This is a review of Archer Issue 2 by Victoria Nugent.

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Archer, Issue 2

Editor: Amy Middleton

104 pages

RRP: $14.95
 

Sex. It’s a tricky topic and the focal point of the newly launched Archer magazine. In truth, it’s a little more complicated than that. Editor Amy Middleton was inspired to create a magazine celebrating sexual diversity, and the journal is aimed at filling what she saw as a hole in the market. As Middleton puts it in her editor’s note at the start of issue 2, “Sex is endlessly fascinating and infinitely diverse. Hence, Archer”.

Archer provides an alternate discourse on Australian sexuality to what is shown in mainstream magazines. Offerings like GQ and Cosmopolitan are focused on the sexual experience of the heteronormative man or woman who mostly has vanilla sex, with the occasional bit of bondage or S & M thanks to the spread of Fifty Shades of Gray a couple of years ago. There’s little room for deviation.

Archer, however, jumps straight into exploring different worldviews. Its pieces aren’t trying to be sexy, but rather informative, interesting and thought-provoking.

I thought the first issue was going to be a hard act to follow, boasting a piece from Christos Tsiolkas of The Slap fame and riding high on the wave of a successful crowd-funding campaign. When a magazine’s subject matter is so niche, it can all-too-easily succumb to the trap of repeating articles that are the essentially the same. Not so with Archer.

Some elements of the magazine have clearly developed since the first issue. Where the first cover was largely black and white, there are now vibrant red tones and the publication has also grown in size.  I was worried that for all its talk of diversity, Archer would simply end up as a vehicle for the same kinds of personal stories to get shouted into the void over and over, leaving future issues little room to grow and evolve.  I’ve seen magazines stick to a theme in such a way that after just a few issues I find there’s nowhere new left to go. I wondered if there would be articles to appeal to straight, LGBT, kinky and tentatively explorative readers alike. I needn’t have worried.

The contributors come from varied writing backgrounds, with the most notable Krissy Kneen, the author of sexual memoir Affection. Kneen’s article about sex addiction provides an in-depth look at her own sexual life. As she delves into what constitutes addiction, she muses on the invention of the term, how casual sex fits into the equation and the concept of addict porn.

Meanwhile, relationships coach Amy Hunter ushers readers into the world of polyamory, pointing out its myriad of forms. “If you are poly, you don’t have to have all of your desires met by one person,” she says.  It’s an honest essay that does not sensationalise or generalise.

Other topics featured include: the place of homosexuality in Aboriginal culture, the biological reasoning behind homosexuality, the experience of being a gay refugee and asexuality. I greatly appreciated that pieces did not rely solely on opinion, but were backed up perspectives that used supporting facts. The result is a great blend of intellect and emotion. First-person experience sits side-by-side with scientific qualifications.

My favourite article in the magazine would have to be “Out of the Darkness”, photographer Edan Chapman’s essay of what his deafness means for him sexually. “In the blackness of the bedroom, bias seems to vanish. It almost becomes a sensory deprivation experience for me until I touch the first smooth curve of skin.” I had never truthfully thought about the experience of sex once you remove seemingly vital senses. Reading Chapman’s honest account gave me new understanding.  

“Back from the Brink” is yet more confronting reading, with journalist Greg Leech sharing what it was like to have sexual experiences after his wife died. “Even after being widowed, having sex with anyone other than my girl felt like ‘doing the dirty’. So, I reconciled that discomfort with sex without love. It didn’t feel as much like betrayal.” It’s raw and personal, much like many of the stories in the magazine.

Photo essays have their place in Archer, with the lives of 18-year-olds in a share house captured in one such offering. Another explores the relationship between people and their body hair in a way that celebrates it – a novel idea, given the only view on body hair I’ve ever encountered in a magazine before is that it should be controlled or simply gone. 

It’s a mixed bag of content but overall I would describe it brave.  The writers don’t shy away from tough topics and that’s what makes their pieces so valuable. Archer is unlike anything I’ve read before. Its content is dedicated to chronicling the sexual experience, but there is no judgement here, just new understanding. The magazine does not have one sole reader in mind, but instead manages to provide a diverse slice of sexual insight.  Many of the photographs and stories can be confronting, but these are confrontations that can lead to a broader mind.

If Archer manages to keep attracting quality contributors and diverse articles, it will certainly be a magazine to watch. More importantly, it will act as a neat little time capsule of sexuality in the 2010s, highlighting the array of attitudes that exist in today’s world. I would go so far to say that it’s time we started a different type conversation about sex and sexuality. Hence, Archer.

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Victoria Nugent is a journalist and budding freelance writer.  She has been published in Peppermint magazine, lip magazine, Ideas At The House, Bespoke, Ricochet Magazine and other publications.

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