John Lloyd Cruz, have appeared on the magazine’s cover.

Outside the confines of its pages, the magazine has mounted several events:  a rooftop viewing party of HBO’s original gay series, “Looking”; revelries in otherwise “straight” venues; and even a ukulele jam and sunset yoga session at a park in Bonifacio Global City. Team is gradually making little pockets of the city a safe place for gay men, and a year after its launch, it continues to provide a platform to tell stories that might get drowned out elsewhere.

team Copies of Team Magazine's first issue during the launch party in May 2015. Photo from TEAM MAGAZINE  

CNN Philippines Life, in an email exchange, talked to Paolo Lorenzana, the editor-in-chief, about the first year of Team, booking actors for the cover, and respect for one’s older gays. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

How’s Team after one year? Do you feel like Team is in its full form already, or are there still tweaks needed in terms of how you’re approaching the magazine’s core themes?

When it launched, Team was like that gay kid who’d been out for a while but was more concerned about hooking up or keeping a boyfriend. Now, he’s getting to know his community more and understanding its diversity. The journey with Team has been personal for me more than anything, where I’ve been exposed to so much diversity — contributors or readers coming forward to tell their story or share their concerns — so that I am hungry to explore a breadth of issues. Our last two issues are reflective of this, where we’ve investigated our attraction to gay trans men and talked about the relationship between an HIV-positive guy and someone who’s negative. As discrimination and hatred from outside and within the community stem from fearing what you don’t understand, our objective is to continue opening minds.  

Was there ever a point in that one year that you thought the magazine won’t even celebrate its first anniversary?

I think we were prudent enough to have had enough funds to cover two succeeding issues. But even if we didn’t, there’s no question that I would be all up in gay business leaders’ and advertisers’ faces, swinging my imaginary tits at them like the Erin Brocko-bitch that I am in my head.

We’re still dealing with a caricatured view of gay men. Gay relationships need to go mainstream a little more, and so a lot of our content will still explore the normalcy of this in order to make our readers more comfortable.

 

You guys have already put out five issues. Did the reception vary from one issue to the next?

There are definitely people we’ve put on the cover who have been more influential than others. Our fourth issue’s cover gay, BJ Pascual, really helped expand our readership to include his vast fanhood. We now have a sizable young female readership. And we’re happy to prep them to become the best fag hags they can possibly be. 

The magazine has achieved a bit of international renown, having been featured in Out.com and even a Swiss magazine. How do you think the stories of Filipino gay men fare among the stories of other gay men elsewhere?

Our issues are different for sure — I think there’s a need to unify faith with faggotry. In the Philippines, I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface in making being “out” look as appealing as it does in places like the U.S., for example. We’re still dealing with a caricatured view of gay men. Gay relationships need to go mainstream a little more, and so a lot of our content will still explore the normalcy of this in order to make our readers more comfortable. Speaking from personal experience, it was love that pushed me out of the closet.

team A spread from Petersen Vargas's gay romcom screenplay featured in Team Magazine's fourth issue. Photo from TEAM MAGAZINE  

In terms of content, how has your approach to features developed, with mostly personal essays at the beginning?

There are countless ways to express our identity, so we are now more open to poetry and fiction, and in our fourth issue, we even got the filmmaker Petersen Vargas to write a screenplay excerpt for the modern gay romcom that we never had. Core to Team, though, are the as-told-to stories shared by the subjects we feature. Talk doesn't get more real than when it comes straight from our gays’ mouths.

You guys have also done a few events. What’s it like to touch base with Team readers?

Last month, Team unleashed Gay Bar, an event that simulated those ancient gathering places where people let their fag flags fly high. More than a decade after the gay district in Manila went extinct, and with every Tom, Dick, and fairy on Grindr these days, I expected a 30-something turnout, both age- and quantity-wise. What I didn’t expect: The bar vibrating as everyone from a 16-year-old twink to a 40-year-old straight tito hollered the lyrics to “It’s Raining Men.” And it was only midnight.

