This past weekend, I had the pleasure to attend the New York Queer Zine Fest, held at the LGBTQ Center. For two days, three of the center’s rooms were filled with zine creators from all over the country selling a variety of zines. And the energy and excitement created from interacting with the creators made me think about how important these spaces are. But often, we forget the role that zines play in giving space to the LGBTQ community, especially, to document our history, express ourselves, and create art that matters to us in ways that aren’t restricted by industry rules.
Zines are small-circulated publications, usually self-published, and can include original, appropriated work, or a mixture of both. There aren’t rules as far as what topics can be explored in zines or what structures that they have to follow. But beyond the creative freedom that they provide for creators and readers, zines are also important as they carry a particular part of documenting queer history with them. In their creation and continued use, zines remain an important part of queer culture.
As early as the 1980s, zines have been a key part of upholding queer history. Off-shooting from the punk movement, queercore focused on creativity such as music, writing, art, and culminating them into zines. The Queer Zine Archive Project, created by Milo Miller and Christopher Wilde, focused on maintaining a recorded history of zines and their role in the LGBTQ+ community. Today, community members from all walks of life continue on the tradition, creating zines that focus on a variety of topics from sexuality, politics, mental health, love, grief, and more.
The energy behind creating a zine is a labor of love. The idea of creating long-form art professionally—whether it’s through art like painting or sculpting, or writing novels or journalism—is intimidating to a lot of people. So much of these professional industries still gate-keep and leave out those of us who cannot afford or conform exactly to the expectations of what a “creative” looks like.
But because of that, there is a thriving community of people who are embracing zines.
What’s so great about zines is that they are an accessible alternative for those in the community looking for other options to get their work out there. Zines can be inexpensive to make (compared to the cost need to create, say, comics or novels where prices can fluctuate depending on availability to materials, working with publishers, use of color, and other factors). Like poetry, zines can be made by anyone—no special qualifications needed. And since they’re so important to the queer storytelling tradition, being able to contribute to that is something that we don’t celebrate enough within the queer community.
One zine creator, Alex J., explains how zines help to bring her stories to the forefront: “It gives me the freedom and space to express fully who I am in the ways I want to express them. The physical and intellectual labor of creating zines helps me actualize my identity by quite literally constructing a literary product of myself.”
Went to a Queer Zine Fest in NYC yesterday with @cammicam3 and it was a blessing. Not only was I able to meet and talk with so many beautiful queer and trans creatives but I was able to see the new literature that is being created in the form of art I enjoy most to read and create, zines! I am currently reading Shaquille Smith’s, Feeling Feministic, a zine memoir and letter to his late mother about life, death, queerness, femininity and drag and the friction it creates with religion and childhood. The first page of writing struck me right in the heart, and almost screamed to me, and I knew that I needed to take it home with my spirit. And am I so happy I did. I have since cried twice while reading it and have felt my heart expand in love and light for you, your art, and your truth, Shaquille. Thank you for sharing yourself and your intimate conversations with your mother with us. I see you. I appreciate you. I love you. I would highly recommend checking out the zine fest today (I think it ends at 5?). It’s free to attend and the address is at 208 13th street. Much love folks 🌻I
Thinking about the necessity of creating zines and other forms of art is important now more than ever. Marginalized communities often lack access to creative outlets and spaces where they can healthily express themselves. But zines allow for this, in giving its creators both an escape and platform to explore a variety of topics. Whether you want to write a personal essay about love, an experiment using mixed media, or document your feelings dealing with current events, zines help to create a space for that. And that’s why they’re so important to our history and commitment to self-care.
No matter what, the need to create art and express ourselves freely—especially in the face of violence—is something that remains intertwined to the survival of marginalized communities. Zines provide that, and so much more, for those who create them and read them. As so many struggles to find their voices and tell stories that may go beyond what’s seen in the mainstream narrative, zines can create a new platform to continue to the tradition of storytelling and cultivating community. It’s important that we continue to preserve and celebrate these traditions, as they remain central to our community’s survival.