Monday, May 20, 2013


I know I've asked this, probably others have asked this as well, but here goes: what makes some news stories fall under the "lifestyle" rubric? I'm thinking specifically, this time around, of one about a doctor vaccinating men at a gay sex club against bacterial meningitis. It's about echoes of the original AIDS crisis. In the paper edition, it's on the front page of "Sunday Styles," and is found under "Fashion and Style" online, although the link itself says it's classified as a "health" story.

What, then, makes this story stylish? It's about Manhattan, but not the fanciest and schmanciest of New Yorkers, so it could have gone into the Metropolitan section. It's about nightlife, but not in the where-to-get-an-artisanal-ramp-martini-for-$18 sense. It's definitely not what Miss Self-Important calls "Styles Style": "that brilliant NYT approach to simultaneously glorifying and demeaning the city's wealthiest residents."

No, it's clear enough that this is a Styles story because it's about gay men. And Styles means, among other things, stories for-and-about women and gay men. There must be some cutoff, as they at least had the good sense not to put the recent story of a gay man being murdered in the Village in a hate crime in next to "Pregnancy Takes a Turn on the Red Carpet."

I could go on graphomaniacally about why I think this has come to be ("Styles" is now competing with various serious-magazine pages on women's issues and less specifically about Fashion), and about why maybe we don't want our news ghettoized in this way (it defines the "Syria" pages as straight-men-only, as something that will need to be mansplained to us later, once we've finished reading personal essays and nail-polish reviews). I will instead highlight a comment the article received. (While I just skimmed through the comments, I didn't notice any complaining about the "Styles" classification.)

Anyway, one commenter's response is this: "Might want to makes a change in lifestyle." Meningitis, as the article makes clear, is not just a sexually-transmitted infection, but one spread by close contact that need not be sexual. So if "lifestyle" is supposed to be a euphemism for promiscuity, no such luck. Other commenters point this out. While a different commenter chimes in to say that "lifestyle" means getting close to people at a club and sticking with one partner, I wouldn't be so sure that that's what the original one meant. Indeed, a reference to "lifestyle" in this context evokes the idea that being gay is a "lifestyle," which is to say, a choice, a self-indulgent one at that. If you think this is something I've imagined, Google 'gay lifestyle.' 

It's a problem in its own right that there are these women's pages. Not that there is lifestyle journalism, but that the divide between serious-and-not is basically gender. But it's also a problem, for different reasons, for that-which-is-gay to be classified as "lifestyle."


Nick said...

To be fair, it's a little bit about the oddity of vaccines-in-nightclubs, and I think it's that -- moreso than gaymen! -- but I generally agree.

Phoebe said...


How've you been? It's been ages.

I want to agree with you, but this isn't the first time a gay-men's-health article has landed in Style territory. (I was thinking of, but not finding, that article when writing this post.)

Nick said...

Alas. Though, I will say that (a) to the extent the end result is that gay issues get more attention/column space than they would if they were in the main "News" section (and I can't say I know that's so), or (b) to the extent that more gays read the fashion/style section than the news (something we all know to be true), it's perhaps at least well-meaning pandering?

(I'm fine. Finishing this job, then taking up bar-studying. A truly thrilling existence, I assure you.)

Phoebe said...

I guess one could look at this as getting important news out there where it will be read. But...

I'm more familiar with the long tradition of women's publications/sections covering frivolous and serious alike. The problem with that, as I see it, is that while it gets some hard-news stories to the nail-polish-reviews audience, it also a) classifies hard-news stories especially relevant to women as soft-news, or not-news, and b) reinforces the idea that news-news is for men. So topics like reproductive rights, childcare, food policy end up not getting to count as 'real', while the newspaper proper becomes gendered male.

Now obviously, it's not my place to say what gay men should or shouldn't find offensive. But the "lifestyle" approach strikes me as problematic for the same reasons as the women's-pages one, but more in addition. a) It classifies gay men as, in effect, women, which is ridiculous. (I think there was some criticism of the fact that Slate's women's section took on one male writer, seemingly because he's a gay man who writes about gender). b) Like I said in the post, it gives the impression that being gay is a "lifestyle" and not a sexual orientation. Mostly, though, I just feel like it reinforces that dreadful "my gay" - gay-friend-as-woman's-accessory - idea.