You think print media is dead? Think again. Much like our lord and savior JC, Christian teen magazines have been resurrected after a brief vacay in purgatory. Today we're focusing our gaze upon Focus on the Family's youth mags of past and present - Brio, Breakaway, Clubhouse, and of course, Clubhouse Jr. Join us as we relive all the thrills of being an evangelical teen from the fun quizzes to the rampant homophobia!
Clint: Do you subscribe to any magazines as an adult?
Jey: Print magazines just aren't something that ever crosses my mind.
Clint: Really? I love magazines.
Jey: I just feel like magazines have a lot of ads and stuff.
Clint: Yeah, but I like ads.
Jey: That's true.
Clint: If you don't buy magazines now, like, what do you do if you need to send a ransom letter?
Jey: Well, have you ever tried Chat GPT?
Clint: They’ll trace that right back to you! Have you never seen a single true crime?
Jey: No, that's why you use a VPN. I'm not going to fucking use my DNA.
Clint: Well, you don't have to lick it. Use a glue stick. You would be a terrible criminal.
Jey: I really would. This is why I don't break the law.
Clint: Well you do own more than 6 dildos in Texas so…
Jey: Hi, everyone, and welcome to How Gay Thou Art, a queer, exvangelical, comedy podcast about growing up queer, Christian and hella confused. I am Jey Austin, they/them.
Clint: So we’re doubling down on queer in the tagline today?
Jey: Because we're talking about Focus on the Family today.
Clint: They definitely focused on me for sure. I'm Clint Keller, he/him.
Jey: Christian children and teen magazines is what we're covering today. Focus on the Family produced a ton of print magazines. So we have Clubhouse, which is a parody of the Highlights magazine, kind of.
Clint: It's exactly like Highlights in some ways, but it's just an evangelical version of it.
Jey: Yeah. And then Clubhouse Junior is for like little, little kids. But then from age 12, we start getting into gendered magazines. We have Brio for 12 to 16 year old girls. We have Breakaway for teenage boys, 12 and up, and then Brio and Beyond for 16 to 20 something year old girls.
Clint: Then for married girls, we have Bed, Brio, and Beyond.
Jey: Yeah for when you get married at 19. Doing the research on this was insane because there is not a lot of information outside of like, scarred people who were raised fundie and evangelical just being like, “Do you remember this magazine that gave me an eating disorder?”
Clint: It is kind of interesting because I was looking for more information and it made me feel like the whole thing was a fever dream.
Jey: All these Christian magazines started in the early nineties and stayed in publication until 2009 when the recession hit and Focus on the Family laid off their youth publishing division. And then they just recently brought back Clubhouse, Clubhouse Junior, and Brio, but didn't bring back Brio and Beyond or Breakaway. I read Brio growing up, I read Clubhouse and I read Clubhouse Junior.
Clint: I read Breakaway on and off but just at friend’s houses and things like that. I had a few issues but I never had an actual subscription.
Jey: I was actually really annoyed when I started getting the girls magazine and I wanted to get the boys magazine. Huh. I'm non-binary.
Clint: I mean, you weren’t missing anything with the Breakaway magazines. Literally 50% of it was just talking about how video games were going to turn you into a serial killer.
Jey: Then I really got into, when Brio stopped publishing, this one's aimed at, I guess, more adults. It was like a progressive Christian magazine, but it was called Relevant. I remember an article vividly talking about like, what if we remade like children's movies for adults and they were talking about The Neverending Story and how they should remake another one where it's like Falcor’s Revenge and have Falcor the Flying Dragon-Dog be a bloodthirsty monster like chomping bullies. And it's like an X-rated slasher film.
Clint: I would absolutely go watch that.
Jey: I was like, This is good. These people have a sense of humor. Like, you would never read that in a Brio magazine.
Clint: It's crazy to me that they only ever made two of those movies. They literally titled it The Never Ending Story, and they made one sequel.
Jey: There were three.
Clint: Still. That's a trilogy. That's not a never ending story. And then you go flip on the other side. How many fucking Final Fantasy’s have they made? A hundred?
Jey: Yeah. Oh, but you're saying it's the Final Fantasy?
Clint: Need to swap those titles.
Jey: Man. The eighties. I don't even remember, like, a lot of culture because everyone else was like, watching Disney. And I'm over here watching McGee and Me.
Clint: We definitely missed out on a lot of pop culture directly because of Focus on the Family.
Jey: It's straight up because of Focus on the Family. We are slowly peeling back the Focus on the Family onions, layers, whatever the fuck.
Clint: Before we get too deep into the magazines. Do you want to talk about just briefly what Focus on the Family is just for a little bit of background?
Jey: A little bit of background. We're focusing today on Focus on the Family, because they're the biggest publisher of Christian magazines. They're also what Clint and I grew up with. So for those not in the know, Focus on the Family is a parachurch organization with $89 to $98 million of a budget annually. As of 2014, they started claiming that they were a church so that they couldn't be taxed. And they told people in the Christian Post that it was so they didn't have to give the names and personal info of their donors to the IRS. And the IRS was cool with it.
Jey: Jim Daly, their new president/CEO, told the New York Times in 2013 that they have a budget of $98 million, a paid staff of 655 and a fervently conservative view of the Bible and American social issues. What this basically means is that they really targeted the homosexual lifestyle. Abortion's a big one. They were started by this guy, Dr. James Dobson, who got really famous for books about disciplining children and stuff.
Clint: Yeah he wrote Dare to Discipline, which is one of the most famous books on child rearing of all time and the reason why an entire generation of parents beat their children. He also hosts a syndicated radio show, has written tons of other books, and he's hugely influential in American politics. He’s a big deal and a terrible person. So Brio. What does Brio mean?
Jey: So it was all over their site back in the early aughts. They say, at least, “Brio is an Italian word that means full of life, energy and enthusiasm. It's the name of our magazine because it's a terrific definition of our readers.”
