Queer ‘zines are just barely in their 20s – a mere two decades of cultural dysfunction. There is the sense that something important, unique and almost unprecedented occurred in the mid-to-late-’80s that we are still trying to come to terms with through the photocopied pages of today’s queer ‘zines.
What is this mysterious sensibility?
Dennis Cooper put it best when, in a 1992 article in the Village Voice, he described the fervour surrounding the early Toronto queer zine, JD’s, which was largely responsible for giving voice to the queer punk style and its politics, as “combustible romanticism."
You can’t have combustion without a spark. As far as I can tell, the first queer content Canadian ‘zine went by the title Fags And Faggotry, produced by Mike Niederman of London. (The third issue, A Magazine Of Searing Anarchofaggotry, is dated August 1981.) It’s printed on a variety of coloured paper stocks and features photographs of nude young men culled from what seem to be ‘60s nudist catalogues (as well as gay porn). It’s a ‘zine that nicely anticipates what would soon become a full blown subculture known as “homocore,” the queering of punk.
Around the same time another ‘zine emerged, an eye-catching publication that was also noticeable due to its high circulation and its inclusion of ads. Published by Bill Elderado, the Toronto Rag appeared in 1980 and ran for at least five issues. Its flashy design, unusual shape (12” by 4") and use of colour and collage made it stand out.
But a discernible queer punk style doesn’t really surface in Toronto until the publication of Dr Smith. Produced by the enigmatic local artist Candy from 1984 to 1988, Dr Smith is not really a queer ‘zine at all. But don’t let that fool you, there is punk-lad love and punk dyke attitude amidst all those grainy photos of the supposedly macho punk/hardcore scene of the mid-80s documented by Dr Smith, like a secret agent, infiltrating and perverting punk and exposing its subversive side.
Dr Smith reveals that queers were always part of the terrain of punk, both in the pit and on the stage.
The 1980s saw a lot of activity by ‘zine publishers, punk/hardcore musicians and underground filmmakers. There was a loosely connected network of queer do-it-yourselfers, creators of a “counterculture,” who supported each other’s work through mail-art and correspondence.
It was inevitable, then, that a gathering to thrust queer faces and bodies into a single space for a few days would take place. The convergence finally happened in Chicago in May 1991. Billed Spew by organizer Steve LaFreniere, and held at the Randolph Street Gallery, it was the first of its kind, bringing together a wide array of alternative artists, punks and otherwise creative queers.
A second Spew, organized by Dennis Cooper and others in Los Angeles in the spring of 1992, attracted even more people than the first one. There was also a Spew in Toronto. An “anti-convention” Spew 3 was held in May 1993 at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre and attracted about 300 people over the course of two days.
As the drummer-vocalist with all-girl punk band, Fifth Column, GB Jones and band members Caroline Azar and Beverly Breckenridge, were instrumental in opening up “dykecore” music to larger audiences.
At the same time, Jones was also producing striking drawings of sexually aggressive punk dykes. In 1986 the stark first issue of a ‘zine with just the title JDs in large grainy type-face appeared. Edited by Jones and Bruce LaBruce – who called themselves and their comrades “The New Lavender Panthers” – the ‘zine would exist for nine issues over the next five years and be the catalyst for the development of a discernible “homocore” subculture.
Right from the start, JDs was a collaborative project. The idea sprung from the desire to push the punk scene further, to see how far a group of in-your-face queers could go within the constraints of the punk subculture and the established gay scene.
JDs’ creators railed against what they saw as the gay movement’s rigid gender system and its lifeless sexual politics. In a February 1989 article for Maximum Rock And Roll, entitled “Don’t Be Gay Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Fuck Punk Up The Ass,” LaBruce and Jones lob their invective at both punk and gay subcultures for failing to extend the boundaries of sexual politics.
"The gay ‘movement’ as it exists now is a big farce,” wrote Jones, “and we have nothing nice to say about it, so we won’t say anything at all, except that, ironically, it fails most miserably where it should be the most progressive – in its sexual politics.
