If you thought zine culture died with Riot Grrrl in the 1990s, think again, because thanks to PDFs and the internet, folks today are putting together some very thought-provoking material on gender, sex and sexuality. In the world of publication, zines (short for magazines) are a league of their own. Far removed from the glossies that deck the fronts of bookstores, zines grow when small groups of people with ‘radical’ ideas about society decide they won’t wait around for mainstream media to up its politics. They simply create their own media and distribute it however they could – in school locker rooms, at sports events, bars, cafés, even rock concerts. And in the internet age, this practice still continues. Here’s a few must-see zines that centre LGBTQ issues:
Launched in New Delhi last month, ‘Gender Pages’ has the pastiche and hand-hewn aesthetic of the earlier punk feminist movement, but is decidedly more current and local. Co-founders Shirin Choudhary and Vanika Sharma, peer educators with the Delhi-based YP Foundation, worked with poets, artists, writers and photographers to create a conversation on the fluid nature . Because most discussions on gender take place in theory books or seminars and other spaces that are ideologically or physically cordoned off, it was important for ‘Gender Pages’ to experiment with a mix of text and visuals. The project came together with contributions from young visual artists, photographers, writers and poets and is a real community effort. But what’s really great about it is that it’s bilingual, so that it’s accessible to many of the Hindi-speaking youth groups that Choudhary and Sharma work with.
This is one of those zines that pushes for the LGBTQ community to re-examine itself. Says editor Esther Godoy, “if you’re too feminine or too masculine you’re deemed to be not queer enough, too queer or you’re just not accepted,” and that just will not do. ‘Butch Is Not A Dirty Word’ began as a photo project to explore “female masculinity,” in Melbourne, Australia, and now contains several personal reflections. You’ll often hear that there’s a neat line that divides lesbian women into “butches” and “femmes,” and it’s the former that gets the raw deal. The point is, women who like “ball caps, motorcycles, button-ups, flannels, trucks” and more are very much part of the LGBTQ community. But this zine also has us ask a lot of tough questions about gender, clothing and power politics.
Put together by Jessica Ramos, this project focuses on that tiny corner of the sexuality spectrum that often gets ignored: asexuality. But there’s more – ‘Brown and Gray’ has the added filter of ‘people of colour.’ Narrowing it down to these two identities was important, because both are thoroughly neglected by mainstream queer discourse. Further, the most visible faces of the now-bourgeoning asexuality movement happen to be white, which has often been a criticism of queer spaces in general, so ‘Brown and Gray’ is an attempt to fill that representational gap. Entirely crowd-sourced from users micro-blogging website Tumblr, where the conversation around queer politics has been maturing since 2007. The zine is made up of cut-and-paste drawings, poetry and short personal narratives and was completed last year. It exists as one of the few but growing resources on the experience of asexuality.
This zine comes from the state of Assam in the North East of India – a region that has historically and geographically been isolated from the mainland. Assam held its first queer pride parade in 2014, one year after the Supreme Court re-criminalized homosexuality. The zine is evidence of how the LGBTQ community is getting organized all over India, and not just in the country’s biggest metropolitan cities. ‘The Forbidden’ is made up of poetry, interviews and articles in English, Bengali and Assamese. Organized in neat newspaper columns, the contents range from serious pieces on health, to queer readings of popular songs, and more. The zine also closes with information about counselling services that the publishers offer, showing how the conversation does go beyond the pages.
Begun in 2011 by Gaysi Family – a forum for the ‘Gay Desi,’ it was started “to reach people living in smaller cities who have no access to private parties or public spaces and hence feel isolated from the queer movement.” Nine editors who work on ‘Gaysi Zine‘ compile stories of being queer in India, and its fourth issue was a lovely graphic anthology, comprised of 30 individual works – comics and paintings and even a pull-out graphic – by diverse artists from all over India. Gaysi Family puts out a call for submissions and a crowd-funding campaign prior to every issue. Now that’s a community effort, and guess what? It’s fifth issue is in the works right now!
This “Counterculture Zine” was founded in three years ago in Calcutta by Manisha, and Aranya Gupta, and is currently run by a volunteer group of anarcha-feminists. On of the most significant events that occurred during Eyezine’s life-span has been the #hokkolorob (“let there be noise”) student protest which broke out in Jadavpur University, after the administration failed to handle a case of campus sexual assault. ‘Eyezine’ played a big role in covering the protests with its photo stories and personal narratives. In addition to this, it has also been bridging the gap between the feminist and the LGBTQ movements. Like the others, everything is crowd-sourced and community made, but unlike the others it has grown into a platform with campaigns on state repression, menstruation taboos and more, and has even begun holding conventions!
Like ‘The Forbidden’ and ‘Gender Pages,’ the Orinam Blog ‘Our Voices’ too goes beyond English-language writing. Started by the Chennai-based LGBTQ support centre Orinam, the blog does news, opinions, and even podcasts in both English and Tamil. It certainly has considerable online presence, and tries to centre fiction writing and poetry created by LGBTQ Indians. ‘Orinam,’ which means “one community” in Tamil, is perhaps one of India’s oldest queer zines online, founded exactly a decade ago. As with ‘Eyezine’ and ‘The Forbidden,’ the makers of ‘Our Voices’ are also involved in offline activities – they’re the ones who organize the Chennai Queer Pride, and film festivals, among other things.
It’s interesting to think that when the subject matter of these zines is considered ‘alternate’ to the mainstream, even the method of disseminating has had to be an ‘alternate’ one. When it comes to the world of publishing – of producing, consuming, censoring and liberating information – online tools have changed the game for the better, which is why we’re seeing a wave of new e-zines that are kind of picking up where the paper ones left off. And all of these are definitely worth poring through!
Do you know of other zines like these? Drop us a comment below and let us know!