This is why I no longer participate in local zine communities.

All right, this is for my zine friends who ask me, “What’s the zine community like in Guelph?” and for those of you who wonder why I hardly ever table at zinefests in Canada anymore, but instead scrounge up the cash for Greyhound & Megabus tickets to adventure with my pals abroad instead. It’s for those of you who wonder why I no longer feel at home in Guelph, why I’m fucking burnt out, why I’m angry all the time, why I don’t show up to your events and no longer try to organize my own. When I talk about lack of support and lack of community, this is what I’m talking about. (If you give a shit about accessibility and zine culture, maybe you’ll appreciate this. If you don’t, then maybe I’m just alienating myself from you further, and maybe that’s for the best.)

First, let’s talk about Canzine and Broken Pencil

I’ll start by reminding you why Canzine and Broken Pencil are pure bullshit. First, please read Broken Pencil & Canzine: We need to talk about this, Part One and Part Two. I wrote these entries back in 2011, but they are still relevant today, and they explain part of my history with Canadian zinefests; they explain why I feel bitter and alienated. But if you’re too lazy to click the links, here are some quotes:

From Part One:

“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 an 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.”

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.”

“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, 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.”

{Note: This was before I had changed the name of my zine to Telegram. Please don’t use ‘ma’am’ when yr talking about my zine, it’s gross and dismissive.}

FROM PART TWO:

“When you advertise your event as a zine fair, you are you going to attract zinesters, and some of us just plain don’t care about your cupcakes and your screenprinted t-shirts. They are always overpriced anyway. Um, a lot of us are broke, and when you charge a lot of money for your “art”, you have chosen to make your creations inaccessible to many of us. The lack of zines at Canzine is disappointing. It sucks to write your heart out as a means of survival, then get stuck at these events. Accessibility also means affordability. By selling expensive items and charging so much for food, the organizers of Canzine need to think about who they are excluding. “

Back to more recent happenings…

I also want to quote from the transcript of the Health, Disability, and Accessibility in Zines panel that I participated in recently at Chicago Zinefest:

>> Maranda, I know that you challenged Canzine over their accessibility issues. Maybe you can start off with this. Not to call you out on stage in front of all of these people. Can you talk about your call-out?
>> [Holds their hand to their head, motions pulling an imaginary trigger] Yeah. I feel like 100% accessibility – whether it is physical accessibility, emotional accessibility, is impossible. You will never, ever make any kind of space accessible to everyone. It’s not going to happen. With Canzine, they are in an extremely physically inaccessible space. It is impossible to table there.
>> It is on the second floor, right?
>> Yeah. It is usually takes place on several floors, and the tables are very squished together. So, you’re crawling over and under your tables if you have to pee. You’re probably touching your neighbours. This would be like an extreme distance if we were tabling beside each other [gestures to other panelists sitting beside them]. People are walking behind you to move around. Some dude – it is always some dude – walked behind me and while I was sitting here at my table, did not acknowledge me or say a thing, picked up my chair to move me out of his way.
[ Laughter ]
I’ve spoken with the organizers for years and years and years about making it accessible in various ways. They basically don’t care. They have also chosen to misgender me in a cover story in their magazine and on their website after I have explained why that is not okay. That is a very, very, very long story. I try not to associate with them anymore. I don’t know, I have really, really complicated feelings about disability. I feel it comes up a lot in zines and zine communities and we don’t know what to do about it and how to make spaces accessible. I don’t know, I’m too frustrated.
>> That’s okay. I think that, you know, in zine communities, we have an openness to talk about these issues regardless of if we’re doing it right or wrong. I think something you’re talking about is like, I would like to talk to you or another zinefest or event about my accessibility needs or something I see as an issue. I think that’s something that is important.
>> I don’t know what it is, but somehow when I come to U.S. zine fairs they are more accessible and more comfortable and interesting. My experiences with zinefests in Canada have been extremely negative. We even had emails from organizers of different zinefests saying, ‘Accessibility is not our priority right now. Thanks for writing. We’re not going to do anything about it.’
>> In Canada?
>> Yeah.
>> Do you think it might be a cultural difference or no?
>> I have no idea. I guess it depends on politics and stuff. The organizers I know in the States are more, like, political, whatever that means. Whereas maybe the organizers in Canada have been more, like… art students.
[ Laughter ]
>> Has anyone else, do you have ‑‑ does anyone else have a comment? We’re in an arts school. Keep it down.
>> I’m going to alienate everyone.

And that brings me to this: Introducing Kazoo Print Expo. I really wish I had read this article before Chicago Zinefest, because it provides a perfect example of what I was trying to talk about at the panel (and reads like a satire). Let me break it down for you.

“The event has been going on for a number of years,” said Drystek. “It started off as a pure zine festival and was for a small zine community around Guelph. [During] the past couple years it’s been comics and zines and now I’ve changed it entirely for print media.”

