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Jessica Carfagnini sees a world in need of change

Local zine writer brings creative approach to social change

"SHE DOESN'T TAKE SHIT." Jessica Carfagnini is the creative mind behind the zine Slightly More Than Sound Bytes. Credit: (Shawn Scallen)

For Jessica Carfagnini, Jul 9 was a special day of dyke pride. That’s the day she won the prestigious Golden Cherry award at the SAW Gallery for best local zine.

Carfagnini’s zine, Slightly More Than Sound Bytes, details her life as a lesbian and an activist, and as a writer and an artist. She’s also the public education coordinator for the Sexual Assault Support Centre.

“The context that I write my zines from is that I am a lesbian, I am a feminist: here’s my stuff. It’s stuff that I think is relevant to the world.”

Writing is a natural form of self-expression for Carfagnini. She says she has always kept journals. Then, while attending the University Of Ottawa in 1998, Carfagnini first became aware of zine culture.

She describes putting out her first zine in 2002 as an intense experience. She dealt with a lot of her fears and anxieties about putting her words and art, thoughts and feelings out for the world to see.

Even more intense and personal than her writing was the evolution of her sexual identity and her coming out.

“From about the age of 14, 15, I would definitely start to have romantic feelings about girls my age,” Carfagnini recalls. “I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I was really trying to hide it from myself because it was scary.”

It wasn’t until she was almost 16 that she first told her mother about her romantic feelings.

“She said, ‘Oh. Who is he?'” Then Jess cried and her mom apologized for making the assumption that her daughter was heterosexual. Mom turned out to be very supportive, as did the rest of her family.

“I think I was sheltered from a lot of horrific experiences of homophobia by the simple fact that my family was supportive, accepting and loving,” she says now. Yet Carfagnini felt she would be rejected by her friends and pretended she was straight in high school.

“I was a really girly girl, and I still identify as a femme, as a femme dyke. I didn’t really have any femme role models. Society taught me if you’re girly and you’re pretty, you’re doing that for the benefit of men. If you wear lipstick, it’s to attract a boyfriend.”

Raised in Thunder Bay, she found there were very few people she could identify with and few resources to make coming out easier. Carfagnini moved to Ottawa when she was 19. After several more years of identifying as bisexual, she came to see herself as a blossoming lesbian.

She’s found her place in the local queer community. In 2002 Carfagnini helped start up Ladyfest, put out her first zine and helped start a dyke march for Pride.

Jennifer Whiteford, who has known Jessica for several years, says Carfagnini’s actions speak volumes to people.

“She does notable things in the community that are inspirational. People will go to her for advice. She is fearless and brave in her daily life and does not stand for oppression.”

She brings the same courage to work with her. In her work for the Sexual Assault Support Centre, she does a lot of public speaking, including discussions on homophobia, queer issues and her experience as a lesbian. The latter includes her experience fightingU Of O to replace a homophobic textbook that was being used in her psychology of family course.

“Jessica is solid in her identity,” says longtime friend Adam Hodgins. “She doesn’t take shit from people and she’s right on top of things.”

Carfagnini says she does what she can to bring about change.

“We’re here. We are an important part of society. You can’t ignore us,” Carfagnini says.

“We’re diverse. We’re not going to play along with the status quo. There are a lot of activists out there. We need to be recognized. We need to have our rights recognized. We’re not going to just be quiet and apologize for existing. It’s all about making the world a better place.”