Clint: That is actually the definition. So that's one thing they did not lie about. That's refreshing.
Jey: Yeah. So the reason that Brio returned, I think it's just really funny. From an NPR article about it, “Officials at Focus on the Family acknowledged it may seem like a strange time to bring back a print publication, but they think that there's a market for it among conservative Christian teenage girls.” It's a way to get kids off their phones and away from technology so they don't learn anything outside of the Christian conservative viewpoint.
Clint: Absolutely, because, I mean, if you've got a magazine, you're not going to click over to another magazine. You're not going to get a suggested video after you finish what you're watching that's going to take you down a different rabbit hole. It's very contained. I think that's definitely a huge appeal of it.
Jey: But what they're actually saying, I think, is referencing that nostalgia.They realize that the old readers are now parents because even back in the day, Brio was marketed towards parents to the point where they had like mother/daughter Brio cruises and articles that would be like “Ten girls that look exactly like their mothers.” Even in the new Brio, it interviews the daughter of Skillet, the band. No kid's going to care about the kid of Skillet.
Clint: The very first issue of the return was Sadie Robertson, the Duck Dynasty daughter/granddaughter who is not really famous in her own right.
Jey: I have a Clubhouse from August 1993 in front of me right now, and you can hear the little paper noise. Wild. They have like user submitted questions or whatever. And I think that the people at Focus on the Family just weren't getting enough submissions or just got bored or something because this is clearly written by an adult. Listen to this. “One of my neighbors' sons is a pest. It's hard to be nice to them, but I try. The Bible says not to pretend to like someone, but I don't want to be mean to him. What should I do? Emily, 9, from Sumter, South Carolina.”
Clint: No nine year old refers to the kid next door as their neighbor’s kid. That kid's the neighbor.
Clint: Jesus Christ, that is so transparently stupid.
Jey: Yeah. So that's what we're looking at today.
Clint: Here's my conspiracy theory, is that all of them are made up. I don't think any actual people were featured for the questions that Brio supposedly answers or Clubhouse answers. All of them read as very fake to me. Now, of course, this might be a byproduct of them being written by a bunch of fucking home schoolers who are only around adults so they sound weird, but I just don't think they're real people.
Jey: Yeah, no, I can see that. They might have. The Brio website back in the day had like a little poll every week and it would show how many people answered the poll. And back in the early 2000’s there would only be like 800 people who answered the poll, which is still a lot.
Clint: I mean, I have to imagine a lot of the kids reading Brio magazine either weren't allowed on the Internet or like didn't really have the Internet back then. So there was a boom for these kinds of magazines, right? In the nineties, early 2000s, there were a lot of publications, all of them folded. When did Focus on the Family stop doing their magazines originally?
Jey: They cut all of their youth division back in 2009, after the recession hit, they laid off all the youth publishing division.
Clint: Magazines were heavily on the decline at that point. They may have just seen the writing on the wall. When did it come back then? So it ended in 2009. By that time, Christian teen magazines were like done-zo. But then they bring back Clubhouse, Clubhouse JR, and Brio. What year is that? 2017?
Jey: 2017. The articles featured the first time that they brought it back are - “Get your social media grade” and “Bruno Mars: worth a listen?” “Finding Mr. Right.”
Clint: Is Bruno Mars worth a listen?
Jey: Honestly, I'm not going to lie. I hate Bruno Mars. It's just his voice. I can't stand him.
Clint: I like Bruno Mars. I think he’s alright. I’ll tell you what I really like though is Selva Rey, Bruno Mars’ rum company. They make a cacao rum that will knock your socks off. Honestly, it’s the only thing that got me through these magazines.
Jey: It was really hard to actually pin down a lot of the background and the reason behind why they chose to get into teen magazine publishing. But as I scrolled through the Wayback Machine, I was able to notice the “about you” changing over time, who the Brio staff was. Definitely going to post this picture on social media, but the first picture that I ever found from the Brio staff was on their website in the early 2000’s, like 2001, maybe. And it's like, “Meet the newest member of Brio staff and Susie's special pal, Jake. He's the purple guy.” And then left to right has four women standing around this guy in a tuxedo and a purple mask - gimp suit? It looks like leather.
Clint: It looks like a gimp suit for sure. Maybe latex?
Jey: No explanation as to who Jake is, why he's Susie's special pal, why he's not showing his face. And then a few years later, he's just gone and replaced by some guy named Rick.
Clint: Rick Was Jake, right? Jake's his gimp name.
Jey: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I see it.
Clint: It's like, it's the exact same picture, basically. It's like one of those, you know, ten years later kind of pictures. Rick's put on a few pounds since he was Jake. That's okay. He probably just couldn't fit into the gimp suit anymore.
Jey: I just - out of all of the photos of your staff, why do you have a man in a purple leather mask for your Christian Girls magazine?
Clint: It's one of the weirdest damn things I've ever seen. And look at Jan there, dude. She's copping a feel.
Jey: It's funny because both Jan and Jake are gone in the picture with Rick and they've replaced her with someone else.
Clint: I mean, yeah, because she was probably stepping on Susie's toes over here, you know, sneaking behind her back, using her gimp. Jan got the boot.
Jey: Okay, so we mentioned Susie. This woman, what a life she has led. So, Susie Shellenberger.
Clint: I love that name.
Jey: All right, so Susie Shell-in-her-burger. No, that's not the name.
Clint: Now, you got me thinking about Susie's burger.
Jey: Oh, man. This woman, she would have an Ask Susie column in Brio, and it would be things like “I fell asleep on a boy's shoulder. Am I sinning?” And then Susie would be like, “Yes.”
Clint: Duh. Did you even need to ask that?
Jey: I don't know what made her the expert in teen girls because she, at least as far as I can find, never married, doesn't have a family.
Clint: Well, it's because she's obviously a lesbian.
Jey: I was going to say she's the most butch, lesbian looking person that's probably not a lesbian. You know, like the butch lesbian, just Christian soccer mom.
