How Fuzz Box emerged from the Sex Garage

Zine of the Gay

A zine cover printed in black ink on neon yellow paper. The title reads Fuzz Box, mirrored underneath. There is a photo of someone in a cowboy outfit. Additional text reads: "Fall 1991 - Faggots galore - Justine and her pussy - Juicy Fruit & co interviewed - Sex Garage - Whirling lesbian dervishes - out come the freaks"
Cover of Fuzz Box Issue 2 No 5

Around 4am on July 16, 1990, around 400 Montrealers were enjoying a party in a second-story downtown loft, featuring go-go dancers, contortionists, house and garage DJs, and projections of queer porn, until a spotter stationed outside warned that police were on their way in.

The party, Sex Garage, was organized by Nicolas Jenkins, an experienced event promoter who was used to his events getting shut down. But what followed was much more violent than he was used to, with dozens of cops waiting outside to beat attendees as they tried to leave the party.

Photographer Linda Dawn Hammond was attending the party, and risked her safety to photograph the violent arrests. The next day, she brought her photos to both The Gazette and La Presse, Montreal’s main French and English newspapers. The violence of the raid, and the existence of photos capturing it, sparked a wave of community organizing.

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Image of a raised fist, with text reading, "FREEDOM CAN SEEM LIKE A REVOLUTIONARY IDEA. Freedom to know your own history. Freedom to walk the streets safely. Freedom to have sex without fear. Freedom to keep or adopt children. Freedom to be proud. Freedom to be honest. FREEDOM TO BE OUT. Are these such revolutionary ideas? ISN'T YOUR FREEDOM WORTH FIGHTING FOR?"
From Fuzz Box Issue 2 No 5

Soon thereafter, Jenkins started publishing the zine Fuzz Box. QZAP holds two issues of Fuzz Box, the first undated, and the second from 1991, following closely on the Sex Garage raids and documenting some of the fallout from them.

Unsurprisingly, the zine is political but irreverent. It includes a lot of fun items, like horoscopes, a gossip column, “Titi Galore – Dishin’ Dirty” (there was a party that was supposedly raising money for a hospice for people with AIDS, but the hospice had no idea their name was being used!), club playlists, lots of porn collages, and even recipes (“Chop one small firm and well shaped eggplant into large cubes and spread out comfortably in a baking dish. Sprinkle liberally with 1/2 a wine glass of olive oil (virgin is always a special treat)”).

Amidst the fun stuff, there’s also an article about La Ligue Antifasciste Mondiale, which began in 1989 as a beating-up-Nazis gang, and later evolved into a community organization:

“Presently, LAM is working on a list of bars in Montreal that are either frequented by nazi punks/skins or are barring access to them. Of course, as is well known to lesbians and gays, the practice of refusing entry to nazi skins all too often becomes a scapegoat for denying access to anyone the bouncers decide they don’t like the look of… prejudice in the guise of politics.”

Ads for parties are a fascinating graveyard of defunct Montreal queer venues, including The Candy Bar, an Act Up meeting in the Village, k.a.t. club, Cafe Tutti Fruity (links go to Google Maps, if you’re curious like I was what’s replaced them).

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For me, the highlight of the first issue was an interview with two “F2Ms who sleep with men”. It is a true joy to me to witness the continuity of transfag history, with the interview even beginning with that time-honoured question of (paraphrased) exactly why taking T turns everyone gay. It’s a really rich and thoughtful conversation, including the nuances of passing in different communities, cruising while trans, tensions and possibilities for solidarity between trans and cis queers, and drawing connections between trans and disability communities in opposition to body normativity.

My favourite item in the second issue was an interview with Boyd McDonald, or as Wikipedia calls him, Boyd McDonald (pornographer), creator of the legendary gay smut zine Straight to Hell. Founded in the 1970s, STH, which still exists under new management, mostly collected letters sent in by readers, documenting (or potentially imagining) stories of mostly anonymous and transient gay sex, sort of like “Dear Penthouse”, but with way more scat.

McDonald, who died in 1993, two years after the publication of this interview, shared some of his philosophy of sex:

“FUZZ: Your stories present a lot of potentially degrading situations. Initially you are shocked, until you realize that there is consent involved. It really makes you realize a lot about sexuality.

