“At one point during the panel I said: ‘Sex, alcohol, reading and writing. What could be a better mix?’” All the kids in the audience had been tweeting what we were saying. I read it and thought, Oh Amy.”
During the last days of Melbourne's Emerging Writers Festival when we meet with her, editor of Archer magazine Amy Middleton’s voice is huskier than usual. She has been meeting people all week, appeared on a panel about DIY start-up magazines, spoke another for emerging editors and hosted a session for queer writers. She also played footy at the weekend – she yelled the whole time. To top it off, last night (the second-last night of the festival, closing night is tonight) was the launch of the second edition of Archer.
Issue one was summer 2014. The cover features Aram Hosie, a transgender man. His frank, handsome face looks directly into the camera. It is the perfect introduction to Archer, a beautifully designed, no-bullshit, intimate magazine that aims to open up conversations about sexuality and sexual diversity. And its approach is personal.
One of the most important reasons for creating Archer, Middleton tells me, is to highlight that sexual diversity is completely universal. “Straight people have as weird of a time with sex as gay people do. Their approaches to sex are just as unique.” It’s at this point Middleton mentions the badges she’s had made for the launch of issue two. She gives me one. It says, “Sex is weird for everyone”, and I’m delighted (if too shy to wear it). “Everybody can relate to everybody else’s experience of sexuality,” she says.
When the idea for Archer came to Middleton she was working at Wheels magazine. She was a creative-writing graduate who had done stints at commercial magazines such as The Bulletin, Rolling Stone, Home and Garden and Australian Geographic.
“When you’re writing about cars everyday, you think about what you’d rather be writing about. For me that was sexuality and its different forms.
“My approach to sex has been so all over the place. I had a weird relationship with my sexual urges as a kid. I was really ashamed of them, but they were super strong. Then I went through coming out as gay and then as bi – whatever that meant. So it’s always just been pretty weird.” Sexuality has always been endlessly fascinating to her. “Once I had the idea for Archer I went out on a limb. I guess I just got up the arrogance to do it,” she says.
When we put it to her that Archer is pretty ballsy, Middleton responds: “You think so?” I mention the first-person account by novelist Krissy Kneen about sex addiction (“We had sex five or six times a day, which I realise now is not exactly average”), and the photo essay on body hair that features two topless furry men holding each other and a bare-chested woman who has dyed her underarm hair blue. They are not images most of us see everyday. “It is pretty upfront,” she says, “but there is some stuff I am careful about. Sometimes I feel the pressure to be more political.” Considering how personal Archer’s approach to its subjects is, I wonder out loud whether the personal and the political can ever really be separated. “I’ve always wanted this to be about people and their experiences,” says Middleton in response. “We go with content we personally truck with, rather than what people will like. Because if you try to fake it, people can sense it.”
This authenticity is obvious as you flick through the pages of Archer’s winter 2014 edition. There is an article by an award-winning science journalist on the evolutionary, scientific reasons for homosexuality. First-person stories told by someone with polyamorous experience, sex workers, asexual people and an Aboriginal gay man.
Creating a social document of the sexual diversity movement is also at the core of Middleton’s approach. She thinks now is a particularly important time; that the movement is really gearing up. “Trans issues are coming into the mainstream in a way they never have. Whether that’s people’s fascination with it, or growing acceptance, depends on who you talk to. But cogs are turning for people.”
Middleton hopes that in 10 years we’ll look back and think it’s ridiculous we ever had to talk about gender transition. In her ideal version of the future it will be so banal and everyday so as to be boring. “But I think it’s cool to have a document that reflects the changes over time,” she says.
The response to Archer has been as personal as you would expect considering the contents of its pages. When one young man living in the suburbs of Melbourne got his hands on Archer he contacted Middleton to tell her how shocked he was to see people out there like him. Another man has told her he is sick of seeing gayness depicted as what Middleton describes as, “Your Mardi Gras, hot-pant-wearing Sydney gay man.”
“We try to celebrate everything. I’m really conscious of Australian kids who have never seen anything in the media that reflects them. I don’t want them to read anything negative because it reinforces all the negative stuff they may or may not hold about themselves.”
Beyond fascination, this is what makes Archer necessary.