Flip through almost any queer men’s magazine and, most likely, you’ll get hit with a cornucopia of bare torsos, chiseled jaws, and blue eyes. Masculinity and whiteness occupy coveted spots in the gay male world, and stumbling across representations of pro-femmeness and the POC queer experience can sometimes feeling like spotting a unicorn. But Sean Santiago, founder of Cakeboy, is working overtime to change this. He released the first print issue of the magazine in 2015, in an attempt to illustrate the full spectrum of the queer community and its experiences through what he calls “disruptive faggotry.” “It’s just seeing these hints of straight-worshipping culture that I think is so repulsive, frankly,” Santiago explains about the term and the magazine’s mission. “I think gay men are still too wrapped up in manliness and disruptive faggotry is just about celebrating all of the great things about being ‘faggy’ or effeminate. Not trying to please a guy who’s internalized a value system that’s slowly eating away at his soul.”
After releasing three successful print issues, Santiago recently chose to move Cakeboy online, to escape the restrictions of a biannual press cycle. Santiago spoke to i-D about what he hopes to accomplish with his alt-queer publication, how to make it in a digital landscape overpopulated with clickbait and pecs, and how he’s combating narrow representations of queerdom.
What aspects of your own experience led to the tone and subjects of Cakeboy?
I guess just feeling alone. I wish we could all hold hands and connect on LinkedIn.
You focus a lot on expanding ideas of gay masculinity, for example, the About section of Cakeboy lists a mish-mash of interests including hunting and butt play. How do you feel that gay masculinity is typically represented in the media and what is Cakeboy adding or changing?
The About section is sort of a joke, but it really came from the super reductive ideas of manhood that I think plague the industry. I wanted to take up space in a man’s world but to do it in heels with a good lipstick in my purse. I said in the editor’s note in the second issue that we’re still finding ways to express the multiplicity of queerness, of our fullest selves. I’m tired of boxes and lines and borders. Being is hard and complex and frustrating and it can be uncomfortable or dangerous to just exist in time and space as yourself. But I try to keep things light. I want Cakeboy to be a space that’s enjoyable and reaffirming and fun without making you feel shitty about yourself or like you’re being actively erased or like you’re cripplingly alone in the world!
What’s the biggest challenge you face in editing Cakeboy?
I think the fact that Facebook owns all internet traffic for all websites is terrible for media in general. Like, the idea that, in moving online, trying to reach our audience will now be mediated by our robot overlords is not awesome. I’ll miss the way print bypasses that. But we’ll be focusing on really honing in on a point of view so that hopefully people are seeing our stuff anyway. That’s a big challenge. How will we get them without clickbait? How will we get them without shirtless human dildos? Subtlety doesn’t seem to be an Internet strong suit, but maybe that’ll change.
How do you go about ensuring diverse voices and experiences are spotlighted?
You have to have your head pretty far up your ass to think that the queer community isn’t incredibly diverse and isn’t rooted in multiplicity. When I was working with [designer and CrossFitter] Ciege on getting his story out there and figuring out how to feature him, there was this video that was getting shared on Facebook of some buff white guy who was conventionally attractive in every way imaginable but after he lifted he danced. And the positioning of the story was like, “it’s so impressive that he is confronting masculine taboos in this way.” That made me angry. I got Ciege’s profile up as soon as possible after that because I love Ciege and felt so much like he should be celebrated because he’s amazing and actually doing something awesome. We need to stop this mentality. We need to stop celebrating these mediocre people and praising it as, “CHANGE!” It’s just like: is this really a way that people think?
How has your network of contributors and photographers come together?
A lot of the time I’ve seen their work online or on social. Probably 90% of the time. Sometimes we’ll meet in person and chat and that can lead to other projects and features and collaborators being brought into the fold. I cold call almost every contributor, but hopefully that’ll change as the brand scales. People have been pretty open, especially considering the fact that this has basically been functioning as this weird, unfunded art project.
Do you have any words of advice for up-and-coming LGBT writers, artists, and creators? Anything you wish you’d been told when you were younger?
I think we’re getting to a point where femmes are doing it for themselves, and there’s more visibility around that. Younger people are able to find each other and support each other through Instagram and Tumblr and YouTube. There are more and more platforms for visibility and amplifying those voices that are typically marginalized or straight-up ignored. I think it’s important to be open to genuine criticism and feedback if you’re creating work in a professional context and to not feel discouraged or to internalize those comments as a reflection of you. I think I did that a lot when I was younger — taking comments the wrong way and feeling like I needed to diminish myself in some way, as if the more visibly or comfortably gay I was the less I could or would be taken seriously. But I’ve learned that if you make a straight man uncomfortable, that’s on him.
Text André Naquian-Wheeler
Images courtesy Sean Santiago