Lesbians in the media | Meet Curve’s Merryn Johns
MERRYN JOHNS, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CURVE MAGAZINE talks to ELLA about her life long career in lesbian journalism and the importance of lesbian media.
An award-winning journalist, Merryn Johns has 15 years’ experience in LGBT media and publishing. Prior to becoming editor-in-chief of Curve, a position she took in 2010, she was the founding editor of BOUND, an international travel and lifestyle magazine for queer women, and editor-in-chief of LOTL, Australia’s national magazine for lesbians. Last year she was awarded the Media Honor by the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA). As a specialist in this market niche, she is a regular panel speaker at numerous national and international travel conventions and events that focus on women and LGBT travel and culture.
A. ABOUT YOUR CAREER:
Has journalism always been your vocation?
M.Johns: No, previously I studied for my Masters and PhD and was an adjunct professor specializing in theatre, film, and media and taught for ten years. I also studied acting and playwriting and fell into journalism after writing reviews on theatre and interviewing many performers. I loved the immediacy of writing for the press and achieved more satisfaction doing it, so I left academia and moved into LGBT journalism, which also was a way of being publicly out and proud and contributing to LGBT rights and lesbian visibility.
With your long life experience in lesbian journalism, working for 3 different magazines, can you tell us which on of them most fits your expectations?
M.J: I loved the adventure of starting a fresh magazine with BOUND, but in the end it was very draining to create a brand for lesbians that was unknown. We didn’t have the time or resources to make the impact needed to be profitable, although because it was such a hot and stylish magazine it did develop a cult following almost immediately. But the recession came a long and unfortunately we had to close BOUND. Curve became available to buy at around the same time, and that was a magazine with a 20-year history, loyal readers, and I felt very strongly about making sure it survived the recession, entered the digital age, and continued on even better than before. Curve is now the magazine that most fits my expectations of serving the lesbian community through media.
Why did you decide to pursue your career in the USA and leave your native country, Australia?
I had outgrown Australia for a number of reasons and always wanted to live in New York – with or without magazine work. My publisher Silke K. Bader encouraged me to stay connected to LOTL even while I moved to New York, and we have taken advantage of the long- distance relationship to run two other magazines and create a little publishing “empire.” The U.S. has a massive population compared to Australia, and it is also very competitive. This appealed to me because I needed a challenge—plus, I also wanted to make a contribution to global LGBT rights and and lesbian culture, and that is easier to do from a place like New York City, which leads the world in many matters of enterprise, visibility, influence, and legislation.
How do you feel about being an award-winning journalist? How was this special experience?
I have won around three awards for my work in lesbian media, and each time it is very special to be recognized. The IGLTA Media Honor was the most prestigious and humbling to me. IGTLA has been like a second family. Everyone connected to the organization—from the CEO to the Board members to the interns—are wonderful people dedicated to improving the rights of the global LGBT population through the visibility afforded by travel and tourism. It is vital that we can all move through the world with freedom and safety—and this is especially important to lesbians. Winning the IGLTA award for my 15 years of editorial, travel, and public speaking was the cherry on the cake for me!
B. LGBT MEDIA:
How do you feel about being America’s best-selling magazine for lesbians?
At almost every event I attend I am asked, “Do we still need lesbian media?” My answer is always Yes! We may have more inclusion these days, and we may be living more mainstreamed lives, but we need to control our own media, we need to tell our own stories, and we need to write and report on ourselves rather than waiting for the mainstream/straight media to do it—because they will never do it in the way we would. I feel very strongly that my role with Curve is contributing to changing hearts and minds about what a lesbian is, raising visibility, fostering understanding, increasing tolerance, and improving the quality of life for lesbians everywhere by showing them how wonderful, rich, complex, and meaningful lesbian life is and can be.
Do you think Lesbians are represented enough in general media?
No, but I also think this is a problem with any minority— from Latina to transgender: the mainstream will not usually view us as part of them; we all need our own, individual media because no one can discuss what it really means to be a minority unless they are that. In the meantime, I am pro inclusion in all media. So, Curve might be a lesbian magazine, but it will also cover, for example, bisexual or trans* issues occasionally because our lives all intersect.
What would/do you do to give another image of lesbian women to the readership?
Each issue I try to include as much diversity as possible. I just have to look around me in New York to see richness, courage, ambition, and be inspired to tell the stories of diverse women. Flicking through the current issue of Curve I see so much diversity: Latina, African American, Asian American; femme, butch, genderqueer, bisexual, trans; young, old and in between; moms, singles, kids—and all in one issue! If I didn’t aim for these multiple images of “lesbian” each issue I wouldn’t
C. LGBT SITUATION IN SOCIETY:
What do you think about LGBT rights in society?
They are improving at a rapid pace thanks to the efforts of activists, and if I do say so myself—media. We cannot, however, become complacent. There is always a Right Wing movement, whether that is in the U.S. or Europe or Australia, who want to deny diverse groups and minorities their rights and maintain power.
How can we improve lesbian visibility in society?
Please support your lesbian media. Like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and subscribe to their magazines to keep them alive. It would be a terrible thing if, in ten years’ time, the baby dykes turned to each other and said, “You know what we need? A lesbian magazine. Hey, let’s start one!” Because we used to have them and they needed your support but they will died out without it. The more support we have, the better we can make the magazine! So, instead of buying your friend a Starbucks gift card, buy them a lesbian magazine subscription!
What is in your opinion the major difference in American LGBTs’ rights compared to European ones?
I think American LGBTs are so concerned with equal rights because they have such a variance in laws across the 50 states that quality of life can differ vastly depending on where you are born, live, or choose to raise a family. Europe in general seems more agreed on a certain quality of life—for example it seems that in Spain people work to live rather than live to work, and you had marriage equality long before the U.S. because it was the right thing to do to give all citizens a certain quality of life.
D. PERSONAL LIFE:
When did you come out to your family and friends?
I came out to my friends when I was in university in the early 1990s. I came out to my family not long after and it did not go well. My sister was angry at me at first, although she was fine with it later on. My mother, however, completely disowned me and I have never seen her again. That was very heartbreaking for me.
Did you face any challenge in your personal life or career because of your sexual orientation?
I would say that I faced more discrimination because of my gender. I felt discriminated against during my academic career because I was female, and I watched men the same age as me rise in position while my career stalled. There were men who actually had fewer qualifications than I did who held senior positions. Also, in LGBT media, the gay male publications just have much more money than we do, because gay men—being men—earn approximately 30 percent more than we do. Lesbians need to support each other while they work to close the gender pay gap.
What is your recommendation for those of us afraid to normalize and openly integrate their sexual orientation into their lives?
In the wise words of our most recent cover girl, Patricia Velasquez, who gave me a brilliant interview as the first openly gay Latina supermodel: “There is a reason why you are who you are, and if you stop being who you are you will never be happy. Often, when we try to protect other people by not living the truth, we are hurting them…I’m here to tell you it’s okay to live your path. It’s not easy, it’s challenging. But if we don’t do it, then who’s going to do it?”
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