Broken Pencil and Canzine: We need to talk about this. (Part One)

[I wrote this on October 20th, 2011, and chose not to publish it until after attending Canzine and having some time to think about this year’s experience of the event.]

I am writing this a few days before attending Canzine, a large zine event held by the magazine Broken Pencil, which purports to be “the magazine of zine culture and the independent arts.” I’ve never been a fan of Broken Pencil, but I am a fan of zine fairs, and this will be my sixth year tabling at Canzine. Most likely, it will also be my last. Each year, table registration also includes a “free” subscription to the magazine (I put “free” in quotes because the price of a table has risen dramatically over the years, so the subscription no longer feels free, and also, because if I could opt out of the magazine subscription and simply pay a lower fee for my table, I would). I don’t often read the magazine – I flip to the back and skim some of the zine reviews if they a) seem interesting, or b) are written by people I like, but after that, it goes right to my recycling bin.

Nothing in Broken Pencil has ever been relevant to my life. Flipping through the magazine generates eyerolls at best, and sheer anger and confusion at worst. Remember the time they printed a “zinester gossip column” undermining the efforts of survivors of abuse to bring abusers to accountability, and accused the so-called “drama” of Microcosm Publishing to be not much more than a series of internet arguments? Yeah. And remember the time they said that holding events in accessible spaces is a priority to them, even though, to my knowledge, Canzine has never been held in accessible space, and although this year’s event was rumoured to be accessible, a notice was sent out last minute to note that no, of course it is not. Again. Last year, Broken Pencil published something I had made without credit and without my permission, and it was submitted by someone who had been told to stay out of my life because he is a creep. Gross! And when I wrote them a letter telling them to credit me in the next issue, and to let them know that I am not okay with my work being associated with the person who published it and why, I was told that credit and my letter would appear in the next issue – they weren’t, and the situation was never again acknowledged. I’ve also known folks who were told they would be paid for their work, only for their articles to be printed without payment after all.

Broken Pencil, you give me the creeps, and you are so far removed from the community you claim to support that you don’t even understand why we have such problems with you. Tabling at Canzine is always a difficult decision for me. I love going to zine events, I love spending time with my zinester friends, I love the adventure of it all. But I am really uncomfortable with supporting Broken Pencil by showing up at their events, and paying for a table. Each year, I say this will be the last year, but when registration comes up again, there I am, typing in my name and my zine titles, sending them money for a table, encouraging my friends to join me so I don’t go insane. And then I get pissed off again and swear I will organize my own event with my friends, we will swear off Canzine for real, their problems and mistakes are too big for us to keep forgiving.

And this year, again, when table registration opened up, I got over-excited, signed up immediately, told my friends to join me. Each year, disgusted at the amount of non-zines for sale at a so-called zine event (screenprinted t-shirts, embroidered crafts, useless plushies, unaffordable items, I am looking at you), we promise to take over the event with zines, perzines, PAPER! And we have our fun, yeah, but we also have our general discomfort and disappointment, and we gather afterward to gripe and complain, and I feel like I want to change everything but I don’t know how.

And now, here is my biggest problem with Broken Pencil and Canzine this time around: Back in September, a friend and I were asked to participate in a panel on mental health zines. I was slightly dubious of becoming more involved than I wanted to be, but I was also excited about the opportunity to share, and yes, excited even to use Broken Pencil as a gateway to have a little more exposure of my writing, to potentially have crazyfolk and other folk who care about mental health and brutally honest stories find my words, and hopefully be inspired to share their own. So I agreed. I was asked to send a bio and a picture for the event listing on their website, and I did. This is the bio I sent:

Maranda Elizabeth writes about mental health, self-care, finding & making a home, learning & sharing, queer & gender identities and adventures. They make a zine called Telegram Ma’am, and has a blog at marandaelizabeth.com.

And this is the bio they posted:

Maranda Elizabeth writes about mental health, self-care, finding & making a home, learning & sharing, queer & gender identities and adventures. Maranda makes a zine called Telegram Ma’am, and has a blog at marandaelizabeth.com.

Notice the difference? Yeah. The erased my ambiguous gender identity, and of course, they didn’t bother to ask first, to clarify their decision, or acknowledge the change at all. When I sent the email, I told them I prefer the pronoun ‘they’, that that’s why I used it in my bio. And they took it away.

You know, if I were considering attending an event, and I knew that there were queer folks involved, that there were folks with gender neutral identities involved, I would be really stoked on showing up. I’d be really into it, and I’d invite my friends to come along. I might even feel included and accepted by the folks organizing the event and participating in the event. But Broken Pencil chose to erase that one little word that means so much to me, and they took that feeling, that experience, of inclusion and acceptance away from anyone who might have chosen to attend the panel, who might have had questions to ask, who might have had stories to share. They took that all away, and I am pissed off. It was a foolish move on their part, and not something I am willing to forgive.

Brokenpencilly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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