The Centre for Women and Trans People capture DIY culture and gender through zines

By Rachael D’Amore

On the second floor of the Ryerson Student Learning Centre, a card table is littered with glue sticks, paper, scissors, a pile of outdated VICE magazines and a jug of glitter.

Clippings of nearly nude women are smeared over mugshots of serial killers and surrounded by cutouts of jungle foliage.

At the second annual Zine-Making Workshop, held by the Centre for Women and Trans People (CWTP), the do-it-yourself ethos of zine culture was in evidence.

“Zines” — short form for magazines — are small, self-published and self-distributed works that can be made from anything and everything, even old VICE mags. The centre’s Zine-Making Workshop is the third event in its annual series, Exploring Gender Through Art.

“Zines are really great because they’re flexible,” said Jennie Pearson, co-ordinator of the Sexual Assault Survivor Support Line, a service provided by CWTP. “By working with paper, you can go in any direction you want — text-based, image-based, mixed media or found media. Through this format, people are able to use their own individual skills and strengths to facilitate their zines, unlike more restrictive formats like, say, a painting workshop.”

Liezel Yance, Siobhan Cassidy, Jennie Pearson of the CWTP. (Rachael D'Amore / Ryersonian Staff)

Liezel Yance, Siobhan Cassidy, Jennie Pearson of the CWTP. (Rachael D’Amore / Ryersonian Staff)

Similar to the overall mandate of CWTP, the workshop is set up like a support or drop-in space, equipped with pamphlets and resources on gender equity and safe sex practices.

Here, participants are encouraged to tell their own stories through a mishmash of arts and crafts and messy abstractions.

“Zines are like magazines that exist outside of mainstream media,” said Pearson.

“Mainstream media isn’t always the best to consume when you’re trying to feel good about yourself while simultaneously fighting gender oppression. By making your own magazine, you’re able to create what you would like to see represented within media in an ideal world.”

Zine culture was cultivated during the 1990s in the underground punk rock scene.

Perceived as a resistance to mainstream culture and media, zines became an outlet for social and political activist movements. One of the most notable zines was Riot Grrrl, a feminist-based zine with a controversial and explicit cut-and-paste format.

Marty Fink, an English professor at Ryerson, teaches students about zines in both their print and digital forms in the Narrative in a Digital Age course. Fink says that zine culture’s connection to queer and trans history is similarly strong.

“Zine culture was connected to punk culture in which queer and trans people are a subset,” said Fink. “Queer and trans people historically were people that weren’t seeing themselves written about, they weren’t speaking within, they weren’t having their voices published in mainstream publishing. Zine culture became an important piece in how these people told their stories.”

Though the atmosphere at the centre’s Zine-Making Workshop was a little more subdued — despite men’s rights activists being a hot roundtable topic — the sense of community was apparent.

“Bringing people together through the act of production and the act of distribution is a part of what zine culture is,” said Fink with a laugh. “I might make my zine in my bedroom, in isolation, listening to something really emo but distributing that zine brings me into a community.

“Having a zine workshop is of that ethos — a Ryerson-based community of people coming together around sharing their personal stories.”

The workshop’s final products ranged from accordion folded booklets with pensive patterns to full-sized pages doused in Barbie figurines and glitter.

For Pearson, who once tried to convince her high school yearbook committee to format an edition as a zine, the medium is timelessly effective.

“There’s definitely a revival of that do-it-yourself, ’90s Riot Grrrl style,” she said. “A lot of folks do this sort of thing on Tumblr now. They create their own Etsy shops and sell their zines as part-time jobs as opposed to working at a restaurant. They’re doing it themselves — that entrepreneurial spirit is there.

“At the end of the day, it’s about creating what feels right to you.”

This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 25, 2015.

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