Zine Review: Hidden Expressions: Volume II

When no one will listen to your voice, you must make them listen. A fundamental part of zine and DIY culture is that it provides a space for marginalized people to meet others like them and be heard. While self-publishing comes with its own hurdlesmany of them financialzines are special because even if the paper is cheap, the quality of the words and the art can shine through.

Hidden Expressions: Volume II's front cover art by Shaylanna Luvme and El Paco.
Hidden Expressions: Volume II’s front cover art by Shaylanna Luvme and El Paco. Image from the Hidden Expressions PDF.

Hidden Expressions: Volume II

TJLP ‘Zine Crew: Monica  James, Kierra James, Shaylanna Luvme, and Lark Mulligan
Volunteers: Amanda Helms, Caroline Pellant, Satya Chima, Eli Vitulli, Michelle Paradise, Kerry Ryan, Luke Barnhill, Sarah Gutierrez, Kaaren Fehsenfeld, Milo Vieland
Front Cover Art: Shaylanna Luvme and El Paco
Back Cover Art: Kimyani Priest
Cover Design: Lark Mulligan
Chapter Heading Art: Shaylanna Luvme
Contributors: Ms. Nzaddi, Janiah Monroe, Sweet Abby, Breanna Lynn Destiny Finch, Shayla Pearl, Mia Kobi, Mercedes Body, T.Y.I., Sorin Crisbain, Miss Juicy, Ms. Afrika, E. Snead, Carlitos Jarmon, Ms. Divine Desire, Shaylanna Luvme, Kierra James, Geri Q., Azur Mustapha, Bella Langan, Chris AKA The Event, Desiree “Dimplz”, Phoebe Halliwell, Janiah Monroe, Monica Franklin, Kierra James, Charnita Lampkin, El Paco
August 2014

The Transgender Justice Law Project (TJLP) has latched onto this idea to give voice to a very important group that is repeatedly silenced: incarcerated transgender people. According to their website, TJLP is, “a group of radical activists, social workers, and organizers who provide support, advocacy, and free, holistic advocacy and criminal legal services to poor and street-based transgender people in Illinois.”

Hidden Expressions is a publication that is made by and for incarcerated transgender people. Monica James, Kierra James, Shaylanna Luvme, and Lark Mulligan are the core group and are assisted by other volunteers. They released Volume II last summer, but hope to eventually distribute four volumes a year.

Hidden Expressions: Volume II is broken up into six parts: Our Stories, Erotica, Poetry, Declarations of Liberation, How-To Guides, and Resources. This is not a short zine; clocking in at 108 pages, this volume delivers an incredible amount of content from a myriad of unique and beautiful voices. I’ll highlight a few pieces that stuck out to me to give you an idea of the incredible content that you’re in for.

“Little Black Dress” by Shayla Pearl, pp. 24-25

There are a few pieces by Pearl in the zine including poetry, but “Little Black Dress” is in the Our Stories section. In three rhythmic, rhyming paragraphs Pearl warns gay bashers and transphobes that she’s “The Devil in a Little Black Dress,” unwilling to sit silently through violent words or vicious attacks. At the same time, she reaches out to her fellow trans women of color and warns them that “we live in a world of racial profiling, gay bisexual and transgender ostracizing, fundraisers for more political party proselytizing.” Pearl is raw, honest and an incredibly gifted writer, regardless of the medium she chooses.

“It Ain’t Worth” by Shaylanna Luvme, pp. 57-58

Luvme is also a multi-talented artist, and in addition to crafting the cover art for each section of the zine, she contributed two short but vivid poems. “It Ain’t Worth” evokes the hopeless feeling of hiding in the closet, depression, and the exasperation of being attacked and incarcerated for being a trans person of color. Luvme’s poems feel deeply personal, as if she senses her readers’ pain and is reaching out to hold their hand and give them comfort. If you haven’t cried yet at this point in the zine, get your tissues ready.

“We Must Unite” by Kierra James, pp. 62-67

Kierra James’ fantastic essay kicks off the Declarations of Liberation section and highlights a recurring theme in the zine: that incarcerated transgender people, because they are so downtrodden and have been so horribly betrayed, often do not hold a sense of community and do not trust each other. James touches on how prison employees drive wedges between trans people, how the prison system horrifically fails to rehabilitate inmates, and why it is more expensive for prisons to deny transgender people hormones than it is to actually provide health care. Her essay is both a fantastic introduction to exactly how prisons commit these acts of violence and a passionate call for incarcerated transgender people to fight the instincts ingrained in them by a violent world so that they may trust each other.

“I Was Born This Way!” by Phoebe Halliwell, pp. 80-81

Halliwell’s piece is part essay, part letter to Kierra Owens, a contributor from the first Hidden Expressions zine. She speaks directly to Owens to provide help in suing for proper healthcare. There is an in-depth guide to suing for hormones in prison in the zine, but Halliwell’s letter also provides some examples of how prisons directly try to keep trans people from getting hormones. In Halliwell’s case, the books she needed were removed from the library once she started doing research. Her essay is full of love for Owens and illustrates how the Hidden Expressions project can forge a sense of community among incarcerated transgender people.

I picked up a copy of Hidden Expressions: Volume II at the zine release last summer, but there are PDFs of both volumes available for free on the TJLP website. Share them to support and educate your friends, and support the Hidden Expressions project by sending TJLP a check or making an in-kind donation.

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa is a queer librarian and intense cat mom. She spends her days reading zines and indie comics, and twittering about D&D podcasts at @alenkafiga.