2022-04-02 08:33:42 By : Ms. Amanda Liu

Not long after I graduated college, I was in my first salaried job, making a relatively low wage but grateful that I had benefits and the stability of a regular paycheck. Still, I felt adrift. I was unmoored from my understanding of my gender, feeling gravitationally pulled toward abstraction. I felt myself becoming part of the machine, by rote taking public transit to my job and orienting my day around efficiency. I struggled to figure out what organizing I could plug into, what work might make my life feel meaningful, who to ask for advice on how to change the world. 

During my malaise, I went to a farmers market near my apartment and stopped at an antique stall, where there was a framed poster inscribed with poetry. The stall owner bartered with me, then told me the very little he knew about the piece. I carried it home. The illustration features a faceless woman wearing a headscarf and hoop earrings, a baby on her back, holding a rifle and a copy of Black Struggle (presumably by Bryan Fulks; the illustration of the book bears no author). The poem reads:

I felt so spoken to, as if some piece of my political upbringing, tied to a community I was physically separated from, had found a way to remind me who I was and what I cared about. Years later, I came across the poem again in the second issue of Lux Magazine, a quarterly print magazine that launched in early 2021.

The poem, by Yosano Akiko, was also in the opening to the first issue of Japan’s first feminist literary magazine, Seitō (a literal translation of the English “bluestocking”), according to writer Jesse Kindig. Seitō’s goal, wrote Kindig, was that “through writing and literature, women might fuse the intimacy of personal life to the larger politics of the world.” 

In Lux, Akiko’s poem had a slightly different translation:

Lux was founded with the express purpose of unearthing and contextualizing feminist history, explains publisher Sarah Leonard, who points out that the vibrant leftist feminist movements of the 1970s, such as Wages for Housework, were followed directly by the “leftist defeat” of the 1980s and 1990s. “Books go out of print; that information doesn't get passed down. All this work was not necessarily visible to my generation,” Leonard tells Teen Vogue. “To us, it's really important to build a bridge between a lot of the brilliant work that's been done in the past and all the people who are reviving a feminist left now.”

Observing this lineage, Leonard felt “absolute horror” at the lack of choices today for people developing their politics in the space outside of electoralism and nonprofits. During the flash point of the 2016 election, with its “I’m with her” signs and “Bernie bros,” she felt adrift. “These are not my politics,” says Leonard. “So creating a home for people whose socialism was feminist, queer, abolitionist from the jump was really, really, really important to me — and I think important for the future of socialism in this country."

"If people think they might have socialist politics, and they look around and they don't see any media that looks like them, that reflects their interests, their tastes, their identity, how are they gonna walk in the door of this politics?" Leonard continues. "That's all but trying to keep people out. That's crazy. And [when] I looked at that landscape, I didn't see the magazine I wanted to read, so we made it. But to me, it's a very serious political question, whether that type of media exists.”

In this current moment, with feminism as mainstream as it’s ever been and many disaffected young people looking for an alternative to the status quo, there aren’t many publications that cater specifically to feminists on the left. There are “women’s magazines” and digital-only platforms like Refinery29 and SSENSE. There are leftist, and broadly political, publications aplenty. But there are only a notable few operating at their nexus: The Cut, gal-dem, Bitch Media, Scalawag, and Prism all come to mind, and the recently departed Wear Your Voice. Each varies in its tonal commitment to the values of feminism on the left. It’s a notable hole, left partially by Jezebel, which is seeking to return to its former glory under a new editor in chief.

“It's pretty bare out there, as far as what kind of media is there that is political,” observes Lux editor Cheryl Rivera. Why does she think this is? “Why are we not having just a whole flourishing of this left media landscape? There's no money in it," she says. "But also, I think there's this feeling that it's not sexy. It's not fun.” In some ways, Lux is filling that gap: Its tagline is “It’s sex, with class.”

Sharanya Durvasula, Lux’s creative director, describes her hope for readers flicking through the magazine as “a slow-paced, sumptuous experience.” “A lot of leftist publications feel very austere, and we wanted to make something that felt celebratory and playful,” Durvasula tells Teen Vogue. While coming up with the print edition’s aesthetic, Durvasula was inspired in part by Dr. Bronner’s soap bottles, which feature type playfully crammed onto their labels. “Lux is ornamental for the sake of being ornamental, and values the craft of anything made by hand,” she says. “I think the design reflects our politics: Everybody deserves something nice.”

