PRINT October 1992


Queer 'Zines

I have seen the future and it is a six-and-a-half-foot African-American drag queen named Vaginal Creme Davis. Named after her idol, Angela, Ms. Davis (or just plain “Vag”) is a revolutionary hero in her own right—a veteran of the do-it-yourself publishing maelstrom that author Dennis Cooper has celebrated as “Queercore,” a new hybrid of queer identities and hard-core punk attitudes.1 Davis’ résumé includes stints as editor of the late Fertile La Toyah Jackson Magazine and lead singer of the Latina pop group Cholita. Currently editing SHRIMp, “the magazine of licking and sucking big feet,” she epitomizes Queercore’s gleefully provocative diversity.

Queercore’s Xerox-ed broadsides are authored by people of color, lesbians, sex workers, transvestites, and various intersecting possibilities. While the new gay glossies like Out and Genre grapple for the utopian site of the “mainstream,” fanzines like Bruce LaBruce’s legendary JDs make marginality their starting point, empowering voices excluded from the slicker journals. Yet separatism in queercore’s pages is less a goal than a strategy to undermine the very notions of “inside” and “out.” Rather than trapping itself defending a singular, heroic lesbian and gay identity, queercore upholds the complexities of queer desire. If that desire includes “negative” stereotypical imagery, queercore’s editors reclaim it as their own. Thus JDs illustrates its tawdry stories of lumpen sex with images of masturbating male punks and lesbian bikers.

Queercore critiques both popular and pornographic lesbian and gay iconography. Su Madre deflates everything from porn star Ryan Idol’s baby-blue eyes to Ally Sheedy’s poetry; the one-off comic Double Bill depicts hack actor William Conrad tracking down the sinister apparition of outlaw/divinity William S. Burroughs and executing him for misogyny and senility. Another queercore ’zine, Diseased Pariah News, comes bound with a ribbon warning “NOT SANITIZED FOR YOUR PROTECTION.” Edited by and for people living with AIDS, this seminal newsletter features “golden pariahs” Roy Cohn and Kimberly Bergalis on a 1991 cover. Advice for the “loveworn” is offered by Aunt Kaposi: “Love to you all,” she writes, “even if I’m dead by the time you read this.” Kaposi’s irreverence is typical not only of queercore’s humor but of its refusal to affirm political expectations. By resisting handy categorizations (like gender, ethnicity, and even sexuality), these “queerzines” defy containment.

What started as a trickle is now a cottage industry. There are hundreds of queerzines, the publishing quality varying from relatively polished ventures like Lavender Godzilla and Sin Bros. to the handwritten Gay Skinhead Movement. Both can be found in discriminating queer bookstores but are unlikely to surface in, say, Waldenbooks. Even the magazines that court advertisers articulate challenging desires: My Comrade/Sister! (one half devoted to the concerns of gay males, the other to those of lesbians) mixes real advertising from trendy restaurants and boutiques with ads for faux movies like Sugar Brown (“She’s Harlem’s Sexiest, Sassiest Undercover COP—Putting an End to Drug Trafficing and Queer Bashing! Produced by Eddie Murphy, Directed by Arsenio Hall. . . ”). Instead of ignoring consumer categories, My Comrade/Sister! spins oppositional notions of “commercial” and “underground” on their heads. A recent issue of Ben is Dead featured African-American drag queen Sean deLear on its Vanity Fair–style cover. There is even a ’zine called Better Homos and Gardens.

One of Double Bill’s editors, Johnny Noxzema (who also coedits Bimbox), is prone to provocative statements like “ALL victims of queer bashing DESERVE what they get!” For Cooper, such remarks arise, paradoxically, out of idealism. To Noxzema and his queer-core colleagues, the older generation of lesbian and gay activists has abandoned its radicalism for the pleasures of a stable but compromised left. Many of these activists try to mask complexity with “community,” smoothing over the bumps to appease more conservative elements. This leaves younger queers like Noxzema lashing out at the pieties of more established gay life, and attacking its vehicles, such as The Village Voice and The Advocate, as corrupt media power-structures.

Yet Queercore’s protagonists do not seem daunted by the specter of media marketing. In fact they have already inaugurated an annual queerzine convention, Spew. (It was at the second Spew, in Los Angeles earlier this year, that drag queen Joan Jett Blakk announced her presidential candidacy, bringing queercore media strategies into the political arena. Joan Jett Blakk on Bill Clinton: “What do you mean you had a joint in your mouth and you didn’t inhale? Get away from me!”2) In queercore, displacement has brought with it the invention of new forms of subjectivities, pleasures, and relationships. Blakk, Davis, LaBruce, and others have managed to critique the value system we refer to in strategizing resistance, and they have done so with aplomb. Given the underground and instantaneous nature of their work, it’s no surprise that some of queer-core’s most vocal instigators already insist that the energy they helped foment is dead; yet the story of marginality continues to be untold.

Lawrence Chua is a writer and producer, managing editor of Bomb, and a commentator for Crossroads, a weekly newsmagazine on National Public Radio. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Transition, and Premiere.


1. See Dennis Cooper, “Queercore,” The Village Voice, 30 June 1992.

2. Joan Jett Blakk, quoted in Susie Dey, “More Problems for George Bush,” The Advocate, 30 June 1992.