“Sex Toys Don’t Fly Today” – The Magazine That Seized San Francisco’s “Lesbian Mecca”

“Sex Toys Don’t Fly Today” – The Magazine That Seized San Francisco’s “Lesbian Mecca”

isIn 1991, Franco Stevens was 23, broke, and working in an LGBT bookstore in San Francisco. She thought the world needed a brilliant lesbian magazine, but she didn’t have the money to start one. So she took out 12 credit cards, borrowed the maximum for each, and then played it all on a horse race. The horse has entered. She took the money and put it on another horse, which also won, and then another, which did the same. With her earnings, she created Deneuve.

“I almost felt like, ‘Well if it’s supposed to be, it will happen,’” she says, from her home in the Bay Area of ​​the city. She lives with his wife, their two college-aged sons and a younger boy they call “a son of the heart”, who divides his time between their home and “his biological home”. Stevens is in his fifties, bright and sharp, and seems like the type of person who does a lot of things quietly. “I mean, I wasn’t completely blind. I grew up with horse racing, so I know this business from a different perspective. In addition, she had the carefree youthfulness of her youth. “I just felt like I had lived in my car, had nothing to eat – if it’s meant to be, it will be. And my bankruptcy would be off my record at the age of 30. So it seemed that everything was in order.

The first issue of Deneuve appeared in April / May 1991. The first editions featured onstage reporting, lesbian fashion shoots, fiction, reviews, personal commercials, and “news, rumors, and information from” the lesbian nation ”. He became Curve in 1996 after French movie star Catherine Deneuve sued them for trademark infringement, although Stevens has always denied that he was named after her. The magazine almost sagged under the price, and with the stress of it all, Stevens’ hair started to fall out. Eventually she changed the name. “When I got this summons for trial, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a joke, isn’t it? Those?“Catherine Deneuve is chasing us?” It’s crazy. How does she feel about her now? Stevens is tactful. “I’m not a big fan.”

Curve has weathered many storms and now exists as a philanthropic foundation and online archive, with Stevens unsure if it can return in print. It has been a remarkable 30 years, which are now the subject of Ahead of the Curve, a documentary co-directed by Rivkah Beth Medow and Jen Rainin, who is Stevens’ wife. While this is the story of Stevens and his magazine, it is also a portrait of how life has changed for LGBTQ + people since the early 90s. “Just like I thought it was important to create the magazine to serve the community, Jen and Rivka felt it was important to make the film to serve the community. ”

The project evolved as it was shot. On camera, Stevens learns that Curve, owned by another publisher, is struggling and may be forced to shut down. It was supposed to be the film’s final scene, but it ended up being the first: It launched Stevens on a journey to find out what queer audiences want and need from an inclusive publication in the modern age. It’s a wonder the story hasn’t been told so far. Does she think there is a lack of documented history when it comes to queer women? “Oh, 100%,” she said. Why does she think it is? “First of all, we are women. Second, we are queer. People don’t tell our stories.

“We’ve arrived”… rock star Melissa Etheridge starred on the cover in 1993

Something is missing, if any of these stories have something to say. Stevens’ victory on horses funded the magazine’s debut, but it wasn’t enough to keep it going for long. There was a trip to a loan shark to pay staff salaries, and the moment Stevens realized there was money to be made in a short-lived company that was polishing the motorcycles that arrived in Castro daily. , the gay district of the city.

“Some of the office shenanigans didn’t make it into the movie,” she says enticingly. Like what? “OK, so shenanigans, for real?” I was on the road a lot. After returning from the Chicago Book Fair, I walked into my office and there was a stack of Polaroids on my desk. Apparently there was a “leather day” at the office when I was gone, and they were all sitting on my desk, scantily clad in leather clothes. When some of the staff came back from festivals where clothing was optional, I was like, “Can you just keep a bra on or something?” She smiles. “There were certainly some sex toys that weren’t flying today.”

Before Stevens arrived in San Francisco, she was an army bride, married to a serviceman. When she realized she was gay and left him, her family refused to support her (although their relationship improved over time). She ended up living in her car. Young homosexuals might be surprised at how different the life of gay women in San Francisco was in the late ’80s and early’ 90s. “It was the first time in my life that I was sexually free. . San Francisco was a lesbian mecca. There were women’s sex clubs, where you could just go watch or participate, and men were not allowed to enter. When I was homeless, I sometimes slept at a friend’s house. And there were four different roommates there, and honestly, I shared a bed with them all, I think.

However, there was a darker side to this sexual romance. “San Francisco was very welcoming, but only in some areas. And, even in those areas, it was very dangerous. They used to have this big Halloween party in the Castro. It was our moment, the big homosexual evening. One year, she was walking past the house with the four roommates to pick up her friends. “Someone in a sheet with cutout eyes, like a ghost, walked by and hit the person in front of me on the head with a baseball bat, and shouted a gay insult. It was a reminder that even though we have this small 10 block radius, we are not safe. “

Outside… Franco Stevens interviews women at the Michfest festival

In the beginning, few advertisers paid for advertisements and no celebrities gave an interview. After two years, in 1993, the musician Melissa Etheridge appeared on the cover. “I owe him so much gratitude,” Stevens said. “To me, she was a gigantic celebrity. And for her to say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do that. Come to my show. We said to ourselves: “We have arrived!” These days, there are a lot more celebrities who will talk publicly about their quirk. “For young people, seeing gay celebrities go out is so rewarding. When celebrities are absent, not only does it affect queer people, but mainstream acceptance increases so much. “

But the fight is not over, she warns. “Here in the United States we have an active government trying to repeal the rights we have. With Trump in power, he was pushing the country to a very conservative angle, where, if you are not straight, white, you must be feared and hated. Even now, many anti-trans bills are being fought. She mentions Arkansas, where a law banning gender-affirming treatment for transgender people under the age of 18 has passed, as well as the fight to include LGBTQ + history in schools. “There is a battle for the expansion of these rights against states that want to repeal them. Because God forbid, we must teach our children to be who they are.

Stevens, center, during a Dyke March in 2019.
Stevens, center, during a Dyke March in 2019

Stevens recently bought Curve from the Australian publisher who owned it for a time, and created the Curve Foundation, “to further the mission of the magazine.” There are two initial projects. The first is to create an online archive of each issue. The second is a financial award intended to support emerging gay women journalists in the United States. After 30 years, they are still helping people tell their stories. But will we ever see models like Curve again? “Well,” Stevens smiled. ” You could. “

Ahead of the Curve is in UK cinemas and available digitally from June 4th. You can also organize a screening.


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