Yes, its logo is bedecked with a rainbow spectrum of color. And yes, much of the content and advertising makes GLBT-friendliness explicit ("Ask the Le'Bian" advice column and ads promoting an official preliminary to the "Mr. Gay Illinois" competition). But this is not just another "gay bar rag," according to creative director Lesa G'Sell.
"We were hoping for a huge mainstream following, and we've gotten it," G'Sell says. "I'd estimate that our readership is about 60% straight, 40% gay."
G'Sell and her partner (in life and in business) launched TwiST last July in response to her observation that, "there wasn't anything positive going on in St. Louis." Since its inception, TwiST which initially stood for "This Week in St. Louis" until protests from the publisher of a similarly named venture, along with the stark reality of the demands of a weekly publication, made that schedule seem unrealistic has sought to portray good news and entertainment each month, primarily focusing on St. Louis and local citizens. Most often, G'Sell tries to find a St. Louisan to feature on the cover "someone who is contributing in some way, who's doing something great." So far, that list has included Don Thomas, a St. Louis native who has been a stunt double for Wesley Snipes, Danny Glover and Ernie Hudson, and Sandra Knight, a local musician.
"We don't ever have to go out and look for stories," G'Sell says. "The stories seem to find us." And so do a good number of writers, designers, illustrators and ad sales reps who are basically the staff of the magazine at this point. The result is perhaps a bit chaotic fonts and colors fight it out for supremacy on many spreads but obviously from the hearts of people who really believe in the endeavor. Even the omnipresent Beatle Bob graces the pages of TwiST, with a monthly roundup of "Beatle Bob's Top 10 Concerts of the Month," in case you're wondering where you might catch a glimpse of the shaggy one (not that finding him's ever really a problem).
G'Sell admits to feeling pressure from both sides: "a lot of people in the GLBT community dismiss it right away by saying, 'Oh, that's a straight magazine,' while straight people immediately think it's a gay thing." But the real world isn't that neatly divided, according to G'Sell, and she advocates for stories that "help humanity."
G'Sell herself has a unique perspective on the seemingly wide chasm between the straight and gay worlds: for 11 years, she was in a heterosexual marriage, prior to her current relationship. Even though she knows intimately the nuances of two sides of the coin, she maintains that sexuality is not the defining force in life, nor will it be in her magazine.
"We had a lot of GLBT readers who were upset because we didn't make a big deal out of National Coming Out Month last October," she says. "But really, no one wants to hear that shit! We exist to provide alternative, positive information and entertainment."
So far, business seems brisk at St. Louis' "only straight-friendly alternative magazine" (one of the mag's tag lines). According to G'Sell, the 7,500 copies printed and distributed each month disappear within a few days of being placed, and although it's a good problem to have, she's struggling to keep the magazine on the streets. While other alternative publications lose battles to be out in public places, TwiST has not been turned down for display anywhere, she says.
Will TwiST ever aim for its namesake "weekly" aspirations? G'Sell laughs in a kind of wiped-out way: "At this point, we're looking for investors to make the magazine bigger and print more copies. We're winging it as we go. After that, we'll just see where it takes us."