The Siren’s last call
|FREE LOVE. ‘Irresistibly tempting for lesbians,’ ‘Queer... Loud... & Out’ were just two catchphrases over Siren’s history.(Image by Xtra files)||
ANNALS OF PUBLISHING
story by Nancy Irwin /
Sep 02 2004
An Aug 12 e-mail notice to past and present contributors of Siren magazine informed them that the magazine had officially ceased publication. Siren joins its predecessors Broadside and Quota as a part of Toronto’s lesbian publishing history.
Through more than eight years of articles and images by and for lesbian and bisexual women, Siren struggled financially right up until its last days. Its final managing editor, Annemarie Shrouder, sent out the notice stating that “the strain of limited funding and a small staff has taken its toll.”
The magazine was originally conceived in a bar one night when Billie Jo Newman, Shoshanna Addley and Julie Ford, all former writers for Quota which had ceased publication in 1994, got together to talk about filling the gap. Kelly Gervais came on board soon after. The group began meeting in the fall of ’95, with the first issue hitting the streets the following spring.
“None of us had any real experience in magazine publishing so we were really starting from scratch,” says Ford, who left Siren in 2002. “On borrowed computers, very late at night, we put together the first issue.... All the late nights and hard work were well offset by how much fun it was, and the high we all felt each time a new issue would hit the streets.”
The magazine continued to be published bi-monthly by mostly the original group, joined by Andie Noack on the editorial board, and later Tricia Lewis and Tanya Gulliver.
“The only people who got paid for work were the advertising reps, and, like any volunteer gig, you can only do it for so long before you burn out,” says Ford. Some volunteers talked about as many as 30 volunteer hours an issue.
Gulliver, who now writes regularly for Xtra, started writing for Siren in the fall of ’99 and worked as editorial assistant for about 18 months between 2001 and 2003. Gulliver was there for the transition period, the change of the guard which resulted in a different direction.
“Julie Ford, a founder of the magazine, withdrew. Andie pulled out. Kelly and BJ left, all at once,” says Gulliver. “For me, the production value of the magazine suffered because there were all these new people to come up to speed at the same time. My news pieces got printed in colour and looked like advertising. Melissa Etheridge’s name was spelled wrong on the cover. For me, I stopped writing.”
Says Shrouder: “There were six of us who had full-time jobs. We had good ideas but not enough people to do them justice. We started with the glossy cover but then couldn’t continue to support it.”
Still, eight years is a remarkable amount of time for a small volunteer-run publication to survive. Misspelling or not, a glossy cover featuring Melissa Etheridge was a coup. Siren served many in the women’s community, and was a forum to read about older women, bisexuals, dykes with kids and the like. The magazine’s original mission statement was inclusive and sex-positive, resulting in a stew of stories of lesbian trailer parks, SM play parties and reviews of lesbian erotic oil wrestling videos.
Finding enough revenue to take the magazine to the next level was also tough.
“Quota and Siren had the same problem that the advertisers weren’t willing to support lesbian magazines,” says Gulliver. “Some advertisers stayed through the entire run and kept the paper alive. But hustling for advertising is tough.”
The paper will be missed by its readers. Some of them might be wondering if a new lesbian publication will fire up to replace it, and to carry on the history of a women’s publication in Toronto.
* Nancy Irwin was a sometimes contributor to Siren.