Hello! My name is Emma N. Awe and I’m currently working as a research assistant for the CCGSD as part of the Young Canada Works Program and as a complement to my ongoing Master’s degree in Public History at Carleton University. I’ve been creating educational materials that highlight pieces of Canada’s 2SLGBTQIA+ history. Read more about the first of my various research projects focused on the queer punk movement below. As well, check out the full Queercore Reflection document for a more detailed analysis of the project.
When I was considering possible research projects for my placement with the CCGSD, I immediately thought of zines. Zines have become a big part of queer culture and I have often encountered the small, amateur, self-published magazines – sold for a couple of dollars – at queer festivals and bookshops. Thanks to their politically charged messages about topics such as human rights, systemic oppression of minorities, self-love, and the reclamation of history, zines have personally educated me in ways that traditional school settings have not. I was motivated to incorporate some of the radical approaches characteristic of zines into history education, so I turned to the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) for some examples of queer Canadian zines. I ran the search terms ‘Canada,’ ‘Toronto,’ and ‘Montreal’ and was surprised by the number of zines created in Canada during the 1960s to 1990s, and doubly surprised that most of them focused on queer punks. I started researching the queer punk scene and quickly found myself immersed in a subculture called ‘homocore’ (later renamed ‘queercore’), led by queer youths expounding radical change via D.I.Y. art and music.
Queercore’s specific origins can be traced back to two precocious, fearless, queer artists in Toronto, G.B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce. As radical queer youths and students, Jones and LaBruce both grew to resent the elitism and normativity they encountered in their university classrooms. Yet, when they left mainstream society and sought community with emergent Gay and Lesbian Liberation groups, Jones and LaBruce’s radicalism clashed with their visions of assimilation into heterosexual society. LaBruce and Jones were also excluded from punk communities due to rampant homophobia and sexism. Early punk had been sexually liberated, but the punk scene of the 1980s was overrun by macho white men using mosh pits and the musical screams of punk artists as outlets for violence and white supremacy.
Queer punks such as LaBruce and Jones thus faced violence and exclusion in the punk scene as well as the gay and lesbian scene in Toronto. This exclusion motivated them to carve out a new space for themselves and queer punks alike. They conceived ‘queercore’ out of this place of necessity, spirited and motivated by their youth. LaBruce and Jones started making their cut-and-paste zine, J.D.s, as a kind of queercore manifesto. Although they were producing J.D.s by themselves in their run-down, bug-infested apartment at Queen and Parliament, Jones and LaBruce marketed J.D.s as if it was being assembled by an army of queer punks at the heart of a fully realized queer punk movement in Toronto. Their bravado paid off and queercore quickly spread across North America and later the world, catalyzing other zine and musical offshoots such as the feminist punk scene of Riot Grrrl. I hoped to embody and reflect some of Jones and LaBruce’s spirit, creativity, and imagination – reflected throughout the pages of J.D.s – in the zine I made as part of the educational resources about queercore, entitled Queercore: The Origin Story.
While queercore’s content is often fun and humorous, many queercore zines also have a more complex side. In some of the zines I found via QZAP, there were discussions of fascism, violence, and terrorism. I struggled for a while with how to understand and discuss these depictions and turned to the work of academic, Jack Halberstam, and his concept of ‘imagined violence’ as it relates to queercore. Queercore: The Queer Punk Movement and Their Zines – the educational booklet I created to accompany the zine – discusses this concept and poses the question: is there one right kind of activism?