In part, Leonard actually credits Teen Vogue with modeling a compromise between politics and frivolity. “I literally grew up reading Teen Vogue,” she recalls, pointing out that the size of Lux’s print issue is roughly the same as Teen Vogue’s former print edition. It’s kind of like sneaking the medicine in with the sugar, as Leonard sees it. “I've always thought of media as a gateway to a way of living, and glossy magazines are often just a gateway into aspirational consumerism, looking a certain way. Sometimes that's bad — but it also fires your imagination,” Leonard points out. “My recollection of reading fashion magazines when I was 16 was not just that I wanted to buy the clothes, it was like, ‘I want to be a certain type of person.' I wanted to feel powerful in the world. I wanted to go places.”

Instead of using the glamor of women’s magazines to sell clothes or ad space, Lux hopes to sell something more conceptual, but still material. Both Leonard and Durvasula use the word “aspirational” in describing the magazine’s aesthetic, though their interpretation of the word might differ from how others perceive it. “I think all interesting magazines are aspirational," says Durvasula. "In our case, rather than attain a certain lifestyle or luxury goods, we aspire to make a world in which we want to live. As Rick Owens asks, ‘Isn't it more chic to be free?’”

Leonard echoes that sentiment: “For us, it's still about creating an aspirational magazine, but it's an aspiration towards something far more ambitious, which is a remade world where pleasure is for everyone,” she explains. “So there's something about the aspirational DNA of a women's magazine that I think you can turn to utopian purposes.” It calls to mind the famous quote from Black author Toni Cade Bambara, who considered it the responsibility of marginalized culture workers to make revolution irresistible.

In a single issue of Lux, there might be a screed by sisters Astra and Sunaura Taylor on animal liberation placed next to a study on a universal childcare program in Portland, Oregon; a profile of academic Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor paired with an exploration of restorative justice for rape survivors in Mexico; a “what’s in her bag” with poet and former sex worker Rachel Rabbit White alongside a labor organizing initiative at Planned Parenthood clinics. The stories are both American and global, micro and macro, policy and action. Says Leonard, the juxtaposition is the point. “It's extremely positive to take seriously all the things that might be on your mind as a queer or female person, a feminist, you could just say, day to day,” she says.

Lux was borne out of a Marxist feminist reading group. Some participants, like Leonard and fellow editor Marian Jones, had known each other before the group. Others, like Rivera, joined the reading group later. Rivera came to Lux from an organizing background, one that she credits with fleshing out the kind of politics Lux hopes to embody. “A part of this Lux project has been, for me, to start to be able to articulate [political values] to people in a broad audience,” says Rivera. “I've been having talks with people in organizing, but often that's a different sort of relation, much more person to person. How do you scale up? That's one thing I really believe about left media, is part of the scaling up. People want to be able to make this into a science but I think it's more of an art, because writing is more of an art; communication’s more of an art.”

According to Lux publishing consultant Flynn Murray, the publication netted over 3,000 subscribers in its first year. Subscription prices start at $20 domestically and internationally to become a digital subscriber, and go up to $35 to become a U.S. print subscriber; Lux also has sustaining membership tiers — Collective, Cabal, Coven, and Clique — which come with invitations to Lux’s monthly online salons and merch. For those who are “currently incarcerated or otherwise unable to access Lux," the Lux subscription page includes that they should reach out via email for help accessing the magazine. And Lux is, of course, on Twitter, meeting its readers where they are.

The goal of Lux is to inform, yes, but also to activate — to encourage readers to see where they can join the struggle. The diversity of voices within the editorial collective hopes to make that possible. “The magazine has to feel accessible. You've gotta get the people going,” Rivera says, nodding to a certain Jay Z and Kanye hit. “We had the right people in the room to be able to have this combination of very literary ideas, this real grounding in a political understanding of themselves and a political point of view, and some ‘get the people going’ spice in there.”

Leonard agrees: “If a bunch of people are reading Lux, and then go to an action together, then we're doing the right thing.”

Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: This Is the Real Meaning of Identity Politics

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