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"Gay lifestyle". I've always found that be a bit of an uncouth phrase and not all that easily relatable in the sphere of the publishing world. It's akin to those people who may proclaim in conversation that they like "all kinds of music", but when pushed say that they "enjoy everything... you know, anything that pops-ups on the radio". By "gay lifestyle" magazines adopting this all-encompassing veneer approach, they are often found wanting in regards to direction, structure, and depth. This fact, coupled with a tendency for traditional gay-orientated mags to focus on the highly sexualised in-your-face approach can ironically lead the end result to be... sexless. You know - all shimmering abs, pronounced collarbones, packaged into an aspirational yet despairing perfection.

What about those of us who are simply identify as "men who date men"?. This is what Hello Mr. is matter-of-factly billed as - a place to showcase and embrace the diversity of gay culture, but crucially via our thoughts, our feelings, our experiences. While we like music (running with this analogy), we may identify on a niche level as jazz lovers, as math-rock fans, neo-classical aficionados, ethereal Scandinavian pop obsessives, whatever. And we'll often explore multiple genres and disciplines simultaneously that work with the various sides of our personality.

Brooklyn-based Ryan Fitzgibbon launched Hello Mr. in 2013 after a successful online version, only to make the transition to print via a Kickstarter campaign that picked up immense traction (Neil Patrick-Harris championing the project for example). The reason for this is an easy one to explain: many gay men can relate to the opening paragraph - feeling "disenfranchised" with material available on the newsstand as Ryan astutely describes. Not that one should define themselves by what you're not; like all good creatively minded-people and self-starters, instead of bemoaning this fact he did something proactive about the situation and focussed this positive energy into the publishing-world; and I'm glad he did as the magazine is a wonderful and warm read. Mental stimulation >> physical stimulation.

Following even just a cursory flick through the magazine, there's one word that screams from the pages - screaming in the most subtle way of course: tasteful. It looks understated thanks to cleanly laid out text in tandem with spaced-out typography, and gorgeous full-page imagery (both photographic and illustrative) - even the relatively modest dimensions of the magazine adding to this aesthetic somehow. Plus it feels helluva nice too. If the experience was an encounter with a man it would be a sensuous, Sunday morning gentle-yet-deeply-intimate spoon soundtracked by some smooth Jazz, diffused morning light refracting through the windows onto the bed sheets - as opposed to a soulless coke-fuelled threeway orgy and the shame that ensues, akin to some other gay lifestyle titles. Hey I mean there's room for both of course but let me tell you this: one of those is my jam, the other not so much.

Hello Mr.

As for the content of Hello Mr. I'm going to take issue 04 as our guide. The magazine has organically evolved somewhat since issue 01 though the core of the brand and many of the ideas present have remained the same; this is down the Ryan's ability and humility to listen to feedback, and engage with audience and contributors. This is one of the numerous strengths of the mag. Each article is by a writer, photographer, or illustrator not featured elsewhere in the magazine; this is not a place with in-house staff writers and this diversity adds to a richness, an almost fanzine kind of appeal, with Ryan weaving together the stories alongside a mindful approach to editorial in terms of picking features to run.

First-person memoirs run throughout, offering a diary-esque deliberation. I was immediately taken by one of the first stories that ultimately set the tone for the rest of the 162 pages in my mind, the moment I realised a deeper connection was prevalent. Light-Heavy by Christopher Barnard is a tale of an introverted, anxious sort of character residing in Brooklyn who is about to embark on a (seemingly) one-off hook-up with a guy he had come into contact with a year or so back. It's a beautiful and honestly written piece that had me shrieking 'YES' with empathy on many an occasion:

"It occurred to me that I'd had no more than two interactions in the last week - a panicky check-out at the supermarket and a chat with my super about my failing AC - and I wondered would he be able to tell? To see the machinery moving on my face and mouth with some difficulty as I tried to respond like I think humans were supposed to these days."

And here with more esoteric musings on his anxiety, when he's travelling solo in a cab over to the rendezvous late into the night:

"The compulsion in the speeding taxi was to suffocate all of this, these little deaths inside of me, with an extreme and undeniable force. There would be a body close soon, to absorb them."

Without giving too much away, there is a darkly comic twist to proceedings that would be impossible to guess, defying expectations. Again, setting the tone for the magazine one could contend.

The cover features Saeed Jones, LGBT Editor of Buzzfeed and poet, with his poems printed inside. This is disputably not even the highlight despite a deeply thoughtful discussion between the writer and Saeed, not to mention the confluence of engagingly hued and gorgeous photos from Michael George of the poet.

A huge breadth of topics and feelings are covered - from the notion of perceived homophobia that gay couples live with everyday as tackled by Luke Hogan, who details and draws-out the briefest of encounters while on holiday where he asks for a photo to be taken with his boyfriend, but supplies a rational and revealing thought processes in unwrapping this most minor of social situations: "in trying to please people who show little respect for us, I lost all respect for myself."

To the idea of pre-existing "gay tribes" in Paul Clark's Beard Wars that disseminates an (arguably) anti-twink climate present in gay culture, and issues of identity alongside masculine vs. feminine perceptions and frequent bullshit and judgement that nebulously clouds and fractures discourse.

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One thing I was not expecting was to read my favourite article in recent times on a musician (as someone who works in the music industry and frequently reads up on the subject). John Grant, by Jonathan Grant tells us the story of Jonathan Grant who discovers he is related to revered American singer-songwriter John Grant by something of a freak coincidence. As Jonathan goes to meet him for the first time he recounts an amusing exchange outside the venue:

  • The Guard radioed my inquiry
  • "Your name?"
  • "Jonathan Grant"
  • "You are searching for yourself?" he added, winking
  • "Always"

The synergy of the two Grants is a joyous and sweet-natured read as Jonathan embraces his estranged family member; inevitably as a John Grant fan it offered insight to his background and him as a person that I did not know about - but even for those not familiar with his work (for shame..) the story itself is a textured and fertile one of self-discovery.

A savvy move by Hello Mr. is that there is an almost timeless overtone to the carefully chosen pieces, with trending topics not relevant and thus eschewing items such as current events and reviews. As well as not being tied down to a time it's also not tied down to a place, beholding a global outlook. Issue 04 isn't even the current issue but I feel that I got as much from it as I would have at the time of release; we're now on issue 05 that's just been released featuring Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, on the cover.

In the page-long Editor's Note from Ryan in issue 05 he discusses his own processes in creating the magazine, over-analytic train of thought, and how that ultimately is reflected in the tone Hello Mr: "In the two years since launching Hello Mr, I've learned a lot about myself by demonstrating the very thing that I advocated for in the first issue - vulnerability." This issue arguably pushes this "vulnerability" factor stories further, with some hugely revealing stories that must have taken a huge amount of courage to write from certain writers. Admirable, and then some.

The Hello Mr. brand with its reflective take on gay culture has offered something that's so popular in the publishing world - a rebrand. Not a rebrand of a specific title per se, but a rebrand on what it is to be a gay man in contemporary society.

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Hello Mr. Hello Mr Issue 05