STH: Those are men who can afford to be humiliated. You see, I wouldn’t recommend that type of humiliating experience for someone who has nothing else going for him. But these men sometimes have satisfactory careers and they have enough money. They live well, and they are doing well in their professions. They might be a priest or what have you, and can afford to be humiliated. They want to be, and they enjoy it. But for someone who is unsuccessful and unhappy in all other ways, I wouldn’t recommend that he have this humiliating and degrading sex unless he wants it.”

He also describes why he handed STH off to his successor, Victor Weaver, in a response that is deeply relatable to me as a long-time zine maker:

“I just gave it to him. It got to be too much trouble. I was doing it as a one-man operation, including peddling it to bookstores, sending out copies to subscribers, and I just got tired of it. I did it for ten years. A lot of people don’t do anything for more that one year or three years, or at the most five years. But I stuck with it for ten years. Now it’s much easier. The publisher has a distributor, so that’s how the stuff gets into circulation.”

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Clipart of a man and woman leaning over a baby, with text reading "It is a simple reality... To be born gay is an honor and a privilege"
From Fuzz Box Issue 2 No 5

The site of the Sex Garage party and raid is unsurprisingly now a condo. So is the nearby site of Le 456 Sauna, which was open for 33 years, and before that, was the Neptune Sauna, site of another notorious police raid in 1976. It’s hard to imagine it being a fun part of the city. But I can assure you with complete confidence that there will always be queer people in Montreal throwing weird gay parties, staying up too late, and hating cops. 💜

Additional sources:

 


Lee P is interning at QZAP in spring 2024. Ze is a long-time zine maker, and hir current project is Sheer Spite Press, a small press and zine distro. Originally from unceded Algonquin land, Lee calls Tiohtià:ke // Mooniyang // Montreal home. Ze’s also a member of the organizing collective for Dick’s Lending Library, a community-run, local library of books by trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit authors.

Gender Trash from Hell

Zine of the Gay

A collage of black and white images of faces and bodies against a pinkish background, with collaged text reading "gendertrash FROM HELL"
Front cover of gendertrash #1

Walking into the physical QZAP archive as an intern and a long-time zine dork is overwhelming. There’s so much stuff. There are a lot of things I have read, or that are made by people I know, and seeing those items in the folders feels like running into a friend. There is also a lot of work in the archives by people I don’t know firsthand, but who are some of the people I look up to most, and regard as vital elders and ancestors. The first thing I saw in the archives that made me feel completely teary and overwhelmed was gendertrash (also known as Gender Trash or gendertrash from hell).

As someone who spends a lot of time in both Montreal and Toronto, I regard gendertrash and its authors as a vital part of the trans cultures of both of those cities. Published under the label of genderpress, which also sold some truly excellent buttons, gendertrash was produced primarily by Xanthra Phillippa, who was a fixture of Toronto’s trans communities until her death in 2014, and “Jeanne B,” aka the filmmaker and activist Mirha-Soleil Ross, who was originally from Montreal.

(A note on names: I don’t usually use my full or legal name in my zines, and I deeply respect people’s right to remain anonymous or pseudonymous in their zines. Since Ross is widely acknowledged online as one of the zine’s authors, I’m erring here on the side of giving her credit for her work, rather than sticking with her pseudonym.)

There were four issues of gendertrash. The first issue, which is the one held in QZAP’s archives, was published in Toronto in the spring of 1993, 31 years ago. The other issues are also available online through the Arquives, which also, delightfully, holds many of the original paste-ups for the zines.

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Collaged text reading "We're just as queer as dykes and fags maybe even more so!"
Back cover of gendertrash #1

Like many zines, especially of its era, gendertrash contains a wide range of content and tone. (As someone who makes zines that tend to be more like a cohesive essay or book, I think it’s doing me a lot of good to look at this style of zine, and it makes me want to make something that’s a mishmash of personal anecdotes, opinions, resources, recipes, creative writing, etc. — that part of the messiness and imperfection of zines got away from me at some point.)

gendertrash places sex work and sex workers squarely at the centre of its focus, where it belongs. To talk about transness without talking about sex work would be to leave out a huge swath of the community, and many of its strongest pillars, including Ross, whose sex work and creative work have been closely intertwined.