Clint: She's somebody who would beat the shit out of you in the church parking lot.
Jey: No kidding though. All of her bios are wild. So, like, I'm on her website right now, and it's like “Susie loves bright colors, the smell of brand new tennis shoes, burnt hot dogs, sock monkeys and laughing till her sides heard.”
Clint: I feel like those are all euphemisms for something. Burnt hot dogs, sock puppets.
Jey: In her bio from the Brio website in the 2000s, it said Susie has a passion for missionary kids (MKs) and for Coke. As she travels the world to speak to MKs, she also picks up a can of Coke to add to her collection at home.
Clint: Yeah, I’ve got a passion for coke too, Susie.
Jey: Anyway, Susie grew up in Bethany, Oklahoma, and attended the Southern Nazarene University, where she served as the first elected female student government president. She received her B.A. in communications with a minor in education.
Clint: The other thing about her bios is they're wild but also extensive.
Jey: So long. She's got her master's in creative writing from the University of Central Oklahoma and was awarded an honorary doctorate of divinity.
Clint: I see. That's how she came up with all that bullshit that's in the magazine. She's a creative writer. Not to backtrack here, but I'm really hung up on this. When she picks up a can of Coke for her collection at home, does she not drink the Coke? She just gets a can of Coke from all around the world, brings the can back, puts it on a shelf. She's got like a fucking trophy cabinet full of Coke cans?
Jey: Well, you know, there's like, different recipes around the world.
Clint: I’m aware. But is she not drinking them? Do you think she was ever able to find a Coke bottle that had her name on it? Susie Shellenberger.
Jey: I don't know about the last name, but the first name for sure. Do you think she had a passion for coke back when it had cocaine in it? Like in the 70’s.
Clint: I mean, I don't like to explain myself, but that was definitely the joke I was making before. But, no, she wasn't alive when Coke had cocaine. That was not the seventies, dude.
Jey: Okay. I took this picture from her bio in the early 2000, and in this picture she looks like she's forty, so.
Clint: Yeah, no, I'm sure she was around in the seventies. I'm saying Coke didn't have cocaine in it in the seventies.
Jey: It didn't?
Clint: People were doing a lot of cocaine in the seventies, but not in Coca Cola form. That was back in the late 1800’s, before they knew how bad cocaine was for you. It was an illegal drug in the seventies. I mean, God, if it were that recent, you could probably still find sealed cans.
Jey: That's what I'm saying.
Clint: I'm going to go down to the antique store tomorrow and be like, “So have you guys got any of that real good Coca-Cola?”
Jey: You got to watch antique stores. My dad bought a Polaroid camera at this one antique store, and I gave it to my roommate and she takes it back to California with her for Christmas break and then opens up where you put the film inside. And there was a bag of like, old stale weed.
Clint: Don't you hate it when, like, something wonderful happens to someone and they're just so conservative that they don't even realize what a gift God has laid in their lap?
Jey: Yeah, they’re just throwing out their weed.
Clint: You went to the antique store and bought a cheap ass Polaroid camera, and you got a bag of antique weed to boot, and you're pissed.
Jey: Yeah, that's some dry aged weed right there.
Clint: So back to Suzie. She's with Brio the whole time. She's the lead editor. She's there for like 20 years, and then it folds. She starts her own magazine. You'll never guess what it’s called, guys.
Jey: It's called Susie. She was against naming it after herself, but the marketing team at the new publishers insisted on using her name as a bridge of familiarity for the Christian teen girls wondering what happened to Brio.
Clint: Was she really that popular?
Jey: Yeah, she toured with Zoe Girl and Super Chick as their keynote speaker. She served as a speaker for Girls of Grace, the Point of Grace conference - for four years and completed two Christmas tours with Rebecca St James as her keynote speaker. She also has spoken at Creation Festival and Alive Festival. So three years later she changed that title to Sisterhood magazine, which has also since become disbanded.
Clint: Before we move on from Susie Shellenberger, I do think we need to mention the fact that she had her own cruise where you could cruise with Suze.
Jey: Oh, God. I don't understand. Did she just say like, she's going on a cruise and just invited the world to go with her or like-
Clint: I mean, I imagine it's like how they do those bands, right? Like how they do like a music cruise. It was probably Suze on there and like some other evangelical speakers and they do seminars and you get, you know, you can cruise with Suze, you schmooze with Suze. Probably didn't drink any booze with Suze. What a boring cruise. Can you imagine being trapped on a fucking boat with these people? I mean, that is hyper focused on the family. There's no escape.
Jey: Well, I guess it must have been piggybacking off of Brio. They used to run a mother/daughter cruise so this is another reason why I say Brio's for adults because a mother daughter cruise? I could think of nothing that teenage girls would want less. “Cruise with Suzy to the Mexican Riviera. Join me on the seven day Mexican Riviera cruise aboard Carnival's newest ship, The Panorama.” This was in 2021. So like, after all those people stop getting sick on the ships in 2020. And then they were just like, you know what? Get people back out on the ocean, Susie Schellenberger.
Clint: Let’s load it back up! She's done multiple ones. In 2019, she did an Alaskan cruise.
Jey: There was a Migraine Beach ATV adventure. I cannot think of a place I would want to go less than Migraine Beach.
Clint: I'm sure everybody had a fucking migraine by the time they got off that boat and onto the beach.
Jey: For real, though. They had 24 hour pizza and 24 hour ice cream.
Clint: Was it for 12 year olds? I mean, do they have a Mountain Dew fountain?
Jey: First class dining.
Clint: I went on a cruise one time with my family, and the only thing that got me through it was being drunk the whole time. I can't even imagine being there with people I like even less. And also not drinking.
Jey: Yeah, I mean, it doesn't say not drinking, but I'm just assuming that.
Clint: They were not drinking.
Clint: If you or anyone you know did a Cruise with Suze, please contact us because I would love to chat and schmooze about Suze. We got some other people that were involved, right?
