Better Together: Autostraddle’s Rad Gay Zines
Curated by Riese Bernard, Laneia Jones,
Dannielle Owens-Reid, and Kristin Russo
Edited by Alyse Knorr
Illustrations by Sophie Argetsinger (Issue #1),
Amanda Matthews (Issue #2), Rory Midhani (Issue #3)
Zines started for gays. Ok, maybe that’s not true. I would hesitate to say that there’s one true origin of the zine, though punk rock might tell you differently. Let me try again: zines have been a great medium for the gay community. That’s pretty accurate. Zines allow for almost anything, have been distributed for free, or through the post, and are still seen as subversive. They’re outside the norm, like queer culture; it’s a great combo. In that lineage is the Better Together Zine Series, published by Autostraddle and Everyone Is Gay.
Autostraddle.com is my second favorite website. If WWAC didn’t exist I’d only have one top visited site, which may be a problem. For those of you who have not yet discovered the wonder and joy and resource that is Autostraddle, let me tell you about it. It is a website for queer women, founded six years ago (when I started reading it almost daily), that offers everything from tips on suit fittings to coming out in oppressive environments to making an instagram for your cat. In their own words, “Autostraddle is the world’s most popular independently-owned website for lesbian, queer, and bisexual women. Founded in 2009 by Riese Bernard, Alex Vega, and their friends, Autostraddle serves as an intelligent, progressively feminist, hilarious, and provocative voice and a thriving international community for a new generation of ambitious weirdos.”
That’s me! I’m an ambitious weirdo!
So, my second favorite website got together with my favorite youth organization, Everyone Is Gay, to put out my favorite kind of publication. EIG is run by Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo to help LGBTQ kids and their parents with accepting their sexualities. It’s important work, and they’re pretty hilarious too.
Enough introductions, we all know each other now, on to the review! If I had my way I would read through each of these zines with you, Reader. My review would just be a video of me reading these essays to you, showing you the comics and illustrations, and laugh/crying a few times. We can’t always get what we want.
Issue #1: OMG, I’M GAY: Coming Out to Yourself
I’ll be honest, this is my least favorite of the three issues out so far. Which doesn’t mean much, because I still loved it a whole lot. It’s just not a topic that is super interesting to me. A lot of queers like to talk about their “root,” or when they knew they were gay, or about their coming out story. And all of that is important and great and meaningful. But I got really lucky, I’ve always known I was “not straight” and my coming out wasn’t particularly eventful.
Still, I can imagine being as confused about my sexuality as I am about other things and this is a magical resource.
My absolute favorite essay in this issue was Kate Severance’s “A Letter to Baby Butches.” It really touched me and I teared up a bit. Cutting my hair into a more “alternative” style was an important step for me, and here Severance writes, “Your hair was falling into your lap like a hundred promises coming true and each follicle was saying ‘butch, butch’ in a chorus.” Yes!
Issue #2: I Broke Up Like This
Ah, yes, this is more my territory. I’m no stranger to getting my heart broken. Sometimes I worry I like it, otherwise why would I let it keep happening? This zine was the salve I needed. It is just filled with perfection. “Top 10 Weirdo Things I’ve Done Since We Broke Up” by Lauren Jacobs could have been ripped straight from my diary, if I was a faithful diary-keeper. “Did you know that when you mix one type of cheap wine with another type of cheap wine it still tastes exactly like wine?” Yes, yes I do know that, unfortunately.
“12 Rules of Lesbian Fight Club” by Riese Bernard and Laneia Jones and “Texting Your Ex-Girlfriend in Five Easy Steps” by Lizz Rubin are both just really solid sources of advice. “Do not use your friends as back-up” and “The first and most important step in texting your ex is to maybe not do it at all,” respectively. Speaking of sound advice, the first two issues have Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo answering pressing questions (like “Why doesn’t she love me anymore?”) and they are just as funny and helpful as they are online.
The essays in this issue really had me in a heart-vice. Carmen Rios’s “The Museum of Broken Hearts” spoke to my own hoarding tendencies. I’ve kept cards from people I barely know and flyers from events I sort of attended because memories are difficult and important to me. “Do we cure it? Or do we keep collecting our lives in bags and boxes and crying while we shove the pictures that are making us cry into an underwear drawer where it will forever stay?” Excuse me while I go fold some laundry…
Issue #3: Queer Sultry Summer
My favorite! This issue is pure sunshine and sandcastles and nonsweaty consensual hugs. First of all, there’s an Eileen Myles poem. There’s also an original Lumberjanes story. (Did you know that one of the writers for Lumberjanes, Grace Ellis, was once an Autostraddle intern?) It is a perfect page of young queerness set to a Mary Oliver poem.
There are also articles about road-tripping as a queer trans woman, about pubic hair, about being fat and wearing shorts, about being queer in rural America, and more! Riese Bernard made a crossword! Laneia made a scavenger hunt! There’s a drink recipe!
“You deserve to be with your chosen family of weirdos, celebrating and making your own rules, declaring your own traditions” the intro essay declares. And that’s what this edition felt like, celebrating queerness and life and summer with other people who get it.
This is it! This is the summer I never had as a teen. But it is the summer I sought this year. My summer began with A-Camp, a five day camp run by Autostraddle for queermos like me. It was a-top a mountain with hundreds of other queers that bought and read these zines. It is also where I sat with some of the creators of Better Together and made collaborative zines with other campers. A slice of nerdy lesbian heaven.
Oh, and there are four bookplates to cut out and use. I am the world’s biggest sucker for bookplates.
There’s so much I didn’t even mention! So much more I love! All three artists are great and their illustrations are fun and make me want to cut them out of the book and hang them on my walls. Every zine ends in a playlist, which, if I liked music, I would use! These zines are getting better with each release, I’m loving them more and more. If they had a subscription I’d pay for it and eagerly await the zine arrival in my mail. As it stands, you can purchase them online. They aren’t cheap. Buying all three will cost you $45. BUT each zine is beautiful, 64 pages long, and supports an independently-run queer, feminist site. Is it still a great read if you’re not gay? Well, I can’t say for sure, but I think so, especially if you are trying to be a good ally, or love someone who is a lesbian. Absolutely, definitely worth it.