The Winning Gay Subtlety of ‘Hello Mr.’
Gay magazines tend to be packed with celebrity, hunks, and (maybe) some politics. ‘Hello Mr.’ reinvents the wheel with personal essays, inventive fashion, and beautiful design.
It’s a flirty introduction to a handsome guy at a bar, or maybe just a handsome guy on Grindr with whom you’d like to establish a, ahem, rapport. But for 27-year-old Ryan Fitzgibbon, the cheeky introduction inspired him to establish an eponymous magazine, Hello Mr., which has dubbed itself “a coy introduction for a new generation of men who date men.”
Hello Mr. does not look like a typical gay magazine. There are no gym-trained muscle-hunks or straight-but-not-narrow celebrities splayed suggestively across the cover, no lines about fashion, or relationships, or really any words at all; just a single line of text—“about men who date men”—at the bottom of the page. Hello Mr.’s cover also features a single portrait—in its latest, Issue 4, Saeed Jones, Buzzfeed’s LGBT editor and author of a collection of poetry, Prelude to a Bruise, gazes out pensively.
The lad rag’s fashion shoots are as beautifully conceived and laid out as its features. There are variously thoughtful, funny and jolting articles about dating, beards, even one about someone toying with the idea of suicide. An article about the disasterous dates we've all been on comes with witty illustrations of clingy, phone-obsessed and narcissistic people. The pieces of writing are personal and immersive, bearing little resemblance to the mainstream gay magazine diet of sex, politics, lifestyle, and more sex. Hello Mr. submerges you into the deepest corners of the minds of people you may never know.
Sure, there are plenty of successful indie publications of a similar caliber, but they are mostly tapping into an already oversaturated market—fashion, food, sports, and token LGBT-geared content. But, what sets Hello Mr., and Fitzgibbon, apart is its (and his) attempt to redefine an entire genre, adding a unique voice to mainstream LGBT print media—one that substitutes political agendas and an obsession with the body with depth and everyday reflections on being gay by new and inspiring voices.
In other gay magazines—BUTT, Out and Attitude—the sexualized and idealized lifestyles so familiar to readers seem to hold a firm sway in their pages and on the covers: the types of overtly sexualized material that once caused Fitzgibbon to shy away from them, at least publicly, while discovering his own sexuality.
Growing up in Michigan, the only gay magazines Fitzgibbon recalls finding were tucked in the back corners of bookstores, mostly covered with black plastic to protect virgin eyes from their salacious cover-boys. “That was sort of my only introduction into understanding gay life as a young teenager,” Fitzgibbon told The Daily Beast. “I would be cautious to even pick them up and God forbid I take them home.”
The feeling returned years later, while Fitzgibbon, who was working as a Strategist Design Consultant for San Francisco-based IDEO, was living in Singapore.
“I was having this same experience but I was an adult,” Fitzgibbon said of moving to a country where many LGBT glossies would be deemed explicit. The periodicals he had were hard to read in public because they seemed a little too forward about objectifying the body or the political agenda. They lacked a lot in “what [he] felt was a very rich part of our culture and who we are” as gay men. “I think that’s a shared experience that a lot of young gay guys have, which is going to a book store or a newsstand and trying to find something that they can relate to or see themselves in. It’s challenging.”
Hello Mr. set out to not be just another gay lifestyle magazine. Rather, it offers readers “a chronicle of everyday life, and the narratives which define it.” It promises to be accessible, not aspirational; realistic, not flawless; endearing, not seductive; and insightful, not superficial—all of which it has successfully accomplished through its careful design and curated content.
“With a background as a designer, I really wanted to bring something fresh to the table,” Fitzgibbon said. “I didn’t want to necessarily break stereotypes, but provide another option, specifically on the newsstands that could penetrate markets that your traditional gay lifestyle magazine couldn’t.”
After a successful campaign on Kickstarter in 2012, Fitzgibbon raised more than $26,000 to fund the debut issue of Hello Mr., which launched in April of last year and set the tone for issues to come. “My hope,” Fitzgibbon wrote in the editor’s letter, “is that the voices that emerged to shape this first issue represent the beginning of a shift toward a new understanding about what it means to be a gay man today.” The issue explored the theme of vulnerability, “relevant to anyone who seeks understanding, change, love, and belonging.”
To some gays, it may seem like the same stories we have been hearing for years, but Fitzgibbon attempts to puts a fresh spin on them.
For instance, instead of focusing on another “celebrity” coming out story, Nate Poekert, a close friend to Robbie Rogers—the first active gay male in U.S. sports—revealed his own coming out which paralleled Rogers’s and gave him inspiration to do the same. Nic Holas, the cover mister for issue one, redirects his own story of being diagnosed with HIV to give a lighthearted (yet serious) guide for women on how to cope when your GBF (gay best friend) finds out he’s HIV-positive. Khalid El Khatib explores the parallel experiences of two gay teachers—one who has spent most of his career closeted, the other openly out.
Issues two and three explored growth-through-reflection (be it ex-lovers, the mistakes we make in our youth, or the pressures and expectations we hold) and performance in society (the validation we find in oversharing on social media, the identities we portray, and the effects we have on others).
As readership and awareness grow, so does Fitzgibbon’s outreach with writers and collaborators. Issue two featured its first celebrity cover mister—Grizzly Bear front man Ed Droste, who’s been referred to as “the most famous and most powerful gay in indie.” Dan Donigan, widely known by his drag name Milk and for his appearance on RuPaul’s Drag Race, became the publication’s third cover mister.
The magazine also has its (generous) celebrity fans. Neil Patrick Harris was an early donor and his support on social media proved very instrumental to the Kickstarter campaign. Other celebrities include Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Scissor Sisters’ front man Jake Shears, and Swedish musician, Robyn. Even Anderson Cooper, who Fitzgibbon once awkwardly introduced himself to at an airport, knows the publication.
“It was so incredible that someone I admire and respect—and a lot of people do—has heard of what I’m doing,” says Fitzgibbon.
But celebrity status and praise isn’t what Fitzgibbon is looking for as Hello Mr. gains both a following and respect. He’s also very aware to not set himself “down this pattern of showcasing celebrities because that just goes right back to what everyone else is doing.”
With an increased initial production run from 6,000 to 10,000 copies, the fourth issue is expected to sell out. Issue three, which launched earlier this year, has sold as many copies as the first issue has during its year and a half circulation. They line the shelves of museums, hotels, design stores and fashion retailers. A contract with Barnes & Noble began the summer and next Fitzgibbon hopes to entice a European subscription service to stock the magazine.
The most important part of these milestones for Fitzgibbon is his ability to now reach a less urban gay audience: Those in rural towns who are too young or too nervous to purchase it online, for example. “I’ve gotten emails about whether it is shipped covered or in clear plastic, which kind of blows my mind,” he says. “But makes sense that some people are still cautious.”
Others have found pride and solace in their purchase. “I just read the first issue cover to cover and happily flaunted it on my train ride this morning,” Will, a reader, wrote to Fitzgibbon. “A sort of fête for this quiet gay 25 year old. Something I have sought after for a very long time.”
It’s readers’ feedback like this that keeps Fitzgibbon pushing forward, even when things get tough. “It’s too late to turn back now,” he said, proud that Hello Mr. is reaching a wide audience. “A lot of people look forward to what I’m doing and it’s proving to really make a difference in some people’s lives.”
Hello Mr. is available for purchase online and in stores.