Not just zines, but about people
Featured image credit: Farzanah Hussein // IG: @fzanahhussein
Founded by five individuals in the early months of 2018, Queer Zinefest (QZF) is a platform in Singapore for queer creators to gather and celebrate their work, while also providing an opportunity for the LGBTQA+ and zine communities to come closer together.
For its first edition last year, they successfully crowdfunded the operating cost to make QZF happen on a Saturday at Camp Kilo Charcoal Club. Not just a traditional zinefest, it featured panels discussing queer issues, workshops and a zine library. It was a 3-dimensional experience that focused on the creations, the creators and the experience of just being present in that space.
According to Gabbi, a founding member of QZF, the choice of zines was straightforward.
“I’ve always made zines, though I did not get into the zines community until 2016/2017. Zines were and are helpful in many respects since they are self-published. There is a lot of truth in them and no censorship. But the tendency of making zines is that you would make a few copies and they would mainly stay within your friends. Seldom would those zines travel outside that social circle.”
QZF aims to pull together a greater pool of resources for other people to access queer zines, since queer content is not as accessible here in Singapore.
Gabbi, who identifies as queer and uses she/they/he pronouns, is passionate about queerness and creating a space where these conversations can take place openly, without compromising safety. Here in Singapore, there are increasingly more literature and conversations taking place about women’s rights and rape culture, but we have yet to legalise gay marriage despite being a First World country. Even talking about queerness is not that accepted yet, and Section 377A of the Penal Code remains in effect despite repeated calls by LGBTQA+ rights groups for it to be repealed.
She said: “We are pretty behind in terms of conception of queerness here. The society we live in is still not comfortable talking about certain things, with one of those being genders that do not conform to the binary. It did not explicitly occur to me how behind we were until I got to London. In London, there were regular events and spaces exclusively catered to the community. You do not necessarily find these here in Singapore, at least not permanently.”
Most of the queer spaces in Singapore lean towards the adult crowd, in places such as night clubs and bars. QZF tries to cater to the community, through its family-friendly events, and the non-partying crowd.
Although Gabbi acknowledges that perspectives are starting to open up and change is happening, the process is slow.
When our daily vocabulary of insults still include the word ‘gay’ and jokes that are discriminatory and transphobic, how quick can change take place?
Let’s discuss queerness to really understand what it is about, and not to judge or discriminate.
“It is important to have QZF as a dedicated space — queer the space, create a space and provide a platform for their voices. This is to privilege their voice in the space for the marginalised community here, where people can come in and hear these stories as well.”
And as a medium, zines reflect the same sort of ethos — uncensored and honest. “Also, people like zines. We enjoy picking up the tangible and reading, being spurred on by our own curiosity and discovering something new,” Gabbi said. It seems like there is real value in making zines accessible, as a form of art as well as communication. For the audience, they may not want to talk or listen to what someone else has to say about something unfamiliar to them, but they may choose to read it in their own time and privacy. For the creators, it is about safety.
To share through zines, the connection made or relationship formed does not have to be face-to-face. It becomes safe to put your thoughts out there anonymously, or at least away from possible danger. It is a freedom of expression and an act of putting your voice out there, without risking too much of your own personal safety and welfare.
Besides taking that step in providing a platform for queer creatives to showcase their work and network, QZF is very much about the craft of making zines as well. Sure, the general population still appreciates the personal elements in handmade works. But what else is there?
A part of going back to zines is nostalgia. It brings us back to a time when we do these things on the regular. There is intimacy in engaging with a zine, like you go through the pages and this is the zinester’s handwriting and thoughts. And they all took the time to print, bind and circulate.
Gabbi recalls Joy, another QZF organiser, saying that you create a zine, there is a possibility of a relationship and when you read, you engage with the relationship. And that was evident at the fair, where attendees included a young queer crowd and families with children. People felt the freedom to just be themselves, as they went around interacting with others, if they wanted to, or finding their own space to decompress.
According to Gabbi, “There was a young boy who just went ‘wow’ at the things he saw. He was talking to his brothers and going to the booths, being very encouraging about the work. He said it was so great to be here. Besides that, someone came with their pet bird. It was really nice overall.”
A year since the first edition of QZF, the queer community is still seeking out more explicitly queer events. There are club nights and the occasional theatre performances. But otherwise, there are few places or events that you can really engage with. “Performances are something you watch and then you go home. They aren’t necessarily something you can be a part of. Also, they are not always affordable. They can be pricey entertainment,” explained Gabbi.
“I’d like to see more accessible queer spaces — friendly bathrooms — and how to be thoroughly inclusive. Disability rights are fairly new, and it will take a while to properly consider what they need and rewrite the narrative on this globally as well as in Singapore. It is quite disappointing how many events don’t give a shit how accessible their space or event is for people with autism, for example. Some elements are too-in-your face and overwhelming for them, and that just excludes people.”
With our conversation shifting to inclusivity, we discussed why representation was important for the community and why visibility was a priority, especially in the media. In Singapore, where we might be conservative, this is no longer an excuse to not engage in conversation about queer rights when the consequences are so severe. Being relatively safe, perhaps we should make that effort to talk about these things or even engage in simple courtesies like asking another person for their preferred pronouns. We might be ‘comfortable’ here, but it is no longer good enough.
According to Reuters Health, one in four pre-teen deaths may be LGBTQA+ related. This is a scary number and it is no longer a surprise that violence against the community is so common, with targeted attacks making the news in recent years.
“It is also about mental health as well as the sense of self. This is so important, and is influenced by whether you see yourself represented and validated within the community — personally and on a wider scale. There are more community spaces available online, but we may not know where to go outside of those. What we are trying to do with QZF is to create a way for people to feel like they are a tangible part of the community. When you think about it, when you identify as queer, your relationship with your family might not always be great and family doesn’t always feel like family. Then we have to look for it elsewhere.”
*interview has been edited for clarity