The Barnard Zine Library hosted a workshop Friday, exploring themes of health, science, gender, and sexuality in zines. 

On Friday afternoon, the Barnard Zine Library hosted “Queer of Science,” a workshop about the importance of documenting personal experiences with health, particularly among queer creators and in the context of zines. 

Erin Anthony, STEM librarian at the Barnard Library, opened with a presentation about the power of self-publishing and observation in science. “Science is not perfect or pure,” Anthony said. Humans produce science. For this reason, science is vulnerable to the same biases and varied interests as the people who generate it. “Science has often been wielded to oppress people,” they continued, alluding to the veneer of objectivity and empiricism that has shielded medical and scientific racism in the past and the modern-day. Chronicling personal experience can be a powerful method of data collection, they said, particularly for marginalized people that are often left behind by medical and scientific institutions. 

“What does it mean to honor our own observations and questions about health, nature and other areas of science?” Anthony asked the workshop participants. They presented an historical example of a zine that spoke to this question in the context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. How To Have Sex In An Epidemic is a 1983 zine by Richard Berkowizt, Michael Callen, and Joseph Sonnabend. It is one of the earliest American documents advocating for what we would today consider safe sex, Anthony told the workshop participants, such as using condoms and practicing consent. The content of the zine was gathered from the observations and personal experiences of the contributors, and its wide accessibility and large-scale influence was largely due to its format as a self-published pamphlet. Anthony stated that observation and experience are critical forms of data collection, even within today’s medical system. They offered the example of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PDD), which requires a subject to keep a regular journal of symptoms in order to be diagnosed, and emphasized the “importance of honoring intuition of fact.”

Alekhya Maram, Barnard Zine Library assistant and Barnard College first-year, continued the presentation with a close-reading of Sarah Wood’s 2021 zine Plus Sighs, which explores the author’s experience as a fat, queer person. The zine argues that by concealing fatphobia behind a guise of concern for a person’s health, and by treating fatness as the product of a series of personal bad decisions, we refuse to confront the institutional neglect fat people face within the healthcare system. Maram presented the zine as an example of a self-published document based on observation and personal experience in the context of health, sexuality, gender, and fatness. She presented a graphic from Wood’s upcoming zine that demonstrates the unique ways in which fatness and queerness intersect, such as “BMI limits for transition procedures” and “fatness [reinforcing] secondary sex characteristics,” in Wood’s words. 

Claudia Maria Acosta, Barnard Zine Library technician, discussed LB’s 2010 zine Trying #4, another example of a self-published documentation of a queer creator’s experience with their health and the medical system. At the time of creating the zine, LB was an overworked Chicago public school teacher. They recount experiencing vision loss on account of the stress, as well as chewing gum to cope with the pressures of their job and needing dental surgery as a result. LB’s work also confronts the lack of counseling available to queer students at their school and the extra emotional labor they endured as a consequence of filling that gap. The zine contains printed text, and black and white sketches of nuts, horseshoes and teeth, which Acosta presented on slides with melancholy background images of dirty, urban snow. 

Barnard Zine Library curator Jenna Freedman closed out the workshop with a presentation of her zine Are You There God? It’s Me, Menopause. She and a friend created the zine in 2014, soliciting essay submissions from a variety of creators about their experiences with menopause. Freedman acknowledged the lack of trans people’s narratives in the zine and the scarcity of contributions from people of color. The zine aims to confront the social stigma surrounding menopause and to fill the knowledge gaps when it comes to menopause symptoms through a series of personal accounts. 

At the conclusion of the presentation, Freedman and the other workshop leaders encouraged participants to create their own zines based on observations and experiences with health and nature. They also invited members of the Barnard and Columbia community to visit the Barnard Zine Library on the second floor of the Milstien Center and explore the library’s collection of 12,000 zines.

zine library via Wikimedia Commons