Photos of pages courtesy of The Tenth
When you flip through The Tenth—a “zine” that has a heft and aesthetic vision on par with Vogue’s September issue—you receive an education. Or perhaps I should say you get schooled on a version of gay black manhood developed on its own terms and written in its own words, by gay black men, for gay black men.
The publication takes its name from an idea popularized in the early 20th century by W.E.B. Du Bois, the co-founder of the NAACP, who believed that an elite group of black people—the “talented tenth”—would raise up their fellows through their ability, success, and leadership. Creative director Khary Septh founded the publication with Andre Y. Jones and Kyle R. Banks—all of who are into aspects of modern culture that Du Bois could not have imagined in his wildest dreams—to draw attention to gay movements like the ballroom scene. (In voguing, you go for tens—a perfect score from the judges.)
The Tenth is about recognizing queer black talent in all its manifestations. As Septh prepared to embark on a 45-day road trip to capture the content for the magazine’s upcoming Americana-themed issue, I sat down with him to discuss the magazine’s origins and the impressive response it’s gotten.
VICE: So how did The Tenth get started?
Kyle Septh: About two years ago, Kyle, Andre, and I were feeling like we wanted to create images of beautiful black gay boys. So we did a series called Boys in the Studios, which we launched here in Brooklyn. Then we had this light bulb moment where we were like, “This feels like more than just a one-time photo series.”
We liked the idea of assembling around this collaborative work we were already doing, this kind of convenient community. We wanted a project that allowed us to reconnect to this idea of community. I think all black working professionals often feel the price of building commercial success, and it’s generally isolation, loneliness, detachment, a lot of pressure, and a lot of work. We wanted to do something that would allow us to be free, and recapture our youth and our artistic intent.
How old are you?
I'm 37, Kyle’s 37 as well, and Andre's 39. The gay midlife crisis happens at 30, right? You become the old bitch at the bar at like 32.
There are three ages of gay: old troll, young twink, and 32.
I should put that on my fucking back—exactly. [Working in fashion], it's important for me to be aware of what's happening, but also to understand how to mature and become sophisticated. It was clear that that wasn't going to happen in parties and nightclubs, but I still needed that energy. But because we're engaging in a different space that's not sexualized, it's not shady—it's about actually getting to know one another. This bohemian arts scene can be just as cliché as the drag scene in Brooklyn, or the bourgeois-working-corporate-brunch scene that's happening up in Harlem. Our point is to mix it up and have a space where we can connect and share ideas.
What kind of reception has the first issue received?
We originally printed 400 copies, and we were concerned we wouldn't be able to get through them, but it blew up immediately. The old establishment books—traditional media outlets like Ebony and Jet—were super interested in what we were doing. To have them open up their pages to talk about the project to their audiences was amazing. We didn't know we’d get so much support outside of our community. Suddenly, we were getting emails from Tokyo and Berlin, and a lot of straight women allies, which was obvious but a little bit of a light bulb to us, like, These are our sisters, our moms, our best friends. Not in that old-school, accessory type of way—which we really can't stand—but in a way that women are a part of our lives.
Do you worry about being accused of being insular? That often seems to be the response when black people organize amongst themselves.
As figures who are misrepresented a lot of the time and stereotyped in the media, we don't believe we need to promote an idea of diversity. That flows naturally and organically, like how you might be at a party and there’ll be a straight girl and a gay girl in the room together, but the point isn't that you're making diversity a priority.
It’s important that diversity is represented, but I don't believe we need to go after that as one of our principal goals. We're going to make this magazine reflect our world, and our world is segregated, and we need to have that as part of the conversation.
Because, in truth, our entire lives are uncomfortable. America is segregated, even in urban centers like New York. This is a larger critique that needs to happen. We have, in publishing, created a space where we can exist in our own community. Ultimately, the long-term goal may be that these kinds of publications are not necessary, though I'm not sure that's the case. Assimilation is cool, but it has its downsides. Because for us, gay assimilation is moving towards whiteness, not celebrating as excellent anything that's happening in blackness.
Being black and being gay creates an interesting other space, because we feel like “others” in both of those larger communities, so we’re saying let's build our own institutions, lets support each other, let's create our own rules, our own sense of order. I think every society needs those things.
What will the next issue look like?
The theme is Americana. I'm really excited about this road trip. A big part of this zine is creating a challenge. It doesn't make sense to be safe on this project, to just engage contemporary artists or the people who are easy to access like the Instagram stars. For us, the challenge is to connect as many dots as possible with the limited resources we have across the country, so that that network starts to build. We’re gonna do a dozen locations in 45 days, and have the issue hit the stands on December 10.
Learn more about The Tenth here.
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