Growing, Together

by | Jul 18, 2017 | 0 comments

For the past 10 years it’s been my tradition to reread my publisher’s note from our first tiny black and white issue. I use it as a way to center our community in the work that I’m doing with this magazine. I continue to be amazed by how clear the inclusive vision was at the beginning, and that walk down memory lane helps me see how far a road we’ve traveled together.

The Early Years

As cliché as it sounds, the first few years of Our Lives were a real rollercoaster of stress and celebration. We launched just a few months before the Great Recession hit, and although we were resilient, we were far from immune to it. Every issue throughout those years involved a struggle to sell enough advertising into the magazine to be able to cover our basic operating costs like printing and postage. I’ll forever be grateful to the businesses that were willing to support us over those years—let alone help us continue to post growth! I consider it a true achievement that an infant LGBTQ print publication managed to continue publishing without going on a hiatus, or collapsing. Much larger Madison publications folded under lesser conditions. That speaks volumes about our community. To keep this magazine alive while trying to ride out the recession, everyone who contributed was 100% a volunteer—myself included. I have vivid memories of 60-80+ hour workweeks dedicated to development and production. I was also working two side jobs to have an income that often fell short of covering basic needs like housing and food. I had to break more than one apartment lease from not being able to afford rent. It wasn’t until our fourth year that Our Lives got its first real employee, when I was finally able to leave my part-time jobs and fully commit to the magazine’s growth.

When we launched, I don’t think there was a way to prepare me for the anti-LGBTQ hate we encountered. I was caught by surprise by how aggressively the magazine was targeted by anonymous homophobes at our distribution locations downtown. Their consistent tampering mandated a weekly routine of walking our “paper route” to flip over the stacks of magazines that had been turned over to hide the cover. Eventually I began running visably gay ads on the back cover to get those people to leave us alone. Instead, they began tossing out entire stacks. That development is what gave birth to our free subscriptions—something we continue to offer to this day.

The other major challenge we faced came from inside the community. Understandably, in the early years it felt I was swimming upstream to earn our community’s trust. It was a true journey of emotional growth to learn the self-care necessary to navigate and support a marginalized and often-wounded population.
I remember feeling especially vulnerable when the magazine launched because without much financial backing, the sacrifice necessary to bring it to life left me in survival mode. One especially painful year, I remember the holiday card my mother sent was just wishing for my stability in the New Year because stability had been out of reach for me for so long. While overall I remember Our Lives being well received by the general community, I still vividly remember the hurt I felt after a Google alert returned an especially vitriolic blog dedicated to attacking me by an anonymous local gay man. I also remember the owner at the time of a notable LGBTQ business bluntly telling me he didn’t expect Our Lives to last a year in business when I approached him about advertising. In those years what kept both me and Our Lives going was a deep belief in our mission, and the value and leadership that I knew it could offer.

The highs have always been stronger than the lows, though. I did have a few angels appear, as I’ve often described them during those first two years. The magazine had an amazing way of reaching and touching people in the community that compelled them to get involved. Their guidance, friendship, and often their willingness to roll up their sleeves and help are what I needed to keep the magazine nurtured. I’ll always feel indebted them. The full list is very long, but a few central contributors I’d be remiss to not acknowledge here are:

Virginia Harrison – I will never be able to repay you for the years you’ve put into Our Lives. Throughout this journey you’ve been more than editor—you became family to me.

Matt Jelinek – If there were one person that I can point to for helping me with both the magazine and my personal life when both felt too broken to fix, it’d be you. Thank you for believing in this before there was a “this” to believe in.

Jess Horn – You were a gift to Our Lives, and continue to be one of the most talented photographers we’ve ever been able to work with.

A Relationship Evolves

Like any relationship, trust has to be earned over time. Over the years, I am deeply grateful for the trust Our Lives has been given. It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to watch the magazine become embraced across our community. It has been tremendously enriching to help it grow in ways that position us to give back to, and elevate, the voices that need our support the most. And to be able to reach and advocate for those who are just beginning to find their way into this wonderful community. It has been a journey to learn how to do this while also holding space for readers who’s direct need for support has diminished as they’ve become established. As a community, our biggest asset is our diversity. It can often be our biggest challenge, too, when it comes to finding the intersections that help us better understand our shared responsibility in connecting all of our identities. I owe a great deal to our community elders, who by either contributing or directly mentoring me have played a role in helping me see how to do this work.

All of this brings us to where we are today. Because of this magazine, I have been blessed with an opportunity to learn and grow with you. The road hasn’t been without potholes and missed turns, but it continues to prove itself to be the journey of a lifetime. Thank you so much for being along for the ride.

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