Jey: Yeah, so there were several people. There was the associate editor, but she didn't have a column. Her name was Marty McCormick, and she was the person who was in charge of updating the website. And she led Bible studies for teen girls and single women. And her bio in the year 2000 says this month she's gearing up for a trek to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to visit Bible translators who live there with a Native American tribe. Just filing that under the colonization of white Christianity theme or whatever.
Clint: I mean, they've been driven to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Leave them alone.
Jey: For real. But they're going there to visit the Bible translators who live there.
Clint: Marty McCormick just rappelling down the Grand Canyon. “I'm bringing Jesus to you whether you want it or not!”
Jey: Oh, my God. And then Kathy Gallagher was the events coordinator who coordinated the Brio mission trips and Brio’s mother/daughter cruise. She was the editorial assistant and they also included in her bio, “Although spare time is rare in her busy household, Kathy enjoys skiing, sewing, baking and decorating her home.”
Clint: She should put a little more time into fixing her hair, maybe add that to the list of interests, Kathy.
Jey: She used bedroom hair by Kevin Murphy and just made it go a little bit “woo!” We are just roasting the shit out of these people. Now the new editor of Brio, she writes letters and stuff and it just says “Love, Laura.” Doesn’t post the name
Clint: It's just Laura?
Clint: No, here we go. Here we go. It's at the back. Here it is. Laura Potcotter.
Clint: Laura Potcotter and Susie Shellen- I can't even say it. Susie Shellenberger and Laura Potcotter. It sounds made up. It's ridiculous. Not only do I think the questions are made up, I'm starting to think these people are made up.
Jey: Maybe they have pen names so they don't put their real name behind this.
Clint: Who in god's name would pick Laura Potcotter as their pen name? Why is the copy chief a man? Explain that to me.
Jey: Oh, because you can't just have-
Clint: Can't just let a bunch of women run this magazine for women?
Jey: Exactly. And these people are different from the people who do Clubhouse, because the editor of Clubhouse is Jesse Floria.
Clint: They’ve all got their own teams.
Jey: We're not focusing on Clubhouse in this.
Clint: Now, what if I dressed up like Jake, the purple guy for Halloween, do you think anyone would understand the reference?
Jey: Absolutely not. You would have to wear a tuxedo with a purple gimp suit underneath and go into Focus on the Family headquarters.
Clint: It's kind of a bad ass costume even if people don't get it. It's gimpy, but it's kind of like a cyborg, too. He's got a Cyclops on X-Men kind of situation where it's like, you know, the slit around his head for his eyes. If I ever come across Susan, I'll definitely ask her. You know, if she's got a Q&A, I'll wait in line, I'll get up there, get the microphone, “So, Suze, what's the deal with Jake, the purple guy?”
Clint: Let’s get into the actual content of these magazines.
Jey: There's so much to get into. I'm just going to try to keep it brief.
Clint: Yeah, we just got to hit the highlights here. I mean, obviously they had hundreds of issues.
Jey: But we're just going to hit a few things that I found problematic. So, Brio, it was pretty heavy on purity culture. It featured things like an Ask Susie column. There was an Ask the Doctor column they also had Plugged In, which is another, I think, Focus on the Family magazine.
Clint: Which is Focus on the Family’s media review arm. They have columns in lots of their magazines talking about music, movies, video games, etc. We’re going to be doing a whole episode on Christian media censorship next month, so more to come on that.
Jey: What Brio did was try to be relevant to teen girls at the time, but in doing that they would talk about topics that of course sheltered Christian Girls hadn't heard of until they read it in Brio. It was like talking about blowjobs, like don't, don't do blowjobs. And they took notes because they had never heard of blowjobs before.
Clint: I didn't know what masturbating was until I read James Dobson's Preparing for Adolescence.
Jey: That's exactly what this is. It's like they would talk about things, and because they talk about them, the kids would then go and do them because they wanted to rebel.
Clint: They're making these magazines to try to prevent kids from doing stuff that they don't approve of. But the kids who actually read this shit are so sheltered, they don't know what it is anyway.
Jey: Like teen girls aren't writing into doctors about their- I'm sorry, but they're not Reader's Digest.
Clint: I don’t believe for a second that conservative evangelical girls were writing-in about their periods. We read stories all the time about adults raised in purity culture who can’t say vagina at 40. A 15 year old growing up in that world isn’t going to talk about her period in a nationwide magazine. Those were written by staff for sure.
Jey: And we found all sorts of old issues. We found this one from the nineties that is like it's an article sponsored by Wal Mart and it's called The Pajama Party. And it's just a bunch of people wearing pajamas, like, it's so gay, it's so gay. And even new Brio, it's like articles about “isn't it so great being a girl” and then the article is just like “you can wear makeup.”
Clint: So can I Brio, so can I.
Jey: So there was some positive body image because they tried to teach that women aren't objects, but then would talk about how women are objects because they need to get married.
Clint: They do not subvert the patriarchy ever. Even in the new ones.
Jey: No. There was some questionable advice in Brio too. And content warning, we’re gonna be discussing eating disorders for just a minute here. So there would be a question and answer with the doctor. And the person writing in was like, “I'm five feet six inches tall and 15 years old. How much should I weigh?” And then the doctors said, “For young women, the ideal body weight is usually stated as 100lbs for the first five feet and then 5lbs per inch. So you should weigh 130lbs”. And like there were people on Reddit talking about how that fucked them up for a life. Then there was a three part series about a girl with an eating disorder and it went into so much detail that one girl on Reddit was like, “I didn't know anything about eating disorders before. But after reading this article about a girl who struggled with bulimia, I struggled with it for the rest of my life.” So they definitely didn't filter out as much as they should have.