I realized that we still need places to live “out” loud, whether it’s to feel a sense of community, or to feel a guy up on the dance floor. What happened in Orlando will definitely not deter us from holding such events. People need to know that we’re going to continue celebrating who we are, as inclusively as possible.

 

There and then, I realized that we still need places to live “out” loud, whether it’s to feel a sense of community, or to feel a guy up on the dance floor. What happened in Orlando will definitely not deter us from holding such events. People need to know that we’re going to continue celebrating who we are, as inclusively as possible. You can revel in our sense of welcome, or you can be a sourpuss about it and wither by your lonesome. A word of advice: Singing the Spice Girls’s “Say You’ll Be There” at the top of your lungs is so much more fun than the latter.

How is it like now for Team in terms of getting brands to advertise, now that your body of work is more concrete, than in the first few issues? Is it still hard to get brands to advertise on a gay mag?

In the beginning, it was difficult to even get a meeting with brand representatives. A lot of these people are very “kumare,” with old-guard news dailies and the editors in magazine monopolies. We aren’t as established as those mentioned but we’re getting there. As we continue to show that we’re not going anywhere and that our readership is small but extremely engaged, especially in light of recent events, I have no doubt that advertisers will become more receptive to us. Two words that I am so tired of emphasizing: PINK FUCKING PESO. Okay, fine, three words. Especially since we’re just generally more fun to have meetings with. I’ve been known to whip out a pair of 10-year-old jeans in front of Uniqlo’s Jasmine Cruz to show her that gays like me love their jeans to the point that they’d still wear them with a hole or two in the crotch. Don’t ask me how those holes came about.

team The photographer BJ Pascual at his first exhibit, "Come Close," featuring photographs published in Team Magazine's fourth issue, which had him on the cover. Photo from TEAM MAGAZINE  

One of the most memorable things about Team is the spontaneous discussion between generations of gay men during the Philippine Literary Festival panel last year. How did that factor into the themes and ideas for features or issues discussed in the later editions of the magazine?

Our editor-at-large, Victor Platon, is famous around the office for saying, “Respect your older queens!” We do, we do. And so in our latest issue, we feature some amazing older gays in a “refresher on gay lives then.” We celebrate their journeys and we show younger gays that they should be more fucking appreciative of our relatively relaxed times. And we also won’t shut up about the glory days of Malate. Google that shit — we seem to have been more out and proud back then, which is tragic.

Speaking of contributors, there are some new bylines in the magazine in the last few issues. How do contributors approach you when they want their work published in the magazine?

We’ve always been welcoming to submissions from contributors so long as their stories are accessible in language and have something to say about being gay and Filipino. Now that we’re planning to make Team a gay Asian magazine rather than just a Filipino one, things are about to get a lot more interesting.

team John Lloyd Cruz photographed by Geric Cruz for the cover story of Team Magazine's third issue. Photo from TEAM MAGAZINE

For the covers, I know there have been some struggles with getting celebrities to appear on a gay mag — the case with models for editorials as well. But you managed to get John Lloyd Cruz and Tommy Esguerra. Is the cover now more dependent on, as with most other magazines, a buzzy personality, or someone relevant to the LGBTQ cause?

While a straight celebrity helps in enlightening a fan base that is both gay and straight, it’s ever more important to empower Filipino gays with a story they can relate to. Which is why BJ’s agreeing to be on our cover was so powerful. We hope there are more cover boys like him in our future.

Are you guys open to featuring lesbians now, or is that still something out of your scope?

Something’s in the works. You’ll just have to keep reading — a surprise may be found within our pages in the near future.

How do you see Team a few years from now?

At some point, you won’t see anyone on Grindr posting “No Asians,” damn it. As we work toward getting our magazine on international newsstands, we hope that Team becomes instrumental in empowering gay Asians and changing whatever negative perceptions there are about us. How’s that for a start?

team Team Magazine's creative associate, Ina Jacobe (left), and editor-in-chief, Paolo Lorenzana. Photo by GABBY CANTERO