Some parts of the zine are squarely pragmatic. It reproduces a brochure of safety guidelines for electrolysis practitioners, so that electrolysis clients can know what standards to hold their practitioners to. It has a section at the end of local resources for sex workers, people seeking healthcare, and for those experiencing sexual violence, noting which organizations “have no problems with TS’s” or are “aware of the problems of TS youth (esp with shelters & housing)”. It also notes local events like the queer zine gathering Spew 3 at the queer theatre Buddies In Bad Times, which is blessedly still with us.

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The zine also contains installments of TSe TSe TerroriSm, a serialized novel about “some members of Toronto’s gender described community,” by Phillips. When its protagonist is street-harassed by some men in a Jeep, she sets off,

“Two huge Catherine Wheels, one pink, one blue, as big as suns, rise up out of the fireball, lighting the street, buildings, stores & all the people rushing out onto balconies & pouring out of the restaurants & nearby shops to stare, laugh, applaud, cheer & give deliberately misleading or useless information to the cops, now beginning to arrive in a parade of sirens & lights, to investigate the blackened & smoking carcass that once was a Jeep.”

After escaping, she’s comforted by a friend or lover, sharing her rage and sorrow that passers-by were,

“celebrating like it’s something wonderful & exciting & like i-did-it-all-for-them, instead of the nightmare it really was. it’s not a game or a party. i mean, where the fuck were they, when i was being attacked? hiding inside their safe closets, shaking & shivering, but as soon as they see & hear the fireworks, out they come with fucking bells on. those creeps nearly killed, would have killed me for certain – it was that dangerous & here they are, out celebrating. i kill four creeps by setting them on fire because it was necessary. i’d do it again if necessary, but it’s nothing to cheer about”

In its combination of magic realism with a clear-eyed look at the emotional and physical toll of transmisogny, it reminded me of the work of another Toronto-based writer: Kai Cheng Thom’s beautiful book Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars.

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TS Words and Phrases
“TS Words and Phrases”, from gendertrash #1

The first issue of gendertrash also includes a fascinating glossary of “TS Words & Phrases.” As my piece last week on the QZAP blog shows, I am deeply fascinated with the numerous ways that gender and sexual minority folks have described ourselves over the years, and our consistent vehemence that the current terms are the only correct ones.

gendertrash’s glossary, also reflected throughout the zine, uses the term “members of the gender communities,” instead of what they call “the clumsy-sounding transpersons.” The people I would refer to as cis, it defines as “genetics, genetically/chromosonally described/determined”. This distinction is also delightfully made in the zine’s usage instructions, which state that,

“material in gendertrash may be copied for personal use by any gender described person or for publication within any non-profit journal for gender described, as long as the proper credit is given. Material may be copied & used by genetics only upon prior written consent from genderpress.”

One of the most interesting glossary entries to me is their use of the term “gender oriented”, which is used to refer to “wimmin, men or people who attracted to TS’s”, whether those people are genetics or in the gender communities, or what I’d call trans or cis. Extending the umbrella out over people who date and/or fuck trans people isn’t usually part of the conversation in the circles I’ve travelled in, and I find it interesting to think about! This concept also comes out in the zine’s piece about the 1992 movie The Crying Game, which trans people in my life have felt a lot of ways about:

“This man is spontaneously and strongly attracted to Dil for her female or non-male attributes. not her cock and balls. In fact, the main character thinks she is a genetic womyn & is surprised & upset to find out that she is not. Gay men will have to realize & accept the fact that genetic men who are attracted to us (TV, TG or TS) are not gay, but gender-oriented & that their numbers are constantly growing. In other words. we’re having a party & genetic gay men are not invited.”

(The glossary also includes the delightfully punk “in the pit” as a replacement for “in the closet”, and the poignant entry “that’s the way it is is the phrase we use to describe how we survive in this society.”)

There is so much for a contemporary trans reader to enjoy and learn from in gendertrash. It’s a joy and a blessing to me that it’s been archived so that I can enjoy it 30+ years after it was published.