There were other things that just didn't sit right with me too. That’s all for eating disorders but we’re going to be getting into SA a bit here. There was one thing where a girl wrote in, “My cousin molested me when I was ten, and now I'm worried that he might do it again. I'm 13 now and he drops hints every time I see him. I'm afraid to tell my parents that I need some advice.” Susie Shellenberger writes back, “It saddens me that you've experienced this. And because it's abuse within the family, it's actually called incest. It's against the law and it's a sin. But you need to tell your parents and your cousin needs help.” There are just so many better ways that she could have responded to this. “It saddens me that you've experienced this” just feels wrong.
Most of these questions would be in the magazine and also stay on their site for like a month. But they posted one question that quickly disappeared, “I'm 14 and attracted older guys like 23 years old. See, my dad works at a Christian college and he's always bringing home really cute, great Christian guys. Therefore, I meet a lot of older guys. I'm a dreamer and I often sit and question stuff like age. I mean, why should it matter if two people really like each other? Why should age have anything to do with their relationship?” But they apparently deleted the answer and I couldn't find it anywhere.
Clint: Here's my question: why was her dad always bringing home really cute guys from the college?
Jey: I feel like this is a youth leader or someone that wrote in who is 23. I feel like it's the opposite.
Clint: It's a 23 year old who was interested in this 14 year old girl that he knows from church.
Jey: Yeah, there was another thing called “Help for Teens.” If you need guidance and knowing what to do and where to turn and how to think through the events of September 11th, check out the Focus on the Family resource, “Why God, Why?” Of course, you have to pay for it.
Clint: Honestly, I ask that question every single day. I wake up in the morning and I say, “Why, God, why?”
Jey: There was another thing it was talking about: “When it comes to peer pressure, I just can't say no. It started out with lying to my parents, but now I'm swearing, skipping class and sometimes even smoking. I want to say no, but I can’t. I'm worried about bigger things now. Like what to say to a guy if he tries to force me to get physically involved. How do I work up the courage to simply say no to this stuff?” And of course, Susie, instead of saying like you can say no, like you should have consent - remember, consent is not a thing that people understand in purity culture, because if you want sex, you’re sinning. She just basically says, “It's hard to go against the grain, but if we want to live as Jesus wants us to live, then we have to do it. And God never said it was going to be easy. And bottom line, we do what we want to do. If you want to live a life pleasing to the Lord, you'll say no to the pressure and stand alone. And if God really isn't the King of your life, then you don't want him to be. So the decision is yours.”
Clint: Bottom line, we do what we want to do? That is just setting this girl up to blame herself if she gets assaulted.
Jey: Exactly. Exactly. It's just gross. There was a whole article that I found about how Wicca isn't real, and the power that Wicca offers is limited and made up and bogus. Because keep in mind that Wicca is a man made religion.
Clint: Wait, is it limited or is it made up? Because it can't be both.
Clint: And if it's totally bogus, why are they always so concerned about it? It's because they actually think it's real. Christians, more than anyone in the world, believe magic is real, that people can call on dark powers for magic, in ways that Wiccans don't even believe in.
Jey: Yes, there is another thing, and it was talking about boys, and it was this whole article and it was like, “There are a few things I need to remember about guys, whether I'm dating them or just friends with them. The first one is this - say it with me - brother. That's what they are first, brothers in Christ.
Clint: Oh God.
Jey: So not only should you be guarding your heart, but theirs too.
Clint: Yes, because it’s the girls’ responsibility to make sure the boys don’t stumble.
Jey: But that's not even the worst of it. They published an article called “Know That You Know,” which is all about how to defend your faith against people who approve of homosexuality. And I loved this article because, you know, I was closeted gay and so I just-
Clint: You were in a closet of some kind. You were Babadooking.
Jey: I wanted to minister to the gays first. And then I was changed from that to being an ally. And then from there I realized, no, I'm just queer.
Clint: Well, you realize that that's literally the homosexual agenda, and it worked on you. I hope you're happy. That's how it starts. You want to evangelize to them. Then you want to be friends with them. Then you’re gonna affirm them. Next thing you know, you're one of them.
Jey: So it's about how to defend your faith against people who approve of homosexuality. And I would read it again and again. So I knew how to minister to people in the LGBTQ lifestyle. It came out when I was in middle school. So around the time that a lot of people started realizing their sexuality. And so I brought this article into my art class.
Clint: So what did you learn about the gays from Brio?
Jey: It's just the 2008 arguments against homosexuality: “Important! As Christians, we need to be kind and loving towards people who are living in ways that are not good for them.” That's so rude. It gives you like 12 different arguments that people will argue and then how you're supposed to respond. So “Homosexuals are being discriminated against. They deserve protected class status. Your response: Let's start by talking about what discrimination really is. African-Americans have a history of being discriminated against. The community may be criticized, as are the Christian community and mothers who breastfeed their babies.” No, this is not the same thing-
Clint: Not the same at all. I'm a big fan of the number eight. “Argument: I believe I can live a homosexual lifestyle and still be a Christian. Your response: First, you can also believe your professional tennis player, but simply because you believe something doesn't make it so. Second, what's your definition of a Christian?”
Jey: Wow. Another one of these - “Argument: It's perfectly normal that teens learn homosexuality is an alternative lifestyle. After all, homosexuals were born that way just as heterosexuals were born heterosexuals. Your response, even pro-gay researchers admit that no one is born gay.” That is not true. And Focus on the Family has been called out several times by the research authors who they quote, not in this article, but like in other articles where the researchers have straight up said, “Focus on the Family, you're never allowed to use my research again because my research said almost the exact opposite of what Focus on the Family was trying to portray.” They do cite going to ExodusYouth.net, which Exodus International has closed their doors and apologized for all the people that they've hurt. But Focus on the Family has not apologized to the gay community that I found.
Clint: Nor will they.
Jey: They're like, “Even if people are born gay, which we don't believe, we still need to ask, is this the way people were designed to be? It seems pretty clear biologically, let alone from a biblical view, that a man and a woman were designed to fit together sexually.” Look, someone else can fit a dick in an ass.
Clint: It fits. I mean, not always, but usually.
