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Queer zines take it on the road [12 August, 2009]

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The history of queer life is captured on the margins of mainstream media, by gay newspapers like this one.  Free weeklies like the Windy City Times have a tangible presence in the communities they serve, distributed through curbside boxes and wire racks.  But another kind of more ephemeral queer record, the queerzine, has a history and impact of its own, and this was in evidence during the Chicago leg of the Queer Zinester Roadshow.

On July 31, an enthusiastic audience gathered at Uncle Fun Gallery, 1337 W.  Belmont, to hear seven zinemakers read from their works.  The event kicked off a three-city tour that would go on to Milwaukee and Madison It was organized by QZAP, the Queer Zine Archive Project (  Co-founders Milo Miller and Christopher Wilde were among the presenters, who came from places as varied as Chicago, Milwaukee, Denver and New York City.

Wilde spoke about the introduced the project and the event, and said that QZAP began as a project in 2001 as “a Web archive of the collectivist nature of queeruption.”  Reading from a piece titled, ‘the origin of love,” about the beginnings of the project, he said he also began QZAP in an effort to record “lives like mine as marginal blurs.”  The themes of (often deliberately sought-after) marginality and resistance to the lesbian and gay and straight mainstream echoed throughout the evening.  For these writers, zines offered a way to record and affirm their existences and provided ways to cope with and critique the norms of gender and sexuality they grew up with.

Writer Jessica Max Stein from NYC read about having spent hours in her youth clipping articles about queer life.  As she put it, queer zines were a way of “inventing your own representation.”  Stein read from her current zine, The Rainbow Connection, about gay Muppeteer Richard Hunt.  She made a connection between Hunt’s work on the muppets from 1972-1992 and the changes in the gay movement, particularly the emphasis on marriage.  She said that she understood the desire of some people to marry, but “I resent being told how my story is going to end.”  Denver-based Kelly Shortandqueer, a co-founder of both the Denver Zine Library and Tranny Roadshow(a performance art tour with an all transgender cast) read material on transitioning from female to male and wanting to keep his feminist integrity even while seeking “access to dude-centered spaces.”

An avid sports fan, Shortandqueer described his lifelong fondness for the Phillies and of wanting to create a radical queer sports space free of the gender norms and sexism of mainstream male-dominated sports culture.  Chicago’s John Thompson, a writer and activist who recently co-founded the Write to Win Collective, a new penpal program for queer prisoners in Illinois, read from his piece titled “The only time I’ve ever been happy to see an HRC logo.”  In it, he described a trip to Laramie, Wyoming and a moving encounter with an older gay man who spoke about the isolation of gay life in Laramie.

Clearly, there is an ongoing interest in maintaining and archiving queer zines, evidenced by the fact that Wilde will be an artist in residence at The Anchor Zine Library and Archive in Halifax, Nova Scotia where he’ll curate SPEW Fo(u)rth: A Canadian Queer Zine Art Show.  The show will also be at The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Toronto.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 12 August, 2009.

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