"Specifically, there is a segregation of the sexes where unity should exist, a veiled misogyny which privileges fag culture over dyke, and a fear of the expression of femininity which has led to the gruesome phenomenon of the ‘straight acting’ gay male."
JDs over-Xeroxed images of their nude friends (mainly punky boys) project a crazy primal eroticism, where danger and friendly fun seem to lurk together in half-cocked smiles. Earlier issues contain an ongoing story by LaBruce recounting, in confessional style, his sexual escapades with “Butch,” a sexy and laconic stud.
Various issues also feature GB Jones’s “Tom Girl” drawings and the popular “JDs Homocore Top 10,” which originally started as a joke, with Jones making a mix tape of punk bands doing songs with queer themes.
One of the more infamous ‘zines of the ‘90s was Bimbox (now defunct), the creation of Toronto’s Johnny Noxzema and Rex Boy. Theirs is chock-full of acidic commentary on the state of the gay and lesbian community. They position themselves as queer provocateurs and attack the state of the “gay union” for its stagnation into smug self-righteousness and commercialization. Their words are harsh, the equivalent of throwing a flaming molotov cocktail into a gay circuit party.
Another exciting wave of queer ‘zines seems to be emerging from the milieu of paganism and what might be called “sex magick,” which seems to be asserting itself with particularly magical power these days.
One of the most vocal and militant is This Is The Salivation Army, edited by Scott Treleavan. With its penchant for wolf aesthetics, this ‘zine comes as an intrepid mixture of Brion Gysin-like visionary cutups, Aleister Crowley’s Sex Magick, and the visionary politics of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV.
Treleavan and his contributors pay homage to these prodigious forebears of freedom as a testament to a manic and no-holds-barred vision of individual creativity.
Another notable zine is King Of The Fairies by Glendon McKinney, a Toronto ‘zine that is dedicated to the wily world of Cape Breton fiddler, Ashley MacIsaac. Detailing his every move, wrapping it up in fantasy and personal reflection, King Of The Fairies is an obsessive work, elegantly lucid in word and design.
Concert reviews, drawings, newspaper clippings, personal stories, erotic fantasies and Celtic folklore and history, all combine to form an Ashley tapestry that continues to entrance, even after seven issues.
Leave it to the quixotic and endearing Infantile to mix up a fondness for postmodern theory, paganism and queer culture in its own peculiar way. Editor Paul Zevenhuizen, an amiable and humble “neo-pagan, polytheistic queer” is on a playful mission to create some new mindscapes for body and soul.
Each issue of Infantile carves out a little more of that mysterious pagan past, infusing it with relevant material for today, as a process in the vital art of living. Zevenhuizen also takes a wry and witty look at the magical arts, providing pagan recipes and dissecting curious ancient rituals, all the while providing readers with feasts for the eyes and crotch in the form of fleshy nude nymphs shaped from commercial porn images.
And there you have it, a selection of queer ‘zine culture which is by no means complete. Yet with so many “above ground” glossies vying for the attention of “gay” dollars by reflecting limited lifestyle choices, the option of self-publishing and the potential for alternative community that comes along with ‘zines is becoming ever more relevant and important.
In the queer ‘zines documented here (and in the many others around the world), difference is reveled in, taken for granted.
Perhaps there can never be a history of queer ‘zines. In many ways, they represent the lost locales and forgotten moments for which history fails to account. Queer ‘zines exist in a timeless place, “a new Golden Dawn,” as Zevenhuizen from Infantile puts it, “where dreams are achieved and lives are lived in fullness."
Catch the DIY-spirit. Coin your own term for the early TO ‘zine scene at Art Metropole, where Luis Jacob had curated a retrospective called The JD’s Years: 1980s Queer ‘Zine Culture From Toronto. The exhibit opens at 6pm on Thu, Jun 24 and is up till Aug 28 (788 King St W; 416-703-4400).
A longer version of this story originally appeared in issue nine of the ‘zine magazine, Broken Pencil.