Lee P is interning at QZAP in spring 2024. Ze is a long-time zine maker, and hir current project is Sheer Spite Press, a small press and zine distro. Originally from unceded Algonquin land, Lee calls Tiohtià:ke // Mooniyang // Montreal home. Ze’s also a member of the organizing collective for Dick’s Lending Library, a community-run, local library of books by trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit authors.

Queers Read About Reading This

Zine of the Gay

I Hate Straights
I Hate Straights
P.4 of the original 1990 version of Queer Read This, which can be found at Against Equality

Queers Read This is a hugely influential zine: it’s traveled far beyond its original circulation at the 1990 New York Pride. Published anonymously by members of Queer Nation, the direct-action group that spun off of ACT UP to protest homophobia beyond the specificity of AIDS, it’s continued to circulate and to speak to sentiments and tensions within queer movements and spaces.

As someone born in the mid-80s, I have an endless fascination with the politics of the 80s and early 90s, and how they shaped the world I came of age in. So much of the landscape of contemporary queer politics still relitigates the tug of war between revolution and assimilation that this zine captures.

Queers Read This was written in a time of mass death from AIDS, an uptick in anti-queer violence, and a cultural consensus that queer people deserved these things. It is angry, horny, uncompromising, and immensely quoteable (“every time we fuck, we win”). It refuses to hedge its bets or pull its punches or add wishy-washy caveats or to let any straight people off the hook by separating straightness and heterosexism from straight people. It’s unabashedly, invigoratingly polemical.

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The version of Queers Read This held in QZAP’s archive is a reprint published in 2009 as an implicit argument that the zine remained relevant as more than just a historical artifact 20 years after its publication, that queers should still be reading this. The 2009 reprint contains footnotes contextualizing some of the references in the original, for an audience who might blessedly not know who Jesse Helms was. It also includes the update that that “AIDS policy today is still institutionalized violence, though it has become targeted less by sexuality and more by race and incarceration.”

It’s accompanied in the archive by Queers Read This Too, a zine written in 2010, and distributed at Pride in Madison, Wisconsin. Inspired by the 2009 reprint of Queers Read This, a group of eight writers (credited by name, unlike the anonymous authors of Queers Read This), share their own rage at the ostracization, fear, and sexual violence they have been subjected to as queer people. One author remembers a murdered trans friend, and the callous indifference towards her death among cis gay peers.

Both Queers Read This and Queers Read This Too focus most of their rage at the broader heterosexist world, while also calling out queers for our own complacency, for the ways we silence ourselves, choose our own comfort, fail to act as a movement.

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Promote Queerness - Queer NationOne of the main ways I’ve seen Queers Read This discussed is for its role specifically in positioning the term “queer” as an identity that’s fundamentally politically radical, anti-assimilationist, and in opposition to heterosexism. Queers Read This argues for this usage because “queer” is a gender-neutral term that can express solidarity among queers of different genders, and because its authors see “gay” as too happy and unthreatening a word to hold the rage they feel.

This makes the zine interesting to read now, because in many– though certainly not all– areas of life, the term “queer” has been very thoroughly reclaimed, defanged, and depoliticized.

There are queer cops and queer Lockheed Martin employees, and “queer” is comfortably used by organizations like the Human Rights Campaign whose assimilationist politics Queer Nation defined itself against.

Queers Read This deserves better than to be remembered for a minor point of semantics. Words are important up to a point, but when bickering about terminology keeps us from having each other’s backs in meaningful, material ways, it’s time to move on. Any word’s meaning will eventually shift and mutate and slip and slide out of your hands. The term you choose to display your anti-assimilationist convictions will slither away and go work at an arms manufacturer. You can let the word go, and let the rage and urgency remain. They’ll always be relevant.


Lee P is interning at QZAP in spring 2024. Ze is a long-time zine maker, and hir current project is Sheer Spite Press, a small press and zine distro. Originally from unceded Algonquin land, Lee calls Tiohtià:ke // Mooniyang // Montreal home. Ze’s also a member of the organizing collective for Dick’s Lending Library, a community-run, local library of books by trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit authors.

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