Jey: Oh, God, this pisses me off: “If we teach homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle, then why not offer substance abuse and gluttony as viable alternative lifestyles and practices as well?” First of all, stop being fat phobic as fuck. Argument: “Homosexuality is not a choice. People wouldn't simply choose to be attracted to the same sex.” I've heard I had a friend tell me that last week they were like, “It would be so much simpler if I wasn't a lesbian.”
Clint: Especially growing up, no one would choose to be something that's going to make their life harder.
Jey: “Many homosexuals say, ‘I've been this way since I can remember.’ That proves they were born homosexuals.”
Clint: I love this response.
Jey: Response: “As long as I remember, I've lived in the house on 34 Central Avenue, but that doesn't mean I was born there. No one can remember being born.” Just shut the fuck up. Argument: “God is love. Therefore he has to love the gay person. And how could he send someone he loves to hell?” Your response: “Yes. According to the Bible, God is love, but the Bible also describes God as holy. Just perfect and right.”
Clint: Which is the opposite of a homosexual, I guess?
Jey: Assholes. Why would you write this in a thing for teen girls? They don't assume that like any kids reading for you would be gay.
Clint: Oh, no, no, no, no. This is absolutely written for straight people to accost gay people.
Jey: Ughhhh. “Loving someone doesn't mean I have to affirm a sinful lifestyle and say that it's no longer sinful. Being tolerant isn't always a virtue. Tolerance applies to people, but not to sin.” I feel like I'm talking to my mom right now.
Clint: This love the sinner, hate the sin stuff. It's. It's bullshit.
Jey: Yeah, because you're not loving them. You're not walking with them. You're not actually, like, enjoying their company.
Clint: Making someone feel like shit all the time is not love.
Jey: No, it's not. And I'm tired of these people claiming that it is.
Clint: So let's talk about the new Brio. It came back in 2017 and it really is a completely different magazine, a whole new vibe. James Dobson has stepped down from Focus on the Family in the interim. Jim Daly is running the show now, and he's a little more soft around the edges. Overall, it's really not that bad. It has a hipster, Aerie by American Eagle vibe to it, a lot of pastel colors and desert landscapes and that kind of shit. I feel like it encourages healthy living and self-care without being problematic. And I think the fashion advice is what really struck me as being different. One article I saw was about summer swimsuits. They featured several swimsuit options, all very modest, but it wasn’t prescriptive. Nowhere did it say you shouldn’t wear a two-piece. And the options they presented were nice, like, they looked super cute. It just doesn’t feel nearly as gross to offer viable, modest options and leave it at that. They certainly don’t accuse the reader of sinning if they wear skimpier swimwear.
Jey: I really like how it does say here you have a beautiful you have a unique and beautiful body and shape and not every swimsuit is going to be the perfect fit. There's a lot more body positivity. They said that they were body positive in old Brio, but this one actually feels body positive.
Clint: Another thing interesting about that issue is that they completely ignored the pandemic. It was the April/May 2020 issue, so they would probably have been planning a lot of this stuff before the pandemic happened. But still, they put a prom hair article in that issue and like, nobody was going to prom. In terms of the articles themselves, they feature a lot of girls and women who are successful in their own right. It's not about them in relation to their husbands. It's actually about empowered, successful women. Now, granted, almost all of them still credit God for their success, but that's a little different. I mean, it's a Christian magazine. It's going to put forward Christian beliefs, but it's not being super problematic about it.
Jey: I'm glad that they've reformed just a little.
Clint: I read two full issues of the new series and the number one criticism I have comes from an article about gun violence in schools. They completely avoid the teen martyr trope that was popular back in the Columbine days, so that’s good, but they fell into the more contemporary conservative trap of simply learning to live with mass shootings instead of actually addressing the problem.
And the article perpetuates the common evangelical refrain that gun violence is simply a result of sin and sin can’t be stopped, so we shouldn’t even try. The purpose of the article was to address the anxiety kids are feeling in the wake of all this violence but the only solace they offered was to trust in god, which isn’t particularly helpful. And this was also frustrating when taking into account Focus on the Family’s posture on gun control in general. They’re very pro-gun, anti-gun control. Jim Daly, who, as we mentioned, is running things now, wrote a recent entry to the Focus on the Family blog saying, “You can't legislate away evil. No laws on the books can change the human heart. What these students should be protesting and discussing is the lost culture they've inherited from us,” referencing the March for Our Lives. “It's a lost culture that mocks or ignores God and his timeless teaching, living for only carnal pleasures and temporary thrills. We're living through a moral freefall, but few in positions of influence are willing to talk about it. Instead, we hear much talk about its symptoms like gun violence. And many of these same people want to ban the very things that will lead to healing and revival.” I’m not entirely sure what he means by that, but he goes on to blame gun violence on everything from fatherless homes to legal marijuana and abortion. They attribute mass shootings and gun violence to the hold sin has on our world, when really it should be attributed to specific policy decisions that Republicans have made over the past several decades. It can be prevented and the only reason it happens here is because we let it.
At the end of the Brio article, when talking about reducing anxiety, and it says, “It's important to remember how seldom these tragic events actually happen.” But, you know, in 2022, there were 647 mass shootings and 44,000 gun violence related deaths. So it isn’t that seldom. In fact, it’s pretty fucking common. But that aside, I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the new Brio overall.
Jey: Yeah, compared to the stuff that I read earlier about the old Brio, I think the new Brio does sound a little bit toned down.
Clint: And a lot less tone deaf.
Jey: Let's talk about Breakaway for just a brief second.
Clint: Yes, just to reiterate, Breakaway is the boys version of Brio. And it did not make a comeback. It died in 2009. Never resurrected.
Jey: I have a copy from May 1992 in front of me.
Clint: Two months after I was born.
Jey: One thing I thought that was really interesting was instead of pajama parties and make up and the homosexual agenda, Breakaway just talks about sports and getting an internship so you can go work at the capital and it is featured on the cover, “In the life of three Capital Hill Gophers.” And it just basically is like showing you what you can do as a career and how you can get involved in evangelical politics.