As far as I recall, the Kazoo Zinefest/ Zine Expo/ whatever it used to be called began in September 2008, with maybe fifteen or twenty tables set up in St. George’s Square in downtown Guelph (subsequent zine fairs have taken place in a) Ed Video, an accessible space (!), and later, in inaccessible churches). I still remember buying a bright yellow Kazoo t-shirt with a bike rack on it, and two teenage girls trying to steal zines from me and my twin. The zinefest happened again in 2010, 2011, and 2012 – I don’t remember it happening in 2009, but maybe I was just in the hospital and dead to the world at the time, mental health timez, I don’t know.

2013 is the first time I’ve decided not to table. The Kazoo zine fair has never been my favourite, but I always got excited about it anyway, because, like I said in previous entries, I used to be madly in love with Guelph. I had this fantasy of meeting other rad zinesters and writing & organizing together, but what usually happened was I only talked to the friends I came with, and then I took a bunch of anxiety pills and hid in the local indie bookstore, and chugged alcohol (when I was still an embarrassing drunk) or coffee (after I quit drinking). We whined about boring cis dudes who make boring comix, and we hung out on the lawn of the Church of Our Lady to admire/cringe about Guelph. (And we started saving up our pennies to go to places like Chicago, NYC, and Philly instead.)

“The mission [of Kazoo Print!] is to celebrate local Guelph media,” said Drystek. “Kazoo has a long history of holding shows in Guelph and they’re always getting really interesting and upcoming artists/illustrators to work on their posters for them, so I wanted to make this event more reflective of that new style of illustration being used: moving away from the “zine” and more towards individuals.”

To quote Amber Dearest, with whom I’ve been having lengthy discussions about this stuff: “Things can be both political and about the individual. Um, I think there’s a pretty popular slogan about that?”

I’m not sure how to handle the suggestion that zines are not about individuals – they are almost exclusively made by & about & for individuals, hello, that is where our reputation of being self-absorbed weirdos comes from – and I am mostly just hoping that this is a misquote? It’s true that the posters for a lot of shows in Guelph, especially those organized by Kazoo, are pretty attractive, and it’s totally the kinda stuff that’ll be framed on people’s walls one day (if it isn’t already), but y’all know I prefer messy photocopy art anyway, and also, why does there need to be this constant great division anyway? Between lower-case a art and capital-A Art, between art students and DIY/DIT punx and zinesters, between zines and stuff that is Higher Quality Than Zines Made By People Who Had the Privilege of Going to School For It, between people who wanna make money and people who just wanna share stories? Why does it always feel like we’re coming from separate turfs, and you guys just stepped a little too close to my treehouse and now I have to come down with my long-arm stapler in my hands and explain to you my love & need of zines, again?

“The Guelph zine community is too small to have one event and the zines are usually more political,” said Drystek. “I wanted move away from the political aspects and more towards [a focus] on the art itself.”

Actually, Guelph is home to the Arrow Archive, the largest zine library in Ontario. (Um, I don’t actually hang out there because it’s housed in what is kind of an Unsafe Space for me, but that’s another story – er, I guess it’s part of this story, too, actually, but I don’t know if anybody cares.) They hold frequent zine workshops, readings, & events. It’s in the Guelph Resource Centre for Gender Empowerment & Diversity, but maybe that’s, like, too political? The Guelph zine community only seems small if you’re not actively participating in it.

Guelph zinesters have done a lot of hard work to make zines more vibrant, visible, and accessible in this town. Sorry you weren’t there? Although all of our goals have not been accomplished thus far, that doesn’t mean we don’t exist. The main reason there isn’t a Real Zine Fest in Guelph, from my perspective, isn’t because there are a lack of zinesters; it’s mostly because there is an embarrassing lack of accessible spaces in Guelph, and a lack of support from other artists in the “community” (lolz), and organizations & businesses in Guelph, as well as a lack of communication, often due to, um, politics. I would tell you more about my own organizing experiences in that town, but I’m kind of burnt out on it, you know?

Also, in what imaginary fairytaleland do you get to have an event that distances itself from politics?! Politics and art are continuously intersecting. If you can’t see (or if you are able to choose to ignore) how things like class, mental health, disabilties, and all forms of oppression intersect with the creation of all arts, then you have an incredible amount of privilege that I cannot even fathom. I honestly cannot imagine one not revolving around and depending upon the other. My brain actually kinda fizzled out when I read that part. (Still kinda hoping it was a typo or something.)

There is one good thing I can say about this whole mess: At least they took “zine” out of the event name, so we know we don’t need to bother with them anymore. Canzine have yet to make that change, even though it’s becoming more and more difficult to find zines at their events.

