By Ron Belgau
Real men cuddle.
Sam Francis is a man with a mission: to provide an alternative voice for gay men who want more from gay culture than ads for killer abs and articles about sex, drugs, and HIV. Arrow Magazine, his newly launched webzine for gay men, takes a different slant on gay culture: it is the first and only magazine aimed at gay men that features monogamy, romance, commitment, and a balanced approach to life.
Who is the man behind the magazine, and how did he get where he is today?
Born in Utah, Sam Francis belonged to the Mormon Church in childhood, though his family was not active in the church. When he was 7, he converted to Catholicism with his family. At 13, he founded a candy business, and at 16 he won the Governor's Young Entrepreneur award. A graduate of a Catholic High School, he was a Congressional appointee to West Point, but chose instead to go to Gonzaga University, a Jesuit school in Spokane, Washington. At Gonzaga, he earned a double degree in journalism and speech communication.
But through all the success, there was a terrible secret: Sam Francis, successful, motivated, a pillar of the church, was gay. He did everything he could to hide it. He dated girls. He almost got engaged once. He was involved for a time with an ultra-conservative fundamentalist church. He was also accepted as a candidate for the Catholic priesthood at Moreau Seminary in South Bend, Indiana, to study theology at the University of Notre Dame. But that was interrupted when he came out of the closet and moved to Los Angeles to start Arrow Magazine.
He remembers his time before coming out as a "really an awful mess of hiding and covering up, feeling guilty and lying." He had become involved in the fundamentalist church, in part as a way of running from his sexuality. But he realized that amidst the energy and emotionalism, he was not growing spiritually. He began to turn back to his Catholic roots, hoping that celibacy and the priesthood would offer a way for him to deal with his homosexual feelings.
Ironically, it was his preparation for the priesthood that helped him to come to terms with his sexuality and come out. As part of his preparation, he went for "spiritual direction" to a Jesuit priest. With the help of the priest, he dug into the deep issues of his life, and realized that he had to face his sexuality, that he could not go on suppressing it as he had. This priest has been 100% supportive of him as he has tried to face his sexuality.
Today, he focuses more on spirituality than religion, though he is quick to point out that "religion" is, at its best, an organized and communal form of spirituality. Gay men, though, have become very distanced from religion, and Francis hopes that Arrow Magazine will be a place where they can explore spirituality, something that is often ignored in the larger gay community, perhaps because gays are often marginalized in conservative churches. Because he believes that everyone has something to offer, he hopes that Arrow will be a forum for people to share their spirituality and learn from each other.
Though he gave up celibacy and the priesthood, he still looks with great respect to his Jesuit background. St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, taught his followers to live for others, and that actions spoke louder than words. Francis wants his spirituality to be a spirituality of action, reaching out to the world and helping others.
He believes that gays have a unique opportunity to make a difference for marginalized communities, bringing social justice to the oppressed. Gay men come from every ethnic group and every socioeconomic level. Gays know what it means to be oppressed, and because they come from every segment of society, they are in a unique position to cross boundaries in helping others who have been oppressed.
He certainly knows something about pain and oppression. He went to a Catholic High School in Utah, where there was not a lot of support available, to say the least. When he came out to his parents, his father flipped out, and his mother was crying and yelling. Later, his mother called him a "child of Satan," and told him to leave his life of sin. After he came out, there was a year of silence between him and his parents. Today, they have still made little progress toward accepting him. Even the Catholic Bishop's letter last fall did not seem to increase their acceptance of him.
In addition to all these external torments, there was the inner tormentor, known to all who have grown up gay, which constantly reminded him that he was worthless because of his sexuality, which made him try to hide from himself.
Today, Francis is 23, no longer running in fear, and ready to make a difference in the world. He views writing as an opportunity to recreate moments so that others can experience love and compassion in life. He hopes through Arrow to do just that. But writing is not the only way to affect the world. He believes that every gift, every talent, is given to us so that we can give it back to the community.
Music is another important way for him to give back to the community. He has been taking voice lessons for many years, and is pursuing a professional singing career on the side. While he was living in Spokane, he did outreach work for a local opera company, singing for different groups to give them an introduction to the world of opera. Today, he sings for several major congregations in the Los Angeles area, and he recently auditioned for the Los Angeles Opera.
One of the people who made a great difference in his life was his voice teacher, Jean Stone. She was a mentor in music for him, but she was also much more. While he was coming out and going through hell with his parents, he was also taking voice lessons from her. He did not tell her what was going on, but she sensed that something was wrong, because he was despondent and losing weight. Each week when he came for his lesson, she had an extraordinarily rich chocolate fudge cake waiting for him. When he did come out to her, her only rebuke was that he should have told her sooner so that she could have helped more.
In addition to this deeply personal support, Francis also benefited greatly from the professional mentoring he received by his editors at the Gonzaga Spokesman-Review, who encouraged him to try to get inside the issues, and made him a better, more effective writer.
He identifies two heroes, both journalists. The first is John F. Kennedy, Jr., whom he admires for his ability to get people to care about political issues. And the second is Michelangelo Signorile, whom he admires for his efforts at redefining what gay culture means and challenging gays not to be perpetual adolescents.
He believes that sometimes, we need to be made uncomfortable in order to grow. He hopes that maybe Arrow will help facilitate that, challenging gay men to move past the perpetual adolescence of the circuit parties and grow up to mature and meaningful lives.
But beyond Sam Francis the gay journalist, beyond Sam Francis the recovering fundamentalist, beyond Sam Francis the activist who has a vision for the gay community, there is another Sam Francis: the real man who cuddles and shares his life with his partner, his lover, his best friend. Francis describes his partner, Paul Horne, as "truly the most beautiful, supportive and caring man I have ever known." Shortly after he had met and fallen in love with Paul, Francis said in an interview, "Can I just tell you how amazing it is to be in love? I have found someone in the last couple months that has absolutely redefined all of my ideas about myself and the world. I am learning, finally, after years of pent up energy guarding myself-- how incredible it is to let someone in. And I am realizing in the process that there is a whole wonderful world out there for young men to explore. There is a healthy, integrated, exciting, sexy, beautiful world of love that men can have. I think my own life experience has shown me that being gay can be more than just being honest. It can be a celebration of life."
Horne, the man with whom Francis celebrates life together, is a talented and successful screenwriter and acclaimed columnist for Detour Magazine, where he writes the monthly "Enough About You" segment. He is also president of High Road Productions, Arrow's publishing company. He also serves as Executive Editor of Arrow, and Francis calls him "a driving force behind the Arrow vision."
But he is more to Francis than just a successful business partner. "He taught me how to open my heart-- to love again. He showed me the priceless truth that a life lived in love far outweighs one lived in fear." There are all of the little things about Horne that strike Francis his love for dogs, eating watermelon, playing with new software and hi-tech toys, watching Nick and Nite, and kids.
According to Horne, Francis is sometimes a rather intense person. "He says I don't have enough of a sense of humor," Francis says, laughing. Yet somehow, together, these two men blend their talents to complement and balance each other out.
And for now, they are both working hard to make Arrow get off the ground. How will their vision impact our community? Francis wants Arrow Magazine to be "a celebration of all of life... the joys, the bliss, the pain, the hurt, mixed in to the fact that we are all human, and we are all searching. In that sense, Arrow is very much an alternative magazine. It is a magazine of celebration. A magazine for life."
Oh, yeah. And a magazine for those real men who love to cuddle.