[image description: The front cover of Nic Masangkay’s chapbook “melancholia,” drawn by Raychelle Duazo. A colored pencil, marker, and pen illustration in blues and grays of Nic holding their head in their hands above a Seattle skyline.]
I’ve been impressed with Nic Masangkay’s poetry since I first found slam poetry several years ago, and their first chapbook release, melancholia, delivers on everything I’ve come to expect from them. Nic brings together histories of colonialism and resistance with personal memory and present experience, and the result is immensely powerful.
Two of Nic’s older poems and slam favorites are “Jose Rizal and “My Gender Is For Mothers.” “Jose Rizal” tells the story of a Filipino national hero who was executed as a traitor for resisting Spanish colonization juxtaposed with the ways their mother upholds colonial beauty standards and the silence they’ve adopted to protect her from her pain at Nic’s gender. “My Gender is For Mothers” is a love poem that holds the tension between Nic’s mother’s wishes for them and their queer trans love. Nic’s poems balance strength and vulnerability tremendously.
This chapbook also explores disability through poems about muscle pain, eczema, and trauma. Nic represents chronic pain as a ghost in “This recent muscle pain is…,” and it’s both haunting and healing to hear poetry about the familiar story of wondering why pain returns again and again, only to realize it never quite left. The poem concludes in acceptance, without the common sacrifice of denying the pain.
Nic’s use of imagery and detail makes their poems evocative on the first read-through, but melancholia is also a rich and sometimes abstract collection that benefits from repeated over time. I’ve been hearing “My Gender is for Mothers” performed for years now and I still learn through each return to it and the interconnected stories throughout the collection.
melancholia also features beautiful front and back covers, drawn by queer femme Filipina-American artist Raychelle Duazo and attention to accessibility, with trigger warnings and printed image descriptions of the covers and the artist photos.
True to its title, melancholia brims with sadness both urgent and gentle, but also hope and tenderness. Nic is a master of complexity and a poet whose greatness I aspire to.
To get a copy of melancholia, email Nic at firstname.lastname@example.org. melancholia is available for $10 or on a pay-what-you-can basis.
Queer Anxiety Babiez Distro’s “But You Don’t Look Sick: A Zine About Invisible Illnesses and Disabilities in the Workplace” is a compilation zine about the difficulties of navigating workplaces as an invisibly ill or disabled person. It features personal essays, poetry, and visual art, along with a brief section of legal and informational resources.
Throughout the zine, there is a recurring theme of legal protections and considerations not translating smoothly into real-life coverage. The law may provide for confidential accommodations, but that won’t stop nosy coworkers from inquiring about what they perceive as unfair, or prevent them from making requests that are difficult to decline without disclosing more than you want to.
There is good variation in the disabilities and workplaces represented: various illnesses/disabilities/conditions on both sides of the traditional physical/mental division and jobs ranging from dishwashing and customer service, through college and office jobs. (I have an essay in this zine about the invisibility and erasure of my personal disability and ableism as a concept at my college social justice job.)
Personally, I would have prefered more personal narratives to the information about U.S. and Canadian disability law, which is easier to find in an internet search than the stories shared throughout the rest of the zine. But for someone who needs this information and is too nervous to search for it, stumbling across it in this zine could be just what they need. The page about ableist language is a useful starting point. For readers who want to know more on this topic, I recommend Nik Moreno’s zine This, Not That: A Guide to Eliminating Ableist Language, which I previously reviewed.
I wish, especially for a zine about disability, that the print were larger and the images crisper. Much of the text is too small for me to read comfortably, and some of the text overlaid on Jacqueline Last’s collage “Mechanical Restraints” is too blurry to read, probably as a result of the photocopying process.
The embodied and interpersonal experiences shared in this zine will likely feel familiar to invisibly disabled people and can serve as a guide to abled coworkers and employers of how not to give us a hard-verging-on-illegal time. I’m grateful to Kristen and Maira for editing this collection, which builds community among people like me who can’t always easily find each other in the world — especially in the workplace.
All in Your Head: Queerness, Neurodivergence, and Disability Zine Issue #3: (A)sexuality, Intimacy, and Identity has some of the most consistent quality I’ve seen in an edited zine. This is what an anthology should be. The content (poetry, prose, visual art) is all great, and each piece impresses me for different reasons. And there’s a lot in there! If I’m counting correctly, it’s 94 pages long, which in my zine collection is only rivaled by Hoax. From an editorial standpoint, I’m grateful that this issue is about “(a)sexualities,” for the inclusion, fluidity, and flexibility that wording encompasses. Bear with me — when I dug into the zine to review it, I wanted to give each artist individual attention, so this is gonna run long.
