This simple idea, to honor OUT/LOOK National Lesbian and Gay Quarterly 30 years after six of us sat down to plan a new magazine, has mushroomed into this website, an exhibition, a publication and several events. Some inchoate instinct back in 2015 led me to retrieve my dusty issues off a high shelf and spread them across the living room floor. The covers looked as vibrant as I remembered; I imagined them enlarged grandly on a museum wall.
The idea returned every time someone said they missed OUT/LOOK. We miss, I suspect, the kind of national public culture the magazine encouraged. Each issue had an average print run of 17,000, split between subscriptions and bookstore distribution. It was passed around, collected, and shared by many who waited eagerly from quarter to quarter, often disagreed with, and sometimes hated it. We might guess that 30,000 people touched the pages of each issue.
Published from 1988 to 1992, OUT/LOOK emerged from a vision of lesbians and gay men working together (unusual in that period). Racially inclusive and with varied class perspectives, the magazine addressed politics and culture, sexual and gender complexity (though we were sadly ignorant about transgender identities), and topics that were controversial or not yet articulated. In form, it emphasized visual work along with scholarly and creative writing. In a period before LGBT Studies and queer theory were established in the university, OUT/LOOK built a bridge between academic inquiry and broader community. We also created the influential OutWrite conferences. The first, held in San Francisco and attended by over 1,200 people, featured keynote speakers Judy Grahn and Allen Ginsberg.
As a founder and the first Art Coordinator/Director (my unpaid title kept changing) of OUT/LOOK, I was at the very beginning of my late-bloomer commitment to being an artist. Now, 30 years later, my art practice leads me back to OUT/LOOK. My guess is that that we need a queer public forum again, a space for dialogue and debate about things that matter. That’s what OUT/LOOK succeeded in doing, before internet forums and social media. Those of us involved with OUT/LOOK – all now in our fifties, sixties and seventies – created a political culture that lives on. All of us have vivid memories of this period with its passionate identity politics, activism, and tragedies amidst AIDS and in-your-face queer activism. We lost so many loved ones and community members. OUT/LOOK and the Birth of the Queer is a space for intergenerational dialogue and a container for new forms of production. It’s a way to reconnect original readers, editors, artists, writers and activists and reach out to new people.
In Fall 2016 I sent out an invitation to specific writers, artists, performers, curators, historians, and activists asking them to create new work in response to one particular issue of the magazine. Almost everyone (38 total) accepted. I am awestruck by how much effort people committed to their piece, how utterly original and wonderful the work is. Look for their contributions to arrive on the website very soon. I also invite you to submit your own reflections, memories and responses.
Let’s reinvigorate our Queer public culture. As the national and global climate grows increasingly more dangerous, we need a vital, inclusive forum more than ever.