Textual Communities: Participation and Representation in Queer Feminist Australian Zines

The textual community of zines offers significant benefits for marginalised voices in particular, where physical sites of support or peer engagement may not exist (Sinor 2003, 245).…”

Bianca Martin
Independent Scholar



Bianca Martin is an independent researcher currently based in Toowoomba, Australia. She completed her Master of Arts specialising in English literature through the University of Southern Queensland in 2019 and is the creator of Rut Zine, a free weekly perzine which has been in circulation since 2016.



This paper will demonstrate how contemporary Australian queer feminist zines contribute to community building. Community building in zine culture is not limited by geographic boundaries and therefore offers significant opportunities for marginalised voices, where a physical local site of support or peer engagement may not exist. I will analyse two Australian queer feminist collaborative zines active in the past decadeWoolf Pack and Concrete Queersthrough the framework of textual communities, where emphasis is placed on writing and reading as forms of community identification and participation. The zines will be analysed as examples of participatory media, which blurs the boundaries between creator and consumer because of their handmade production as well as their intimate and personal content. I will also show how these zines foster a sense of belonging through shared discourse as sites of representation and visibility.



queer, feminist, zines, community, participatory media



In her article “Sites unseen: Ethnographic research in a textual community” Kate Eichhorn (2001) proposes repurposing the term textual communities to discuss ethnographic research in zine culture. The term was originally coined by Brain Stock, who explored religious and reformation community development in the 11th and 12th centuries and classified communities that centred around an authoritative text as textual communities (Heath 2018, 5). Rather than viewing the text as a singular authoritative figure, Eichhorn’s definition positions the text as a conceptual meeting place, built around “a shared set of reading and writing practices” to signify membership of a community (2001, 566). Experiences of community are no longer limited by geographical location and there is a growing need to account for communities that exist and flourish beyond physical sites of engagement (Eichhorn 2001, 565). Analysing zines through the framework of textual communities, therefore, allows us to understand the ways those who participate in zine culture “develop intimate relationships with one another without ever actually meeting, let alone gathering in one place” (Sinor 2003, 244). The textual community of zines offers significant benefits for marginalised voices in particular, where physical sites of support or peer engagement may not exist (Sinor 2003, 245). 

In this paper, I will demonstrate how contemporary Australian queer feminist zines contribute to community building by analysing two contemporary Australian queer feminist zinesWoolf Pack and Concrete Queersthrough the framework of textual communities. I first examine these zines as examples of participatory media, blurring the boundaries between creator and consumer due to their handmade production combined with intimate and personal content. I also examine how these zines act as sites of visibility and representation for a community that has been historically silenced or misrepresented by mainstream media, creating a sense of belonging through shared discourse (Triggs 2010, 209). Throughout this paper, I will refer to those who participate in the zine community as zinesters, a term that does not distinguish between zine reader and zine maker, but rather embodies the ambiguous space in between (Poletti 2005, 185). This definition allows room for those who participate in the zine community in ways that are not immediately visible and is a definition I embrace as a practitioner within the zine community. As a zinester who makes and consumes queer feminist zines, I have experienced firsthand how interacting with zines fosters a feeling of community in seemingly implicit ways. For me, zines are an embodied experience because of their tactile nature, do-it-yourself production, and intimate content. Queer feminist zines hold additional significance, showing me a way of existing and providing a space for me to experiment with voice in a way other forms of media could not. 

Queer Feminist Australian Zines: Woolf Pack and Concrete Queers

In an interview conducted in Melbourne-based zine Jerk Store Issue #10 (2020), zinester Luke You provides a definition of zines:

“A zine is an independent publication, a do-it-yourself, homemade magazine. Usually made by an individual or a small group of individuals. A zine can be about anything. A zine maker always has full creative control of the zine. A zine is often photocopied. A zine is often stapled. A zine maker should put whatever makes them happy in the zine. A zine is always made for love and not for profit. And a zine can break one or all of these rules and still be a zine.”