FULL DISCLOSURE: In 2012, I applied for the volunteer position of organizing the Kazoo! Comic & Zine Expo. I was turned down, and the job was given to the person interviewed in the link above. A few weeks later, while I was at Chicago Zinefest, I received an email asking for help with organizing & promoting the fest. I was told that my name had been given to her by some dude who does the Kazoo collective thing, but I’ve never actually spoken to him, so meh. Anyway, I accepted the challenge, because my heart & my guts & my life are in zines and this was back when I still cared about the zine community in Guelph and wanted it to flourish, so I ended up being the silent, unacknowledged weirdo behind the screen who ran the Facebook event page, wrote up descriptions & links to the people who were tabling (incidentally, nobody at Kazoo got around to telling me who was tabling, so I was only able to promote my friendz, hooray!), blogged about it & posted about it & all that other boring but necessary online promo stuff, and then surprise, nobody from the Kazoo collective actually ever acknowledged me for doing their work for them, and I still kinda don’t even know who they are outside of the internetz because they’re just not part of the communities that I participate in (or, used to participate in. But I do remember that back in Spring 2007, the very first show I ever had the guts to go by myself was a Kazoo show, so).

Meanwhile, 2,000 words in and I haven’t even told you about the embarrassing “Panel on the Highs & Lows of Self-Publishing” or whatever it was called; as far as I know, it was “organized” the day before Kazoo zinefest 2012, and I was probably only asked to participate because they didn’t know who else to ask. It took place at a bar (y’all know how I feel about events at bars), and nobody showed up, because it wasn’t advertised or promoted in any way. Thankfully, I had a few friends with me who were able to see how, um, uncomfortable the whole thing was, and were able to ask a few questions about zines, because the facilitator(s) sure as hell had nothing worthwhile to talk about. (“What kind of paper do you use?”) I’m still recovering from that shitshow, but it did provide a few inside jokes for me and my friends, which we like to repeat to each other when we are at actual zinefests. (“Your art hurts my eyes.” etc)

And an update on the response from Broken Pencil about their fuckedupedness

After I personally and publically called out Broken Pencil for choosing to erase my genderqueer identity (and several friends kindly took the time to write to them as well, to support me, and to remind them of their fuckedupedness), I didn’t get a response for six months. Eventually, the editor sent me an email, which I chose not to respond to. Because being nice to cis people isn’t my job.

She wrote: “Hi Maranda,

It has recently been brought to my attention that you may feel that the change I made to your bio (when you participated in Canzine 2011) was purposefully done to disregard your preferred pronouns, and that my apology to you in regards to this error was viewed as a brush-off. I wish to explain my intentions to you in greater detail.

At the time, I only understood that you did not want “she” or “her” to appear in the bio and I did not understand the importance of “they” as a pronoun. Many of the wider discussions regarding the use of “they” as a pronoun (for example, the dialogue with Rae Spoon and Xtra!) had not yet appeared in the public consciousness, and I was not aware of the introduction of the word as a singular pronoun. So I changed “they” not as an act of misrepresentation or with any deliberation [bolded by Maranda, because lolz], but because I had never seen the pronoun used in this way and wished to ensure that the biography was grammatically correct. It is a mistake that many other journalists have made and subsequently learned from. I truly apologize for this error, but please know that the act was not done with any malicious purpose, but rather from inexperience with the pronoun itself.

I would not have changed that word had I known its importance and utility. Please know that we greatly valued your contribution to our Canzine panel last year. I am very sorry for the error.

Take care,
Lindsay Gibb”

I’m making this email public because a) I think it’s funny, b) You don’t get to be a cis-sexist, erasing jerk without having to deal with the consequences, and c) Even though so much time has passed, I still get sooo fucking angry when I think about this situation, and I don’t want to keep it to myself anymore.

I’ve basically chosen to interpret this email as, “Sorry we didn’t respect yr pronouns! We didn’t know what the fuck you were talking about and were too embarrassed to have a conversation about it! I hadn’t heard of that other Canadian genderqueer and didn’t give a shit because you aren’t as famous or well-known as them! The English language is really important to me, and I chose to use it to invisibilize you and make you feel unsafe, oops, sorry! (Also, this was not a Sorry-I-Fucked-Up apology, but a Sorry-You-Feel-Bad apology, which as we all hopefully know, is not an apology. It’s just boring defensiveness, which is what always happens when somebody gets called out.) (Also also, in a hilarious turn of events, Rae Spoon was featured on the next cover, but I haven’t brought myself to read the article, because this stuff gets triggering as fuck.)

Further reading:
Writing for Friendship
Self-Care for Zinesters
My Complicated Feelings about Trigger Warnings & Safe(r) Spaces
If This Makes You Feel Awkward, I Don’t Care
Genderqueer Killjoy
Guelph Annual Radical Zinefest 2012 – It’s Happening! (For the lolz. Obviously it is very much not happening.)

If I have any friends left, that’s neat.

Calloutingly Yours,
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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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