Militant prancing pagan homos: Queer zine parties in the ‘90s

Zine of the Gay

The zine BLOT #2, laying atop a pink mesh shirt, on a dirty black and white checkered floor. Printed on white paper, the half-letter size zine has an image of a child's face, with the word "ASEXUAL" across it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about nostalgia as I spend time in the QZAP archive. My posts this week and next will be about items in the archive that relate to events with a queer zine focus. And it’s really hard to read these materials and not to feel envy those who got to attend them.

Issue #2 of the zine BLOT is held in QZAP’s archive, but not digitized. The zine documents two queer events that took place in Toronto in 1993. I grew up in rural Ontario, about 5 hours away from Toronto, and was 6 years old in 1993. The place I grew up in was pretty bad for weird little fruity kids, and it is bittersweet to read about events that were happening in my lifetime and in a place not too terribly far away, but that were nevertheless worlds apart from my own experience.

SPEW was a queer zine event that took place 3 times in the early ‘90s. The first edition was held May 25, 1991, in Chicago, the second, February 28 – March 1 in LA, and the third and as far as I know, final, version, took place May 15 and 16, 1993, at Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto.

There’s a really cool little documentary about SPEW 1 that’s available online:

Steve LaFreniere, the organizer of SPEW1, was stabbed in the back by homophobic passers-by on the street after one of the SPEW events, but fortunately, he recovered. It’s always important to temper your nostalgia with a realism about ways that things were also more or differently fucked up in times past.

The SPEW 2 writeup that I linked above opens by quoting the words that appeared over the door of the event, which would definitely make me pretty darn hyped for what was to come:

“GAY TO QUEER- Begin to revel in your sexuality. Trained, disciplined, butt fucking, cunt spreading, militant prancing pagan homos. No apologies. No compromise.”

Text reads "“It’s accessible and cheap. Zines, videos, performances, weird shit, party with live bands. A homocore alternative-queer thing (this is not a “convention”)” There is a handwritten annotation, "Hey!" with an arrow.
From Queer Zine Explosion #7

SPEW 3 is previewed as follows in Queer Zine Explosion #7, an issue of the handout published by Larry-Bob Roberts alongside his zine Holy Titclamps:

“It’s accessible and cheap. Zines, videos, performances, weird shit, party with live bands. A homocore alternative-queer thing (this is not a “convention”)”

BLOT #2 describes SPEW 3 as including “an informal round table discussion on zine production, [including] distribution [and] low cost production,” including QZAP’s own Chris Wilde! There was a zine fair the second day with “close to 60 different zines”, and readings from Charlie from MATCH and Lydia Landstreet. I couldn’t find anything online about MATCH or Lydia Landstreet, but I’d be curious if anyone has info on them!

The evening event sounds like a lot of fun, with “a two-member noise group from Michigan called MATCH, and Toronto’s own Ignatz and Chicken Milk (now know as Venus Cures All)”, as well as “a snack table… with mostly vegetarian food”, “a slideshow of ‘50s lesbian trash novels and other queer media”, and TVs playing Bruce La Bruce’s No Skin Off My Ass and “videos about Toronto punk, Crash’n’Burn and Not Dead Yet

BLOT #2 also documents a queercore party on Saturday August 15, 1993, also in Toronto, featuring screenings from GB Jones, and performances from Daddy Carbon (who I also couldn’t find anything out about) and, again, Ignatz. The author of BLOT notes that it was “really nice to see fags and dykes together having fun and to see a pretty equal split between girls and boys.”

The best answer to what to do about nostalgia is usually to try and identify what in particular you’re yearning for, and to figure out ways to bring that about in your present and future life. That’s a tall order for a messy, sweaty, sexy queer in-person gathering, from the perspective of 2024, year 4 of the forever pandemic. I’m sure there’s still lots of events of that description going on, but they’re less accessible than ever to my disabled friends and dates and comrades. How can we build events and gatherings that capture some of the feeling of events like these, but that are adapted to make space for as broad a swath of queers as possible, in an ongoing pandemic?

Next week, I’ll be writing about Queeruption, a radical queer gathering that’s taken place 12 times between 1998 and 2017. QZAP’s archives have materials from five of these, as far as I can tell. Let’s see what we feel nostalgic for, and what we’d like to leave in the past.

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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