As a product that can essentially defy its own definition, analysing zines can prove problematic. I have therefore chosen to examine the zines Woolf Pack and Concrete Queers together because of their similarities in production, aesthetics, and content. Each zine is actively aligned as queer and feminist, featuring queer content, feminist content, and content that explores the intersections and conflicts of queerness and feminism. Woolf Pack was a Brisbane-based zine spanning eleven issues between 2014 and 2018. Each issue contained personal essays, vegan recipes, pop culture critiques, art, and poetry. Concrete Queers is a Melbourne-based zine first published in 2015 and has released thirteen issues to date. Each issue is based on a central theme and contributors are encouraged to respond to the theme in any printable medium, though most commonly feature poetry, short fiction, and personal essays.

Woolf Pack and Concrete Queers are both Australian-based zines, with the editors and contributors predominantly living in Australia (as noted by the author notes at the end of each issue). The examined zines are also both serialised, meaning there are multiple issues under the same title, released periodically. Both zines are collaborative zines, which means they are made by a group of people brought together by a common topic or theme and led by an editor or small editorial team (Duncombe 2008, 15). These editors play a role that more closely resembles a curator, taking charge of the zine layout, assembly, and distribution rather than determining whether material is suitable for publication or editing for style and grammar. And finally, both zine titles are presented similarly as colour photocopied A5-size booklets that are folded and stapled at the crease.

Zines as Participatory Media

Contemporary queer feminist Australian zines can facilitate community building by providing an intimate space for participation. Zines are an example of participatory media, which seeks to challenge the distinction between consumers and producers and means those involved feel more strongly connected to the activities they are engaging in (Poletti 2005, 186). The physical production and personal content of zines work together to break down the layers of separation between the consumer and creator that are often seen in traditional forms of media and facilitates a sense of intimacy (Watson and Bennett 2020, 21). The text in Woolf Pack is typed and printed, with the paragraphs cut and glued onto a contrasting coloured or patterned background. This technique gives the final product a handmade feel, suggesting to the reader that traditional barriers of access to publishing, such as professional graphic design skills, are not a requirement for zine making.

The materiality of the zine, as a non-professional and handmade production, invites participation by signalling that anyone can contribute (Triggs 2010, 205-6). Zines can include hand-crafted elements, such as cover pages that are individually coloured or cut and paste together, ribbon or thread for binding, or handwritten notes to the reader (Poletti 2005, 184). There are no corporate publishing standards or conventions to adhere to and a much less rigorous (if one exists at all) editorial process for contributing writing or artwork. It is not unusual for zines to contain mistakes or errors such as “sentences with their ends cut off, pictures that have not photocopied successfully and illegible handwriting” (Poletti 2008, 99). The cover page of Woolf Pack Issue #9 features neither title nor issue number and this information can only be deduced by the email address included inside the zine and an online search. Whether this omission was intentional or accidental is unknown but signifies there is an implicit invitation for imperfection within these pages. Issues of Concrete Queers are stapled crooked with pages jutting out unevenly along the fore edge, implying the stapling was completed by hand and not by machine. Poletti argues the “decision to release an ‘imperfect’ text allows the zinester to establish a relationship with the reader,” providing a relatable and fallible experience that challenges “the expectation of perfection or professionalism both in the content and structure of the zine” (Poletti 2008, 99).

Intimacy is also invoked by the personal content of the zine. Watson and Bennett explain that “intimacy is crafted not only through what is being shared but how” (2020, 26). Woolf Pack and Concrete Queers primarily feature work with first-person perspectives, written casually or plainly in a way that feels accessible to most readers. It is work written from the inside, not from an outsider’s detached or analytical perspective. Concrete Queers Issue #8 features a nonfiction piece by Avery Flinders titled ‘Altogender’, detailing the author’s seventeen years’ experience of singing in a choir and their exploration of gender identity and expression through the traditionally gendered grouping of vocal ranges. Flinders gravitated toward the seemingly neutral alto singing range, explaining “it was the first label I could apply to myself that was on the same spectrum as ‘male’ and ‘female’ without being at either end” (2017, 7-8). Flinders goes on to explain that being nonbinary, “I had to define my gender for myself. I got to decide what it looked like, and what it meant” (2017, 10). The implicit call to readers here is they too can decide what their gender means and how it can be expressed. While Flinders never directly addresses the reader they use inclusive language in their writing, inviting the reader into the conversation and encouraging them to reflect on their own experiences with the subtle ways binary gender expressions are reinforced throughout society.

