Katherine Sender on sex, taste, and class in commerical gay and lesbian media


Assistant Professor Katherine Sender's article "Sex Sells: Sex, Taste, and Class in Gay and Lesbian Media" appears in the latest issue of GLQ (Volume 9, Issue 3, 2003).

Describes Dr. Sender, "While most studies of advertising are text-based, I use ethnographic methods to approach the construction of the gay market from the perspectives of its producers, including magazine publishers, editors, writers, advertising executives, and public relations consultants. Using interview and documentary data, I analyze how the gay market acquired its contours, how gay men and lesbians have been represented in marketing, in what media venues gay marketing appears, and what effects this process has had on the public image of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, both in their communities and in the mainstream. I look at the boundaries placed on sexual content in gay and lesbian media, particularly what constitutes a 'sex ad' and what dimensions of taste govern publishers' arbitration between acceptable and unacceptable content. I investigate marketers' and publishers' anxieties about commercial manifestations of sexuality, especially ads for phone sex lines and escort services, and the risks these are assumed to pose to a discreet gay sexuality. I consider the exceptions—the instances in which sexual content is permitted—and the characteristics of these cases that allow them to appear in gay media. Using the theoretical approaches of Ohmann, Rubin, Kipnis, and Bourdieu, I analyze how manifestations of gay sex are contained through hierarchies of legitimacy, structured predominantly through appeals to taste. Finally, I consider how sexual tastefulness helps produce a class-specific ideal gay consumer, whose image is beamed back at gay and lesbian readers as a lesson in 'socially correct participation.'"