Full disclosure: I have an essay in here — the very first, actually, which I was super excited about when I opened the cover. I don’t make money off sales, though, so the conflict of interest is minimal. My essay is about my frustration with the politics of desirability and particularly the ways our cultural hatred of desperation harms me as an abuse victim/survivor and psychiatrically disabled person.
The next essay is by a friend and long-time zinester fave of mine, Olivia M. Olivia consistently writes what I most want to read: nuanced narratives and analyses of multiple marginalized identities. In the essay in this zine, “Am I Gray?: Gray Areas of Identity and Impairment,” she writes about the ambiguity of her most important identities: being a mixed Latina, gray-asexual and gray-panromantic, with anxiety and depression mostly under control and multiple sclerosis mostly in remission, and feeling “not autistic enough to be autistic.” I relate to many of her questions about belonging and what’s “enough,” and I think she puts words to many people’s feelings when she writes, “I feel content to be floating one second, stretched to splitting the next.”
The next essay, “Isolation” by V, packs much vital, often-silenced political analysis into a few pages. V writes about the parallels between their erasure in the queer community as a mixed-race Asian and white person and as a bi person. By this point in the zine, I was getting really excited about all the nuanced, explicit bi and pan representation. Bi and pan representation is so difficult to find (even when I search it out) that it feels incredible to find it when I’m not specifically looking. V also writes about exotification, fetishization, and objectifcation, in relation to both their own experiences of mental illness and broader patterns. They end the piece with an empowering discussion of what they wish they’d been told.
The next essay to pleasantly surprise me with unexpected representation is also the very next thing in the zine. In “Disordered,” Liza Lauper writes about the excitement of getting a long-sought Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis and the frustration with the insulting label that quickly followed. Paralleling the lack of respectful diagnostic labels is a lack of precise orientation labels that accurately reflect Liza’s orientation. While I do accept the BPD label for myself (albeit in a reclamatory way) and am satisfied with “bi” for myself (in a way that conflicts with many people’s definitions), I relate deeply to Liza’s struggles for language. I’m also grateful any time I find politicized writing by Borderline people (or by people with similar neurotypes who make different decisions about labels) because we’re rarely treated as worthy of writing our own stories and analysis.
While the first several essays interested me because they felt familiar, the next, “Rare Myths for Rare Persons” by Mica McDonald, caught my attention because it’s far from my familiarity. Mica discusses the importance of mythology as sacred truth and shared story of humanity. Ze struggles to feel valued and significant as a transmasculine person with cystic fibrosis when there’s a lack of myths about people like zir. As a partial solution to this problem, Mica offers readings of three Greek and Irish myths in which ze can see elements of zirself. We discuss representation constantly in social justice circles, but mythology isn’t a topic I’ve heard much about from this angle. It expanded my thinking to hear about the importance of myth, specifically, and how Mica reads zir marginalized identities into existing myths.
Kelsie Kachel’s poems “Brain Horror” and “Gendered Construction Sites” use imagery beautifully both for the pain of negative self thoughts and the gender binary and for the hope found by emptying out those thoughts and being their own gender. Jacklyn Janeksela’s poems slide between clear imagery and deliberate ambiguity, leaving me unsure what to feel. Barbara Ruth’s poem “Attracted to Her” explores the transformation of sexual attraction from fun to terror, with the hope that after self examination and work, attraction will return. The poem is rich in its exploration of fear, loss, vulnerability, and the longing to regain longing. Barbara’s other poem in the zine, “What I’m Like,” combines simile and more direct language to tell the story of a sexist poet lover man (who feels uncomfortably familiar) and offer more affirming understandings of herself.
Sky Cubacub’s essay “Radical Visibility: A QueerCrip Dress Reform Movement Manifesto” is unlike anything I’ve read in a zine. Sky is the creator of a clothing company called Rebirth Garments, which makes each item of clothing custom to suit trans and disabled people’s needs and create what Sky calls “radical visibility.” It reads more like an academic essay than I’m used to seeing in zines, with footnotes, works cited, and references to theorists, but for the most part I think it’s accessible to an audience without an academic background. I knew about Rebirth Garments before reading the zine, and I enjoyed hearing more about the philosophy behind the line. If you don’t already know Rebirth Garments, I recommend visiting their website. The black and white photos in the zine show off the form and geometry of Rebirth Garments, but black and white can’t do justice to a line whose core principles incorporate use of vivid color.