Queer Visibility in Zines

Queer feminist zines can act as sites of representation and visibility, opening space for stories and imagery that have been historically suppressed. Until somewhat recently (and arguably still) mainstream media has often failed to provide a venue for marginalised voices and queer representations are often stereotyped, inaccurate, or excluded entirely (Zobl 2004, 156). In media that prioritises queer voices, zinesters can hold space to challenge dominant cultural scripts by creating an oppositional history by sharing personal stories, writing fiction with positive queer narratives, and the visual representation of queer lives beyond stereotypes. Watson and Bennett explain that sharing these narratives “validates the readers’ own experience and connects them to an empathetic community” (2020, 25). It is through these shared texts and images that a sense of belonging is strengthened, and the implicit work of community building can occur (Triggs 2010, 209).

Woolf Pack regularly explicitly addresses issues of queer representation in mainstream media. In issue Woolf Pack Issue #7, Izzie Austen explores the representation of transgender characters in film and television in her essay “Best Case Scenarios for Cis Actors Playing Trans Characters.” Austen identifies the common trend of cisgendered actors playing the role of a transgender character and the issues this raises for accurate representation. Austen discusses five examples and reflects on the sensitivity and accuracy of these portrayals. Regarding the inclusion of the transgender character Denise Bryson in the television series Twin Peaks:

“Yes, Agent Cooper has a moment of alarm upon learning about his old buddy’s new life, but after that everyone is very accepting of Denise, exaggeratedly limp handshake and all. There are a couple of slip-ups with her pronouns…but overall it was a surprisingly good representation for 1991” (2016, 4).

Austen continues this analysis in Woolf Pack Issue #8 in “Lessons from Movies for Movies” where she identifies common tropes in film portrayals of queer lives. In reviewing the film Pride, Austen (2017, 16) argues “You don’t have to kill us off to make a meaningful movie,” referring to the trope where a token queer character experiences a narrative of suffering. Austen vents her frustrations at the deficiency of positive representations of queer lives stating, “It’s exhausting as hell when the only representations you see of you and your friends are tragic lives ending in early deaths” (2017, 17). 

Austen’s pieces in Woolf Pack remind the reader to be critical consumers and to pursue accurate queer representations. Craig (2015, 268) proposes negative or poor representations of queer subjectivities can be detrimental to the psychological wellbeing of members of the community, causing further alienation and estrangement. Seeing yourself represented on the page can hold enormous power, providing a framework in which to validate your experience and subjectivity. Taylor (2012, 149) supports this notion, stating that from personal experience as a queer person growing up with limited access to that community she felt as though she had “no idea what queer should look or sound like”. Woolf Pack and Concrete Queers are created by queer feminist zinesters, prioritising queer representations and making otherwise silenced experiences visible. When zines act as sites of visibility and representation for marginalised communities a connection is made, allowing for the symbolic work of community building to occur through a sense of belonging and shared discourse.


This paper set out to demonstrate how zines contribute to community building in zine culture by analysing two Australian queer feminist collaborative zinesWoolf Pack and Concrete Queersthrough the framework of textual communities. I analysed the two zines as examples of participatory media, blurring the distinction between creator and consumer and inviting reader to become creator. I also examined how these zines foster a sense of belonging through shared discourse as sites of representation and visibility for silenced and overlooked voices. Through media that prioritises marginalised voices, both in terms of content and production, queer feminist zinesters unify otherwise disparate voices and begin the process of community building.



Back, Katherine and Alison Evans, editors. Concrete Queers Issue #8. 2017.

Cheers, Rebecca and Talia Enright, editors. Woolf Pack Issue #7. 2016.

Cheers, Rebecca and Talia Enright, editors. Woolf Pack Issue #8. 2017.

Cheers, Rebecca and Talia Enright, editors. Woolf Pack Issue #9. 2017.

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Zobl, Elke. 2004. “Persephone Is Pissed!: Grrl Zine Reading, Making and Distributing across the Globe.” Hecate. 30 (2): 156-175. search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=anh&AN=15534725&site=ehost-live.