The Gaysi Zine: Issue 04
Editor In Chief: Priya Gangwani
Art Director: Sreejita Biswas
Contributors: Karishma Dorai, Soumya Menon, Pratap Chalke, Nandini Moitra, Upasana Agarwal, Amruta Patil, Sajid Wajid Shaikh, Rachna Ravi, Ankita Ghosh, Kruttika Susarla, Karishma Dorai, Anushka Jhadav, Ojoswi, Sakshi Juneja,Amirkhan Pathan, Harshit Vishwakarma, Solo, Vivek Nag, Siddhi Surte, Vivek Tejuja, Prabha Mallya, Vishnu Nair, Ravi Gupta, Adarsh Raghuram, C.G. Salamander, Akhila Krishnan, Aakash Dewan, M, White Ripple, Debashmita Das, Kara Vohra, Neha Sharma, Maitri Dore
When I received The Gaysi Zine: Issue 04 in the mail, it was very different from what I had expected. The term “zine” always makes me think of stapled or sewn paper, endearing typos, and hand-drawn panels. This one is a bound book with bright, full-color front and back covers, printed on thick paper. Of course, zines are not just about construction. They’re also about pushing past limitations created by mainstream publishing, making them a perfect outlet for marginalized people. Perhaps this is why The Gaysi Zine’s Editor in Chief, Priya Gangwani, opens the book by declaring, “We, at Gaysi, honestly believe that there isn’t anyone you cannot learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”
The Gaysi Zine was first conceptualized in 2011 as a tangible complement to the Gaysi Blog, which was founded in 2008. “Gaysi” combines the terms “desi”—which refers to people from the South Asian Subcontinent—and “gay.” Originally based in India, Gaysi aims to connect queer desis no matter where they live. The community based in India also hosts a variety of events, each dedicated toward creating spaces for the Gaysi community to connect, relax, and converse while being wholly themselves. Gaysi events include Dirty Talk, an open mic that allows attendees of all sexual orientations to talk about all things dirty; Read Out Loud, a queer-themed book club; Tape, a Drag King show; trivia nights; and fundraisers supporting other groups, including Bombay’s Gay Pride march.
These events and aspects of the larger community all feed into the zine. Each issue tells queer, desi stories in a different way, and issue 4 is, as Gangwani explains, an entirely visual “ … retelling and active work of various artists’ and writers’ attempt to sort through their own identity and acknowledge the queer element in their lives—the choices that fall outside the heterosexual hegemony.” Posters from performances and trivia nights create pauses and control the pacing of the zine, while short comics created by desis from all over the world make up the bulk of its content.
Creating anthologies that allow readers to make those connections with distant artists is, in Gangwani’s own words:
“a gargantuan task. It takes us a little over six months to put together this annual issue once we have the concept note clear to us. And from there, it’s all about reaching out to people, discussing ideas, collecting stories, editing, re-editing, collecting more stories, and catching the essence of that particular issue. Once we understand what this issue is saying, what stories it is telling, we conceptualise the cover and the aesthetics of the magazine. The Art Director and myself work very closely to ensure there is a profound harmony between the text and the visuals.”
The end result of the Gaysi team’s labor is incredible. To give you a taste of the wonderful comics that make up issue 4, I’ve highlighted a few pieces that really struck me.
“IlaSudyumna” is a gorgeous, fairy tale-esque story about a bigender person’s journey to find happiness and fulfillment in all aspects of themself. IlaSudyumna begins their life as a man and is transformed into a woman by a magical mist, but eventually realizes that they identify as both genders. Moitra and Agarwal also collaborated on the comic’s art, and colorfully painted some panels, while relying more on line art and grey tones for others. The contrast in the art craftily mirrors IlaSudyumna’s dual identity, making this a very beautiful, striking story.
“Dearest Latha” by Murali Govindan, Sandhya Prabhat, and Pratheek Thomas
Lakshmi is a trans woman who is finding her footing as she begins a new job and garners her first bit of success and praise. In “Dearest Latha”—a snippet from which you can see in the feature image above—we see Lakshmi surrounded by people who love and support her. However, somber, blue and grey tones infiltrate the brighter colors of the comic to cast a kind of mourning over the story. Lakshmi’s growing sense of hope and happiness are not at odds with her mourning; rather, these feelings accompany each other in this gorgeous story.
“The Right Love” is very stylistically different from the painted, misty visuals in “IlaSudyumna” and “Dearest Latha.” It is made up mostly of traditional comic panels and close-ups of small details, like a hand holding a phone or a pile of dishes. Save for a tiny picture frame, the story is drawn entirely in black and white, mirroring the protagonist’s feelings about her heterosexual marriage: that it is flat, maybe even dangerous, and not the kind of relationship that can grant her happiness.
“Who Are the Heroes?” by Debasmitha Das
This bright, technicolor comic questions what it means to be a hero, especially in a world where courage is required both to stand up to homophobia and to allow oneself to be happily, openly queer. Using the visual language of a superhero’s mask, Das shows that while anonymity may grant some power, the act of unmasking can also open doors.
Her comic is one of several in the anthology that references IPC 377, a chapter of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes queer sex. Gangwani explained to me that, while the law certainly has a negative impact on India’s queer community, “the Indian realities are continuously shaping and facilitating the queer movement. The stories you read in the zine reflect the tone and texture of such realities … and tell the success and failure behind the larger story of the Indian queer movement in the cities and towns.” IPC 377 has a mildly haunting presence in the zine, but the comics also give the impression that its impact is waning—or, perhaps the queers of the anthology are determined to show courage in the face of such an absurd, oppressive law.
IPC 377’s presence in the zine also highlights a remarkable feat that the Gaysi Family has accomplished: they have built trust within an international community. Sharing the raw, emotional stories that make up The Gaysi Zine anthologies takes courage, especially in the face of homophobia and transphobia. The Gaysi Family has worked incredibly hard to build this trust, and thanks to their efforts, we can hear unique, beautiful stories from people who are often silenced.
To access these stories and help spread them to queer desis—and everyone else!—in all corners of the world, buy the zine here, follow Gaysi Family on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and check out the larger Gaysi community at www.gaysifamily.com.