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.

By Any Means Necessary

P-Form #23 coverIn 1992, the drag queen Joan Jett Blakk ran for presidential office with backing from Queer Nation. Using the slogan “Lick Bush in ‘92,” Blakk’s campaign brought national attention to issues impacting queer communities, particularly the AIDS epidemic that the federal government was completely ignoring1. In the midst of the campaign, Terence Smith, the activist who performs as Blakk, penned an article for the performance art zine P-Form. Smith writes that drag carries a politics of “invulnerability,” providing a means of protection for Smith on both the stage and the streets. “No one can ‘harm’ me in drag,” writes Smith, “Because part of me is hidden underneath a Maybelline shell.” The article is a beautiful illustration of drag as a queer political force—a form of gender-fuckery that according to Smith “stomps out” the signifiers of masculinity and femininity.

Smith’s article is one of many articles on drag performance in this special issue of P-Form. The Randolph Street Gallery ran the zine from 1986 to 1999 and covered the performance art scene in Chicago. (Note: Blakk also ran for mayor of Chicago in 1991.) P-Form regularly highlights the work of queer and feminist artists. In the case of this issue, the majority of the articles are written by the artists themselves, who describe their performance practice as well as the difficulty of surviving and sustaining life as a queer performer.

JJBPIn an article entitled “Every Breathing Moment,” Michael Palmer describes the institutional violence enacted against trans bodies. Palmer writes about endless visits to doctors who challenged his identity as a trans man and refused to provide top surgery. He writes that “listening” to doctors or family would have meant turning toward death. Palmer describes breathing as a radical act—an assertion of life in institutional spaces that negate trans lives.

P-Form also provides reviews of other artistic forms, including painting cinema. In accordance with the drag performance theme, this 1991 issue includes a brief review of Jennie Livingston’s documentary Paris is Burning, which had been released the previous year. The review reads like a collage of interviews and pull-quotes, featuring press statements made by Livingston as well as iconic lines from drag performers such as Dorian Corey and Venus Extravaganza. “The balls used to be about what you could create,” says Corey, “Now they’re about what you could acquire.” Corey notes that theft was not uncommon among the economically struggling performers on the ball circuit. The statement is a strong illustration of how the Harlem ball circuit served as a space of queer of color fabulosity that also gestured toward the precarity of queer life. Performance is a means of sustaining queer life, and it depends on radical forms of resistance to institutional oppression.


1 Goodman, Elyssa. “The Drag Queen Who Ran For President in 1992.” Them, 20 Apr. 2018, https://www.them.us/story/joan-jett-blakk-drag-queen-president. Accessed 13 June 2019.


Jacob Carter graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2019 with a master’s degree in English. He is interested in queer cinema and performance art and plans to apply for a PhD in performance studies later this year. He has previously presented his research at the annual conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and the Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference.

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