Clint: Breakaway had a much bigger focus on the reader’s future. Career, college, adulthood, becoming a man. Aside from that, much of the content was about what media is bad. Turns out it's pretty much everything. They really focused on video games, of course. Every issue, they had a video game review. I don't know when that started, I’m guessing the late nineties. And no video game was ever good enough. The only totally positive review for a video game I could find from Breakaway during its entire run was for NASCAR 2009.
Jey: Oh my God. Are you kidding? Yeah. Uh huh.
Clint: That was the only one that had no critiques, no notes - NASCAR 2009. Even Madden football games were too much because they have secular music and pixelated cheerleaders. There was a lot of concern about violence in video games, which I find very ironic because evangelicals don't give a shit about violence generally. In fact, they fucking love it. But I think it somehow ties into the gun violence debate. It's a convenient scapegoat for them to say these video games are what's causing gun violence. It's not the guns, it's not our lack of policies. Let's just blame these video games. I did find one article that I really got a kick out of. I don’t have much to say about the article itself, but it's titled “Anime and Manga with God Goggles.” They appreciated the animation style and they thought it was very cool. But there was too much violence and too much magic. Even a movie like Spirited Away was like too much for them. Too much mysticism. This hints at another common trope of these magazines though. They rave about how cool and fun anime is, but conclude that the reader should not watch it. And they do this a lot with all kinds of media. The game reviews were always like, “Yeah, this game is sick but also you shouldn’t play it because it’s sinful.”
Jey: There is a Plugged In section in Brio and it was called High Voltage. They had this huge thing against Twilight and there was a girl on Reddit that was like, “I was so mad that they were against Twilight. I even wrote in about how it had good morals and stuff because, you know, Stephanie Meyer was Mormon. She made Bella like, Wait till marriage.”
Clint: I read something about Harry Styles in the New Brio and they were like, “Yeah, he's an amazing musician and he puts together beautiful arrangements and stage shows. But dot dot dot, you should probably avoid it.
Jey: Yeah for real. There was one that was like “R. Kelley - talent or turn off” and they were against R. Kelley which, you know what? That’s good.
Clint: I feel like there was some sort of trapped in the closet joke to be made there, but I can't figure out what it is.
Jey: In the same article, “I heard Katy Perry's song I Kissed a Girl. What's up with that?”
Clint: What’s up with that?
Jey: And it's just like, “If this were just an obscure download about a woman's rush from an alcohol induced lip lock with a female stranger, that would be disturbing enough. But the fact that it went to number one elevates it to a whole new level of creepy. Does America really need to hear Katy Perry gush about the forbidden thrill of tasting another girl's Chapstick? To find out what God thinks about same sex marriage experimentation, check out blah, blah, blah, verse.
Clint: America does need to know. I'm very interested, actually.
Jey: Yeah, I think that was one of my gay awakenings. I didn't realize it.
Clint: Yeah, it was everyone’s gay awakening.
Clint: Let's do some quizzes.
Jey: Yeah! Favorite part.
Clint: What do you want to learn first, your friendship style or what flavor popsicle you are?
Jey: We can figure out friendship style. Is it like love languages, but for friendship?
Clint: Kind of, yeah. These are both quizzes from New Brio. Not all friends are the same. We all express friendship in different ways depending on the gifts God has given us. Take this quiz to discover what type of friend you are and how you can use your gifts. Number one, it's a multiple choice situation here. Your friend is upset because she just failed a major test. You A) sit quietly with her, rubbing her shoulders while she cries.
Clint: B) buy her favorite candy for her as a reward for trying or C) offer to help her study for her retake. Okay, she gets a retake it? Fucking homeschoolers, dude, I swear to God.
Jey: Yeah. Just sitting with her and rubbing her shoulders as she cries sounds like the most homosexual option there. But I'm going to choose to offer to help her study.
Clint: Okay. Number two: for your friend's birthday you A) spend hours choosing the perfect gift and then spend almost as much time finding the right words for her card, B) break out all your crafting supplies to decorate her locker because everyone needs to know it's her birthday or C) offer to help her choose her party outfit, make the guest list and send the invitations.
Jey: I would spend hours choosing the perfect gift.
Clint: Number three, you overhear someone saying mean things about your friend behind her back. You A) call her after school to comfort her since she's bound to have heard the rumors by then, B) send her texts all afternoon so she knows she's the best friend ever, C) immediately tell the gossipers to mind their own business.
Jey: What the fuck? No, I would just tell them to mind their own business.
Clint: Absolutely. Nip it in the bud. While ice skating, your friend falls and hurts her leg. Do you A) grab some hot chocolate for both of you and keep her company on the bench, B) let her rest for 5 minutes and then encourage her to come back out on the ice.
Jey: That is not okay.
Clint: Or C) help her get off the ice and check her leg for swelling. It seems like you should do that one regardless.
Jey: Yeah, like, hold on. I would do C and then I would just sit on the bench with her afterwards. But I'm not going to be a shitty friend and just be like, okay, 5 minutes. Let's go. Come on. You got this.
Clint: You think Christ died on the cross for you to sit on the bench? All right, last question on friendship style. Your friend gets the flu and is stuck in bed all week. Do you A) bring her a get well card and a box of herbal tea to help her feel better, B) make a huge “you'll be feeling better soon” card for her and deliver it with a bunch of balloons or C) call every day to see if she needs any work from school or medicine from the store.
Jey: I'm going to bring her some tea.
Clint: You are a helping friend. You show your friendship through filling needs (Galatians 6:2). Your friends know that if something's wrong, you'll try your best to fix it. You can use your helpfulness by working with your friend on homework or teaching her a new hobby. But don't be offended if your friend doesn't want your help all the time. Sometimes she may want to try things herself. So you just, you got to back off a little, Jesus.
