the editors of cause & effect magazine discuss creating their powerful queer manifesto
A space to fight the bleak, oppressive nature of mainstream culture.
If there were ever a time for a magazine like Cause & Effect, that time is right this very second. A hardbacked, soft-paged thing of beauty, it sticks two fingers up at the pale, male and slightly deranged political climate of the West right now, and instead puts marginalised identities centre stage. As the brainchild of Saudi Arabian editor-in-chief Amnah Hafez and iconic, queer man of the universe (and regular i-D contributor) Tom Rasmussen, Cause & Effect doesn't tiptoe around race or gender or sexuality as most mainstream magazines do, but takes them as its primary subject matter.
Issue One took almost a year to put together and you can see why; the magazine's long-reads and think pieces sensitively tackle issues around body image, HIV activism, and what goes on in the wardrobe of a leather fetishist. Then there's the contributor list, a roll call for some of the most exciting people in fashion and art right now; Vince Larubina is senior fashion editor, editorial photography is served up by the likes of Nadine Ijewere, Thurstan Redding and Gwénaëlle Trannoy, and the mag's cover stars include NYC voguing legend and portrait photographer Kia LaBeija, as well as bad boy designer Walter Van Beirendonck.
We pinned down Amna and Tom, alongside managing editor Emily Carlton, to ask why Cause & Effect is the magazine-format remedy for a dark political moment.
Why did you decide to create Cause & Effect?
Tom: We were kind of frustrated at the lack of intersectionality and diversity within independent publications that specifically examine fashion. We had loads of fights over the course of two years about 'fantasy' and 'perfection' and ended up coming through it and being like 'let's just make a fantasy that everyone can see themselves in'. I'm a freelance journalist who focuses on queer identity and activism, and so Amnah and I worked from the off to include as wide a range of voices as possible, from visual to verbal, to make sure we were actually meeting the outlines we stated. Emily was the most iconic addition to the team; she basically turned it from a pipe dream into a magazine.
Amnah: The magazine was inspired by endless conversations between the two of us -- mostly discussing what we'd like to see more of in the fashion industry, and how we both felt isolated from most magazines and fashion books out there. I called Tom and said we have to do this magazine. We've got to make something inclusive, political and inviting, but most of all it has to be ethical! We wanted to see something out there that was inherently diverse, not token diversity, by diverse we mean -- diverse in work experience, sex, ethnicity, age, body type and more. We wanted to create content that would inspire conversation, that felt welcoming, and that had a diverse number of people behind it.
How do your cover stars embody this?
Amnah: Each one of our cover stars stand for something they believe in -- they are activists or their art is a form of activism. They stand for and believe in the same things we do. Everything we're trying to say with the magazine. From Walter's political messages in his designs to Kia's community work and self-exposure, to Torraine and Dinah's open examination of trans gender identity and drag respectively, we felt that our stars embody our message wholly.
Why and how is the magazine queer?
Emily: Queer means a lot of different things to people, and I wouldn't presume any ultimate definition of it. But most basically I'd say the magazine is queer because so many queer people have contributed to it, all different degrees, shades and flavours of 'queer'. We also deal with a lot of issues that are often lumped together under the category of 'queer', to do with identity and sexuality. But more than that, I see 'queer' as a set of values; that's inclusivity, a celebration of difference, anti-hierarchy, anti-heteronormativity, support for and between everyone involved in the magazine, compassion, and constantly pushing ourselves to be better in all of these areas.
Tom, your piece on fatness is a great example of how we can improve discussions around diversity in fashion -- why did you decide to write this piece and what did you take away from it?
Tom: Well it's a rare thing to see fat people profiled in magazines, especially in fashion. I am fat, so I wanted to use this place to talk about it openly. I interviewed an amazing blogger called Lottie L'Amour, and then I tried to examine the reasons why fat people and fatness have been cut from public consciousness. I think it's about the fact that we are all told be rabid consumers, and being fat is the logical product of that, but people can't handle seeing it because it's a reminder. I took away two things from writing the feature. One: as ever, we have to talk about fat more and see it more to "normalise" it; and two: people need to remove health and class from the fat debate because that's really uncaring and alienating for fat people to experience. Just let me live, ffs! And more than that, celebrate my choices the way I am forced to celebrate your thinness.
Why is it so important to champion marginalised identities today?
Tom: The dominant culture is bleak right now. Like really fucking bleak and oppressive. So I think it's up to those on the fringes to empower each other and be empowered. I think it's essential to produce imagery and words that platform and prioritise non-normative experiences in order to educate, disseminate and empower in a time where no place in 'the mainstream' has a space for that. More than ever, those on the fringes need to be allowed to speak, because it's us people -- whether that's queer, LGBTIA, people of colour, migrants, working class people, disabled people, women, fat people -- who are affected directly and most harshly by changing policy and governmental structure which seeks to erase us from any conversation. Nobody is going to make this work for us, so we have to make it ourselves.
What do you hope a reader of Cause & Effect takes away from it?
Emily: The world of arts and fashion magazines is already so saturated; this is just a small addition. We set out with the goal of creating a magazine that was intelligent and high-fashion that didn't alienate readers, and represented a wide range of identities and bodies. This goal jumps off the page, I think. One of our contributors, the incredibly talented illustrator Cozcon, put it best: "a space where fashion, art, queerness, brown-ness, thickness and general maladjusted-ness coexist". We may not be 100% there yet, but I think this first issue is an exciting step on the way, and I hope our readers are as excited by it as we are.
Text Amelia Abraham