Monday, 18 March 2013

Across the hills to Sheffield Zinefest

This weekend I dipped my toe in zinesterland for the first time. by going to the Sheffield Zinefest.

It's a bit weird, saying that, as I've been standing on the borders of the place for about 20 years! Whether mine or my flatmate's music zines, the trashy thing for people in my uni department that I sometimes wrote for, the amusing reputation I got in the 90s with the then writer-about-queer-zines for BCN, or a squillion bits and pieces I've written and sometimes drawn for BCN and other bi magazines... it's all been in places of, so to speak, intersectional zine culture. A place where we are all queer and here is a zine about being queer. A place where we are all feminist and here is a distro table of the fine work of grrrl zinesters. I'd never just gone to a place where people who get it about the seductive power of ink and paper congregate.

And there are two things I need to write: the day out, and trying to keep up the little fillip of ink and paper energy it's given me. There's going to be a section heading or two, you know there will... and maybe even a cut-tag. Here they come...

A splendid day out

I slept so badly the night before that I nearly didn't go. Those nights where you nod off at three and wake up at six? Yeah. But I persuaded myself this was An Adventure, and a place where no-one would know me so the worst that could happen was spending £20 on a day trip to a strange town, panicking and coming home. If your bones are going to ache they may as well do so from rattling round in a train for a couple of hours.

Here's the station. The winding hills between Mancashire and Yorkshire. The loud child in the seat behind me declaring to its parent "You're my housekeeper. Put these things away in my bag for me." The realisation that there are a bunch of football fans along the carriage and the horrible vision of crowded, rowdy post-match sports trains home in the past. I really must leave before the train home is full of football fans. The snow on the hilltops where it hadn't yet melted, and that brick that everything in the hillsides here seems to be made of... and suddenly we're back out of the sharp angles of steep countryside and into the city, and wrapped in memories of the last time I came to the town, here is Sheffield.

The venue is so easy to get to it's almost embarassing, and though I'd walked through the journey on google streetview, the signage was brilliant (do normal people notice these things or just event runners?). As a venue, it's so easy to get to by train, bus or tram - it's like if you got to hold something in the TfGM offices in Manchester.

Inside the building it's spacious and curvaceous, a place of interesting textures the event organisers have decked out with cakes and quiet chairs and seats where you can chat (or in some cases canoodle), and some brilliant interactive and learning things for people who like me are there on their own and a little backward about talking to strangers, things that can prompt little conversations or let you scribble words and colour in. I'm reminded of how t4t addresses different learning styles. Someone has had a similar set of thoughts about how to make this space work for different people, this doesn't happen often enough and is wonderful when it does.

I resolve to go once round all the zine stalls without buying anything, so that I've been equally rude to everyone by looking at their things and then moving on without handing over any money. My head is then spinning with so many things that I go for a sit-down and drink.  Someone has arranged for there to be safer sex supplies and advice and info; this is local stuff to whichever branch of the NHS it is for Sheffield, so that's all exciting as it is different from the ones we get in Mancashire. I scoop up things to show to other people, faintly conscious that this is such a nerdy activist thing to do. Which is so unlike me, and so unlike everyone else here... X)

There are three slots of two workshops apiece lined up, and I dip into the second slot where there's a feminist zinestering session on. In a sense the zineing I do isn't feminist, in that this is almost never the central locus of the subject.  In another sense, the layers of gender politics around bisexuality and trans/genderqueer things in society and in relation to LGBT are so hugely enmeshed that everything inky I do is damn well feminist. It's interesting to step back and look at things through another lens, to hear the echoes of my activism in another's, to hear how other people express the importance of tangible, holdable expression against the tide of digital downloads. This is a rather shiny session with powerpoint and the kind of talk that shows how enmeshed in something the speaker is: people talking feminism and zinestering like I talk bi activism and paper-and-ink. There are sessions that are too basic for me and others too nichely advanced; that's probably a good mixture. 

Then back into the main room full of zine stalls, where I get talking far too animatedly about bi stuff to someone, scoop up a selection of zines, realise the danger of giving in to "BUY ALL THE THINGS!" and take another short break before buying the remaining zine that I have then realised I really need to give someone else*, and head back over the hills for home.

Though I didn't stay for them, there was an announcement about going somewhere after the fest for noshing down on chip butties. This is the most welcome I've ever felt on hearing an announcement about food!

Negatives? Not a lot, and all things that grow out of my own head rather than the event itself. The vague embarassment, borne of being Terribly British, where you look at a pile of inky produce and none of it feels like it's Your Kind Of Thing, and you smile and move on without buying anything and it's a tiny bit insulting the person's creative work. Brains are silly: how many shops have I been in and not bought anything! That and the feeling of being perhaps the oldest person in the room. Which both a) I probably wasn't, and b) someone has to be the oldest person in the room, and whenever it's not been me I've never thought that it was a bad thing to be.

I never found the loos, so I've no idea what that side of access was like. I should probably have gone looking. It's not much of a gripe, not finding what you weren't looking for.

Someone video'ed a load of it and it's already online, so here is a shortish film that captures a lot of it, and which I'm fairly confident I don't appear in. It does reflect how people, exhibitors at least, kind of dress up for this - in the same way that in the temple of bi we all seem to be corsetted, and in the temple of liberalism we all have our bird-in-a-cage badges and pink, purple and blue cake pins.


I was trying to think of how to explain the motivation of zineing, especially in the Blog age, on the way home and the best thing I could think of is this Pet Shop Boys video. Making things not because they will be polished and perfect or they are your daily life, but because the creative process gets something strange out of you, and if people like it that's a bonus. And if an audience connects to it that's delicious but you'd do it anyway.

So will my day out inspire some new inky goodness of my own?

There are things that are too self-indulgent, or politically unbalanced, to run my mouth off about for eight pages of BCN, and there are things that might better fit JoB but JoB's terms and conditions for publication get my goat. And it's ages since I wrote for something that wasn't BCN, JoB, Plus or Bi Women. One of the obvious things is, though it'd need refashioning, my story of the last 30 years of bi life in Manchester that I researched and wrote about for my 2011 LGBT History Month talk. It'd be grand to have the spoons to do another issue of QUelectionEERing, the zine I did about what is and isn't talked about in LGBT politics, even though it sort of feels like a few corners of Twitter cover that better than I could.  Last time I knocked out an issue of that, Tony Blair was still PM: plenty has changed, and some things have stayed frustratingly the same.

It's shaping the words into sentences and getting past the wondering whether anyone, including me, would want to read what comes out the other end. And getting BCN done as the first priority...

* - It's Not You. I Just Need Space. (interplanetary letters of love and rejection).  Having bought one, I think I may need more copies of this one for other people...

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