Editor of Archer Magazine Amy Middleton: Interview

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Amy Middleton has worked in journalism for ten years, but when the idea for a magazine focusing on sexual diversity came to her she couldn’t sit idly and ignore it. After eight months, one very successful Pozible campaign, and a wealth of support from the Melbourne literary community, the result is Archer – a biannual print publication that seeks to capture Australia’s varying attitudes towards sexual diversity.

The first issue sees Middleton bring together a talented list of emerging and established writers, including Christos Tsiolkas (author of The Slap) who delves in to the challenging territory that is the adult desire for youth. Such intelligent and thought provoking articles are coupled with an impressive array of contemporary photography that will see Archer slide comfortably onto the shelves of independent bookstores and the ‘recommended’ stand at MagNation.

Middleton says, ‘each issue of Archer will date quickly in terms of commentary and photography, leaving behind a relic of the sexual equality movement’ and in Australia there’s never been a more relevant window into the world of sexual diversity.

EG: What motivated you to create Archer? Did you experience an ‘aha!’ moment, or did the idea for a journal exploring sexual diversity develop over time?
AM: I had the idea for Archer in March while trawling the internet for news and features related to sexual diversity. I realised there wasn’t a single source for these stories, and the Australian media could probably do with such a publication. As a young journo and editor, it was always my dream to start a magazine, so I got to work.

EG: You’ve called Archer ‘a relic of its time’, what is it about the magazine you expect to ‘date quickly’?
AM: Archer will be published twice a year, so by the time the second issue rolls around, the political and social discussions of the first issue won’t necessarily be relevant. I find outdated points of view in historic media fascinating – just recently, some friends gave me a book from the 1940s called Our Sexual Nature. The concepts were probably very progressive at the time, but they are shameful by today’s standards. I look forward to a time when we can look back on Archer and remember when gender transition was misunderstood, or when gays still had to fight for their rights, and appreciate how far the movement has come.

EG: Marriage equality has been a pertinent issue in Australia’s political arena over the past few years and is something you discuss in your first issue. Some commentators are calling the fight for same sex marriage a “waiting game”, would you agree with this statement? Or would you promote a more active approach?
AM: One of the articles in Archer profiles three Australians who do not support same-sex marriage, and part of our manifesto was to represent these viewpoints. I can understand people who have misgivings about incorporating alternate sexualities into a traditionally Christian institution, but the marriage equality movement is a microcosm for a wider fight for equality and acknowledgement, and that is something in which I staunchly believe. There has to be a symbol for the recognition that homosexual relationships are as valid and meaningful as heterosexual relationships, and currently, that symbol is marriage equality. Yeah, in a sense it’s a waiting game. But Australia has waited a lot longer than some other countries, so I believe there’s a little more to it than that.

EG: Archer’s manifesto is “to present engaging, inclusive viewpoints from the myriad of genders, sexualities and communities of Australia.” What were your greatest challenges in ensuring diversity of opinion?
AM: For starters, I realised early on that it’s impossible to represent everyone. A good mix is easy to achieve, and should be reflected more in the wider Australian media, but pleasing everyone is not a realistic endeavour. My wish is to represent a cross-section of Australians, and encourage the wider populace to go in search of new and interesting perspectives as a result of the stories they have read in Archer. If we achieve that, I think we’ve done something good.

EG: You’ve documented your journey to publication on the Archer website, is sharing your knowledge and potentially helping others with their projects important to you?
AM: I had so much help and support, it was incredible. From friends and family, first and foremost, but also from people in similar roles. Founders and editors of mags like The Lifted Brow, Death of a Scenester, Hello Mr and Meanjin gave me invaluable advice from the outset, and other journalists, especially my colleagues at Australian Geographic, have been crazy supportive. I definitely want to give back a little. But I also want to be transparent about the process of putting together a publication, because it isn’t as intimidating as some people might think. It takes a few skills and a bit of confidence, but it’s a step-by-step process. Like building a house.

EG: What were your reasons for choosing to fund the project through Pozible? Would you recommend crowd funding to others trying to get a magazine off the ground?
AM: Initially I had aimed to fund the project myself, but having just printed the first issue, I can say in retrospect that was an unrealistic goal. I’m not going to say crowd-funding will save the publishing industry, but it’s a successful model that allows new publications to get off the ground, even if their founding teams have little or no funding. It works, it’s a good marketing tool and it helps you gauge public interest in your title which, in the case of Archer, was pretty huge. In basic terms, there are two main reasons to use crowd-funding: firstly, printing is expensive; secondly, writers and photographers should be paid for their work.

EG: Your first issue includes an article by celebrated author Christos Tsiolkas, how did you go about acquiring a contribution from him?
AM: I just had to ask. Christos Tsiolkas is one of my favourite Australian authors – he’s talented and extremely brave when it comes to pushing boundaries. He writes a lot about sexuality and diversity, and I had a feeling he’d be into the project. He and I nutted out a topic that we both felt passionate about and he was happy to contribute. It was pretty inspiring getting him on board. When someone you admire believes in your project, it’s a bit of extra validation.

EG: In Tsiolkas’ piece he writes about the adult desire for youth and sexual desire for different age groups. At what age did you become aware of your sexuality?
AM: I started young. There’s a misconception held by a lot of people that kids aren’t in touch with their sexuality but in reality, as with everything related to sexuality, it varies between individuals. I was about four or five when I first started experimenting and I’ve since discovered that’s not an uncommon story. I don’t feel like I had enough information at my disposal as a young kid, but I think that’s changing now as our society opens up its dialogue.

EG: In your blog post about Archer in Meanjin you wrote that sexuality is your favourite topic and ‘why anyone wants to talk about anything else is beyond [you]’. Why do you think sexuality is such an important subject?
AM: It’s universal. It’s like living and breathing. Whether you focus on your sexuality or actively ignore it; whether it scares you or excites you; whether you have heaps of sex drive or none at all – these are all individual takes on sexuality that deserve to be explored. I enjoy delving into my own experience by relating it to the experiences of others, so I find these discussions really compelling.

EG: Has literature played a role in developing your passion for sexual equality? Is there a particular book or magazine that has influenced you?
AM: I am inspired by honest portrayals of sexuality – I remember being really excited to discover the authenticity of Aussie authors like Helen Garner and Kate Grenville when they wrote about sex and identity. Even as a kid, reading Sonya Hartnett piqued my curiosity – she represented such unique experiences without censoring herself and I thought that was really cool. Outside of Australia, the gay relationships depicted by writers like Edmund White and James Baldwin also inspired me when I first read them as a teenager. Literature that depicts alternate sexualities without making a big deal about them – that’s the stuff that keeps me reading.

Words by Alix Palmer

Published by Everguide 2nd December 2013. Image also courtesy of Everguide.

Check out Archer here.

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