Being a part of the Chicago Zine Fest re-kindled my love for zines. Prior to the trip, I was feeling really uninspired by the very thing that I was so passionate about for years and was leading workshops on how to make. The same thoughts kept spiraling in my head: Maybe this isn’t the right medium for you anymore. Maybe the things you want to express isn’t best done through paper. And those thoughts never actually led me anywhere because I didn’t have any new, concrete ideas for art projects so I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to express and how I wanted to express it (I blame the lack of creativity on the soul-sucking, unstimulating institution I paid $7000 to be at this year). I didn’t make anything new for the zine fest, and instead, lugged copies of my three old zines, the oldest one being four years old and the newest being a year and a half old. I did make a new four-page insert for Dykes & Their Hair because I felt like so much as changed since April 2008, both in terms of queers and aesthetics, as well as where I am at theoretically and experientially. So off I went to Chicago with Sarah, feeling a little shameful about my stash of old zines and a little disenchanted by the genre of zines in general.
TEXT FROM NEW FOUR-PAGE DYKES & THEIR HAIR INSERT
It’s been four years since I first put out Dykes & Their Hair. I feel hesitant making copies of it and distributing them this many years down the line. Urban, metropolitan, young, queer aesthetics change quickly, and also stick easily. So in some ways, the aesthetics described in this zine are slightly outdated. But I like to think of it as a historical document, highlighting specific aesthetics of a specific period in time, something that might be really awesome to come across twenty years down the line.
But really, the reason why I feel hesitant about distributing this zine is because, over the course of the last four years, I’ve come to learn that it is largely consumed by white queers who just think my drawings are funny. Most of the responses I’ve received are from white readers who say they love the zine and shamelessly tell me that they have the haircut in figure-number-so-and-so. Yah, yah, yah, I know you are page six or whatever…I knew that before you knew; that’s why I made this thing.
I get frustrated because I feel like a lot of people are not getting my point. I’m pretty certain most people just skim over my introductory write-up, or just pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s way more fun to just look at the drawings and match you and your friends up to the figures. Sure, the zine is funny. But it’s also serious and asks readers to think about the amount of space, little or a lot, one can take up with their hairstyle alone. I tried to point out the valuing of certain queer aesthetic symbols and the devaluing of others as “not queer (enough).” I wanted to draw attention to what I felt like was a subtly racist perception of who can and cannot be queer. And most of that just gets overshadowed by the kitschy sketches that make up the majority of the zine.
Luckily and awesomely, things have really shifted in the last four years. I see queer people of colour resisting these hairstyles that they not only can’t mirror, but choose not to mirror. Or I see people taking styles that are depicted in this zine and tweaking them to fit their hair types and aesthetic tastes, creating a different and creative look. Others are styling themselves so that their hair plays a role how they experience their spirituality. There is so much creativity, imagination, and resistance outside the pages of this zine.
There’s also so much more to say about hair, aesthetics. and queerness. There’s so much missing from this little zine. Always connected are issues of:
– class (eg. access to resources like the Internet where a lot of us get style inspirations, money to get haircuts and nice hair products to keep our tresses healthy and strong)
– patriarchy (eg. devaluing of conventionally feminine hair styles)
– colonialism (eg. Manchurian Qing Dynasty’s violent imposition of the queue hairstyle on the Indigenous peoples of Taiwan in the mid 18th century and Koreans in the late 19th century)
– desirability (eg. a hip haircut definitely gets you more queer desirability points)
And as for myself? I’m more interested in trying not to be read as queer these days (though I don’t think it’s working out very well). I’m not doing this for reasons of safety or anything because I can generally deal with the shit that gets dealt to me. I just feel a bit repulsed by the normalization of queer aesthetics, and I don’t think it’s at all about being self-loathing. There’s something about the normalization of queer aesthetic symbols that makes me feel embarrassed because I thought “queer” promised the unexpected. And this zine was all about how queerness can be so predictable. I’m reverting back to my earlier straight-aesthetics days accessory by accessory, top by top, shoe by shoe; that’s how I’m trying to escape Queer Predictability. I know I’ll never be fully successful because that’s just how aesthetic symbols work; they stick to bodies and birth meanings. And I know that Queer Predictability will always catch up to me, but it’s also just fun to play tag with my style, try to outrun its symbolic grasp, and fuck with queer readability as much as I can.
I’m going to diverge and write a bit about my shame around and disenchantment with zines. I felt ashamed of my zines because I am continuously changing, from month to month, not to mention from year to year. And here I was, hauling all these old ideas of mine across the border to sell to people, many of whom will likely think (and I don’t blame them) that Teresa Chun-Wen Cheng is Dykes & Their Hair. And really, I don’t want people to think those are necessarily still my politics/beliefs. I don’t trust that readers won’t ahistorized my work. I suppose this is an existential problem for printed matter and documentation of any sort.
On to the disenchantment part of this. I was feeling shitty because I felt like it was largely white people consumed my zines. White dykes love Dykes & Their Hair! They love to love it! What does this say about my work if most of my audience is white? How do I attract a mostly POC audience? What do POCs want??? This makes me feel totally not radical. A close POC friend of mine told me, “Who cares? Take the white people’s money!” And yes, I’m super happy to take money from white people who want to buy my shit, but really, I would rather be making art that resonates with people of colour and not make that toonie off of them.
So, I had lots of feelings going to Chicago. Turns out, Chicago Zine Fest did wonders for my blues! I attended an incredibly inspiring workshop called Meet Me At the Race Riot: People of Color in Zines from 1990s to Today; met one of my QPOC zine heros, Mimi Thi Nguyen; met Osa Atoe who makes one of my favourite zines (Shotgun Seamstress); met some badass QPOC gender rebelling punk nerds who publish all sorts of radical and thoughtful zines through their press, Not Yr Cister; picked up a big stash of zines, including old gems like Evolution of a Race Riot #1; and lots of these totally cute and stylish young queer POC punks bought my zines!!! HOW FUCKING AWESOME DID THAT ALL SOUND??? HUH???
I felt so energized by the cute QPOC punks who came by our table. I didn’t engage with them beyond talking a bit about the zines and selling some to them, but the little bit of interaction I had, I cherish. I was inspired by their solitude; most of them seemed to be at the zine fest alone. I was inspired by their creativity in dress. I’m talkin’ little GI Joe-type figures dangling from earrings and short, bright pink hair done in pin curls. Like, amazing, brave shit! I also remember an older QPOC who came by the table and read Dykes & Their Hair in front of me (which, obviously made me so nervous), closed the zine, and nodded at me while making “mmmhmmm” sounds. So good.
I mean. Obviously the majority of the tablers and people who came through the fair were white. And that’s fine. I just want to celebrate the awesomeness of the people of colour who DID show up, who decided that our shit was worth them spending money on, who took the time to stop at our table to carefully look through our zines, who decided it was worth their time to table at the fair so that other people of colour like myself feel a little more at home.
Chicago Zine Fest 2012 Part 2 will be a reflection on what Mimi Thi Nguyen calls “the politics of repetition,” and its impact on the future of my zines, which I will post in a few days or so!