Jey: That's fair. That's fine. I want to find out what type of popsicle you are now. What popsicle flavor you? It's time to break out the cool treats in honor of summer. But don't just pick any popsicle flavor. Take this quiz to find out which one just might match your personality.
Clint: All right, lay it on me.
Jey: School's out for the summer. You can't wait to A) tackle your summer goals, B) hang out with friends C) you volunteer at the animal shelter, D) organize your room or E) figure out where the school year went.
Clint: I'm going to go hang out with friends.
Jey: Be on the beach you A) divide everyone into teams for games, B) listen to music with your friends, C) talk with the new girl, D) read a book, or E) discover you left your towel at home.
Clint: I don't like prescribed activities. I'm going to go with listen to music, but only Plugged In approved music, obviously.
Jey: Three: on a summer mission trip you A) make the group introductions B) sing on the worship team C) drop people in with conversation D) run the sound booth or E) frantically look up phrases in your English Spanish dictionary. Wow.
Clint: Wow. I hate this one. Definitely sound booth, D.
Jey: Yeah, same.
Clint: At least you can keep your head down. Maybe nobody will take your picture.
Jey: Four: you hope this summer will be A) full of new adventures B) packed with activity C) and opportunity to help others D) quiet or E) long.
Clint: Full of new adventures.
Jey: People most often describe you as A) a leader B) full of laughter C) loving D) a loner or E) quirky.
Clint: God, I don't know. I don't feel like people often describe me to me. Definitely not loving and not full of laughter.
Jey: Are you a loner?
Clint: I don't know. I don't think so. I'm probably going to go with quirky.
Jey: What will you wear to your friend's last day of school Bonfire celebration? A) the latest style B) something bright and cheerful C) your most comfortable outfit D) jeans and a t-shirt - I feel like that's redundant E) whatever falls out of the closet when you open it.
Clint: Honestly, I feel like it's none of these. Bright and cheerful seems a little extreme. I wouldn't say the latest style, but I do try to be fashionable. I'm not into comfort.
Jey: You wore a sequined suit to a Christmas party.
Clint: I'm going to go B. I think that probably is the closest. Yeah.
Jey: All right. What do you expect to be doing in ten years? A) leading a nonprofit organization B) performing Christian comedy. Wait.
Clint: Why is it Christian comedy?
Jey: Isn't that what we're doing right now?
Clint: Fuck. Kinda.
Jey: C) working in an overseas orphanage D) writing computer programs or E) discovering new passions and talents.
Clint: I'm going to go with Christian comedy.
Jey: Honestly, same. I mean, I like that they included writing computer programs, though. That is nice girls in tech. It's important that your friends are A) loyal B) fun, C) compassionate D) logical or E) understanding.
Clint: D. Logical, for sure.
Jey: Oh God. Why are we friends?
Clint: I don't know.
Jey: Wow. Hmm.
Clint: Okay, so I've tallied our results here. There are five potential outcomes. You could be a blastin’ blueberry, a marvelous melon, a gushing grape, a lasting lemon, or a superb strawberry. Now, these are obviously all flavors of lube that exist, but we are actually both marvelous melons.
Clint: You're the life of the party. But sometimes you shrug off responsibility because you'd rather have fun. Instead, consider reaching out to new kids at work and church. Invite others to join you for activities where they'll hear about Jesus. Come on, you can witness the kids at your job down at the Chick-Fil-A.
Jey: All right, so…
Clint: Let’s wrap it up. One thing as we're closing up here that I do want to say is that Focus on the Family has worked very hard to cultivate a softer image over the past few years, and that's definitely reflected in the new Brio magazine. It feels much less problematic. But despite all of that, the things Focus on the Family is doing behind the scenes, their political action work, the legislation that they support, the politicians they support, that hasn't changed at all. And it's still staunchly anti-gay and anti-abortion and anti-progress. The organization hasn’t changed. They've just slapped a new coat of paint on it. We were directly contrasting the old Brio, old teen magazines with the new one. And the new one does feel much, much better. I think maybe a few years from now we're going to look back and find all kinds of problems with it that we don't even realize yet. I wouldn't recommend it to kids. I recommend Cosmo or 17 either. Maybe, I don't know, get your kids a fucking book.
Jey: Like, even if this has better body positivity, at what cost? It's still echoing vague purity culture stuff.
Clint: And it does continually point to God and the church as being the solution to all of your problems. That's very prevalent in Christian culture right now. But God is not the solution to mass shootings. Gun control is. God's not the solution to depression or anxiety or sexual assault. There are solutions to these things, but it ain't God.
Jey: Yeah, everything you said. Anyway, Focus on the Family hasn't changed much. We definitely will get into Focus on the Family in more episodes, but if you do want to know more about them as an organization, I really recommend the Behind the Bastards episodes on Focus on the Family.
Clint: It's a fun listen. It's not too heavy, but they do get into the nitty gritty of all the fucked up stuff Focus on the Family has done through the years and it's a lot. And frankly, they barely even scratch the surface of all of the shit Focus of the Family has been up to through the years. They're just everywhere. They're hiding in every fucking corner. Let's wrap this up. You have some shout outs that you want to do.
Jey: Yeah, as I was researching this, I found out about several groups that have protested Focus on the Family in the past, Lesbian Avengers being one of them. Soul Force being another. Also merch. We are now selling merch on howgaythouart.com - hoodies, bags, shirts, sweatpants, stickers, fanny packs. Also Patreon - we are releasing additional minisodes with each episode now.
Clint: And we want to just thank all of you for listening and sharing the podcast with your friends and families and therapists and ex-boyfriends. We can't thank you enough. It's amazing to hear from everyone. We would love to hear more because it makes us feel really good about ourselves. So get on our website, submit stories, send us fan mail or hate mail or whatever, fucking cocktail recipes. We're going to be back in two weeks with another spooky episode about Chick Tracts, which if you don't know what those are, I guarantee you've seen one at a truck stop bathroom somewhere along the way.
Jey: See you next time, gaybies.