This spring I had the honour to meet Sean Santiago, an NYC based multi-talented boy during a trip in Antwerp. While we both were enjoying our time discovering all the unknown creative hidden spots of this Belgium harbour city, we realized we had quite some similar interest. Back home I checked out his magazine CAKEBOY, and I was blown away. It was clever, witty, relevant and very pretty. I wanted to know more. So I got in touch with Sean, and ask him questions about his vision on gender, the LGBT landscape and how his magazine reflects on this. Have a read.
What was your main motivation to create Cakeboy?
I’d been blogging for a few years and realized that I wasn’t necessarily building the creative skillsets I wanted. An agent had come to me and asked if I was interested in signing with their company, but I turned it down. I didn’t really want to work towards building a career as a fashion and lifestyle blogger. So I shut the blog down and took a few of the stories I’d been planning to publish online and put them in a zine. I debuted it at the Brooklyn Zine Fest and Cakeboy was born. Since then my understanding of what it is and what it can be has expanded so much.
You address at your ‘about’ page that Cakeboy is setting a new standard for LGBT media: how would you describe the LBGT media landscape so far? What were the previous standards that you are referring to and how is Cakeboy setting the new standard?
I’ve always felt that what is conventionally referred to as gay media was kind of out to get me, if that makes sense. It often feels predatory, especially when you’re younger. The images of men aren’t rooted in a queer aesthetic that I relate to. There’s nothing inherently queer about a butch guy standing around in his underwear. So now he’s holding another guy’s dick, oh ok, I get it. But that image sends the message that gayness is relational, and I think the subtext is that gay men don’t exist outside of their sexual identity, that gayness is acted out in these different contexts. I think it left me feeling very hollow. If I didn’t act overtly gay or have sex with men, what was I doing? It was hard to find images that aligned with my perception of myself. I didn’t have strong male-identified figures that I looked up to when I was younger. And I think gay media has a tendency to thrive on iterative messaging that is really damaging.
Creating a ‘men’ specific magazine for an agender world? Isn’t that a bit contrary?
I feel it’s necessary to stake a claim in the “men’s world.” I was so worried about talking about the magazine as something for men or about them—but then I started to look at that market, at the titles that were coming out that were staking a claim and declaring themselves “gay media” or “for men.” And they were so not for me. At the end of the day, it may be problematic to make that distinction, but I’d rather actively work through that and have the work reflect the nebulous areas that I feel speak to my understanding of gender.
In the end, do you think human beings are capable of looking at others without taking in their race or gender?
No. But the problem isn’t having eyes and acknowledging that human beings all look distinct from one another. The problem is the societal constructs around what that shape or size or presentation means, the subliminal messaging that surrounds and privileges one culture or gender over another. And we can change those constructs; we can affect that system.
Lately there is a lot (media) attention to this ‘gender fluid’ approach. Mostly related to a new generation that has a different perspective on gender. What is your perspective on this topic?
I think nothing will change until we start to improve sex education in our schools. Maybe this is a very American perspective, because our school system is so broken. But I think that while media can present certain images and provide alternative viewpoints, for systemic change we need a society that is educated enough to know that it should ask for more, that it should ask for better.
Caitlyn Jenner has been put on a pedestal as an example for the transgender community. However, she has also admitted to be against gay marriage. It feels a bit poor to have her as our hero. Is there a lack of heroes? Who would you name as inspiring individuals within our generation?
You know, I think heroes are dead. There are no heroes. That’s a dangerous construct. There are only humans, and we are all as broken as the person next to us. Just be open to having a conversation, be open to learn, don’t be an asshole. Again, another reason to market this as a men’s mag—I think men need to be told not to be assholes more often. Rhys Ernst has this great quote in the newest issue I’ll paraphrase as, “Being a man is like being rich; it’s not inherently bad, but it’s really easy to be an asshole if you’re rich and it’s really easy to be an asshole if you’re a guy.”
It is 2016, and although just 9% of the world population is ‘white’ we still act like the world is white. Like Henry Bae perfectly describes: white is seen as natural – the main component we compare ourselves with. Do you think this will change? What is your vision about the necessities that will force this change?
My hope would be that Cakeboy can be a way to engage in a conversation with people that may not have access to other views. Maybe they can read an interview that shifts their perspective or at least lets them know an alternative one exists. I think de-centralizing the way white people experience the world is really important, which is why the magazine functions almost as a gallery where individuals are given space to articulate something beyond themselves. Like Henry talking about the way he uses his clothing to create a specific, politicized image of himself, and shooting him in those clothes to speak to that, to speak to the way he moves through the world. Maybe just confronting these things and not letting everything default to whiteness is a start. Like, I don’t necessarily agree with everything someone might say, maybe someone else in their position would have a different perspective altogether—the important thing is to understand that these experiences are valid. White people forget that having your experiences reaffirmed and validated is a privilege. Not everyone gets that. But maybe you think I’m horribly wrong. That’s great. Let’s talk about it.
Lately you see more and more of these DIY magazines pop-up: is this just because technology makes it more easy to produce your own magazine or do you think there are other reasons behind this trend?
Desktop publishing has been around for years, so I don’t think it’s the tech. The tech actually makes it less and less relevant to start a magazine. It’s just like, why? Ingrid Sischy wrote for Dazed, “The only reason to start a magazine is if there’s a void, where there are words and images stirring to be seen and heard.” There are no words or images that can’t be heard or amplified better through the internet rather than paper at this point. I think magazines and publishing...right now there’s a lot of crap, total shit that’s just iterative. For me, as a publisher, I think my challenge is to understand better how the magazine functions as an art object. What does a magazine do? How does it perform its function? I’ve already stopped using Instagram because it feels so dated. I keep up with people on Snapchat. So a magazine has to exist as an art experience. All forms of art and culture eventually will have to operate under a new value system we’re currently creating for ourselves.
Would you consider Cakeboy as part of a political movement? How do you think today’s activism is taking place? How does Internet influences today’s activism? Like clickism for example?
I don’t think it’s activism. I hope it brings elements of discussions that happen around political movements within queer communities into a context where someone who might otherwise not have that issue top of mind can digest it, or contextualize it for themselves. I hope it starts a dialogue, even if it’s just in that person’s head. Because there’s too much affirmation. So many indie magazines provide this twee perspective, that’s so reductive. I think as a visual object Cakeboy can be quite nice to look at, yes, but hopefully you also feel something, you also consider an issue in a new light, you see the world a bit differently. Good art should do that. Hopefully Cakeboy is good art.
Where can people, in Europe and especially in the Netherlands, buy Cakeboy or how can we support you?