A Call to Arms
by Devon Devine
“Who says girls can’t be butch? Who says boys can’t be fags?” These words published in the first issue of J.D.s Fanzine (1986), echoed a sentiment that a generation of young queers were aching to articulate. More than just a commentary on prevailing gender norms, many see J.D.s as the beginning of the Homocore movement. This movement was connected through its zine culture — independent publications that were platforms for individual expression. Published by Bruce LaBruce and G.B. Jones in Toronto, the first J.D.s is splattered with photos of punk rock boys and genderfuck leather girls that gave artistically-minded queers affirming images that spoke directly to their politics and culture. These were queers who placed themselves outside of any mainstream scene — including the culture of the mid 80s, post disco homosexual, a thriving scene in gay ghettos. It also included the heterocentric punk rock world, for which the publication MaximumRocknRoll was a voice, and out of which J.D.s was borne. J.D.s manifesto directly addressed MaximumRocknRoll’s lack of queer politics within a punk context:
“When you’re reading MaximumRocknRoll, everything is questioning authority — question the rules applied to music, ecology, politics, the mosh pit… But what about sex? If you’re fighting against how the majority tells you to act, then how can you act like the majority when it comes to sex-type-stuff? The biggest way schools, parents, the church, and other institutions control youth is by telling them who they have to love and fuck. How you have to act according to the rules of being a girl or a boy… J.D.s is the homocore movement.”
By 1991, homocore had become a full-fledged movement across the United States. At the same time, another movement was beginning in Olympia, Washington. In the summer of 1991, Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail formed the band ‘Bikini Kill’ (after a zine of the same name) and released their first cassette — marking what many claim is the beginning of the Riot Grrrl movement. In the same way that queers felt dissatisfied with the lack of representation of both radical politics in the gay community and sexual politics in the punk rock community, women began to voice their opposition to male-dominated music and political movements.
These two movements make up the queer underground of the early 90s: a ‘do-it-yourself’ aesthetic accompanying a close knit national network comprised of record labels, music, zines, photography, art, and political events. Major players of these movements began to pop up in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and Olympia.
San Francisco became a breeding ground of artists who sought to dismantle mainstream gay ideaology through a homocore/riot grrrl lens. Pansy Division formed in 1991 and broke ground with a new gay rock musical aesthetic. In 1994, they toured with label mates Green day, performing to sold out stadiums, and even sparking an MTV news piece on queer music. Joining them in this genre was Tribe 8, a genderqueer punk band whose performances challenged notions of both masculinity and feminism. Supporting both of these bands was Matt Wobensmith’s grassroots music label, Outpunk, and his affilliated zine of the same name. Outpunk was the first label devoted entirely to queer bands, putting out compilations that featured musicians from around the country. The zine Outpunk alongside Tom Jennings and Deke Nihilson’s Homocore and Larry-bob’s Holy Titclamps were bringing a new idea of sexuality and gender to the forefront, that revolved around being queer, fierce, anarchist, and punk.
Without a set agenda or knowing of the impending media coverage and its influence on the underground arts and music culture, queer artists in these cities began organizing punk rock shows, film screenings, zine trades, and any other event that would create community around being ‘queer’ and in opposition to mainstream ideas of identity politics. The queering of punk music and the empowering ideas of sexuality and gender that came out of these movements still remain a driving force for queer artists, musicians, and activists today.