As published in the November 2007 issue of Queer Life News, Milwaukee, WI:Nov 2007
Up The Mainstream Without a Paddle
There exists a delicate dance among radical queer zinesters between “keeping it real” by choosing to keep a low profile through limited circulation and having a desire to have their messages shared with the wider queer world around them in the hopes they can reach audiences they couldn’t find on their own. As we here at the Queer Zine Archive Project celebrate the fourth anniversary of our founding in November 2003, we take time out to explore a critical nexus point in the development of queer zine history when queer zines were plucked from obscurity and thrust into the light of mainstream LGBT media.
Tell Me About Your Childhood
During forays into discovering the stories of how queer zinesters such as Larry-bob of Holy Titclamps and Queer Zine Explosion and Reb of Fanorama started their own zines, an off-handed comment kept cropping up. They both have stated in interviews that they stumbled onto the queer zine scene through articles by the rock critic for The Advocate, a mainstream gay and lesbian magazine published bi-weekly since 1967. The Advocate itself wasn’t always a glossy news mag, having roots as a Los Angeles area newspaper before going national. Twenty years later, the magazine was firmly entrenched as one of the few publications attempting to cover a wide range of political, social and cultural issues relating to a broad LGBT audience.
In the fall of 1988, the loaded sentence, “Where did you get this?” in the article entitled, “In Search of the Homo-Core Underground – A Beginner’s Guide to Gay ‘Fanzines,’” [The Advocate, 11 Oct 1988, pgs 52 – 53] launched rock journalist Adam Block headlong into the slam pit of queer zine culture. He had already established his alt-cred long before this article by bringing the whispered innuendos of queerness in rock and roll out of the shadows and put it up on stage for all to see. His take on the origins of the scene starts from the premise that queer folk have an uncanny knack for “tracking down banned books, illicit information, covert culture, and hidden history” and offers up lyrical evidence from a Patti Smith song as reasons why underground media for queers exists. From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, Block helped tease out amazing aspects of radical queer life in over a dozen columns. He interviewed each of the founders of J.D.s, talked to African American queer punk diva Vaginal Davis about her rock career, and told firsthand stories of the queer squats (take-overs of abandoned buildings) that popped up in the then newly freed East Berlin. He adeptly wove factoids into his music reviews, such as Deee-lite being the first major label band to buy ad space in zines.
Block wasn’t the only writer at The Advocate to sit up and take notice. Bill Van Parys, future executive editor of Jane and Details, chimed in with “Fag Rags Come of Age” [Issue 563, 6 Nov 1990, pg 70] and interviewed black editors of zines such as Fertile La Toyah Jackson Magazine and Chicago’s Thing about wide ranging topics. Glen Helfand’s “Not a Laughing Matter?” [Issue 576, 7 May 1991, pg 70] profiles Tom Shearer, first editor of Diseased Pariah News, the zine
that challenged everyone’s assumptions regarding the impact of the AIDS epidemic and brought politically incorrect humor and fighting spirit to the fore.
These articles peter out right about the time of the Queer Zine Explosion of the mid 1990s when the sheer numbers of published zines made them hard to ignore. The rise of the Internet and compendiums like Factsheet Five helped fans track down their favorite zines with little to no effort. While The Advocate was certainly never depicting radical queers on their cover and still don’t, it is nice to know that in some small way, their staff of accomplished music and cultural critics nudged radical queer zines into the limelight and paved the way for them to be found and appreciated by a larger audience.
The Queer Zine Archive Project is a free digital archive of past and present zines on the Web at qzap.org.