Maira’s “I Think I Might Be…Gray Ace?” tells the story of coming into gray-asexuality through a relationship with a partner who, like much of society, framed sex as a necessary part of relationships. Their understanding of their sexuality is complicated by the realizations that in addition to being queer, they are agender and bipolar. Maira’s struggles to reconcile asexuality with trauma resonate with me, as I suspect they will with many ace-spectrum people. Maira contributes to an important, developing school of thought that while asexuality is not necessarily damage, it can be, and that damage is a valid history and way of being.
Finally, Raymond Luczak’s “My Line of Feeling” is a short story about a quadriplegic man named Steve watching an ASL interpreter and reflecting on his life. It weaves smoothly between his present experience, his frustration with forced desexualization, bitterness at abled people, and the reason this interpreter means so much to the speaker. The writing is rhythmic, poetic, and it carried me through the story with urgency, except when Steve brings up fatphobic misogyny in a way that feels like it could be his own.
Overall, I was blown away by the way this zine and each of the artists in it explore ambiguity and multiple marginalizations. I recommend it for anyone who’s interested in the intersections of disability and queerness, especially if personal essays are your thing. I look forward to future issues of All in Your Head (the next issue’s theme is “cure”) and to seeing more from each of the writers featured in this issue. (My apologies to the visual artists — I don’t think I have the understanding of visual art necessary to comment on your work.)
Nik Moreno’s This, Not That: A Guide to Eliminating Ableist Language delivers on its promise: it examines how some everyday words and phrases are ableist and offers suggestions of how to replace them. But what I appreciate most about it is that it provides context that is often missing from word substitution lists.
The zine opens with an introduction about the importance of language in culture and media, a brief glossary, and a reminder of the ways in which ableist language leads abled people to physically harm disabled people. In these components and throughout the rest of the zine, Nik highlights that ableism serves colonialism, white supremacy, and capitalism. These systems all reinforce each other, and it’s important to keep that in mind as we work to dismantle them.
Nik also provides a short note that for some disabled people, including him, it’s powerful and important to reclaim words like “crippled.” As someone who’s pretty into reclamation, I appreciate this acknowledgement and the way Nik’s joy radiates through these words.
Nik starts off the explanation of words to eliminate with “The Scrap Yard,” a collection of words and phrases he suggests eliminating entirely, rather than replacing. He explains how each of them does harm. This list includes slurs and phrases and dismissive, ableist questions like, “What are you deaf?” In this section, I especially appreciate Nik’s analysis of how “lazy” is used to criticize people instead of acknowledging the bodily and societal barriers that stop us.
Before transitioning into the words for which he suggests replacements, Nik cautions the reader that the alternatives he suggests can still be used in ableist ways and provides guidelines for examining the assumptions and values behind our use of language. This extra step of reflection can go a long way in checking our ableism.
The second set of words and phrases to eliminate works similarly to the first set, but in this section there are also clouds of alternatives to try. Nik offers many suggestions for each entry, covering a variety of situations in which people use the ableist language. This section includes words like “lame” and many diagnostic terms that are tossed around as metaphors.
In my mind, there’s not a stark real-life difference between the words in the “scrap yard” and the ones for which Nik suggests alternatives, but his distinction doesn’t detract from my reading experience. Nik’s definitions of terms, particularly around the distinctions between ableism and sanism, differs from mine, and I think these definitions would benefit from more precision, but these are ongoing and community-wide conversations.
Nik also offers opportunities to connect to other people’s writing about resisting ableism through relevant quotes throughout the zine and a “further reading” section at the end.
While much of this zine focuses on getting abled people to stop hurting us, it’s also valuable for disabled people who want to work through how our own language my uphold oppression, and there’s a beautiful and validating dedication at the end. I also recommend it to my fellow white disabled people because we have a lot to learn about how ableism intersects with racism and colonialism and how to support disabled people of color.
Nia King’s #ArtLife: Musings and Advice from a Queer Art Activist of Color is one of the most useful zines I’ve ever read. In this zine, Nia writes about quitting her full-time job to become a full-time freelancer and art activist, sharing both her personal experiences and advice for other emerging artists.
I bought #ArtLife at the Portland Zine Symposium in 2015, when I’d only been sharing my art with the world for a month, and it’s been a primary guide for me ever since. It’s hard to make a living as an artist, especially as one with multiple marginalized identities. Nia, a mixed-race queer artist with chronic pain and depression, gets it. Her advice is accessible for artists who are just starting out, and unlike much art-career advice, hers doesn’t make unjustified assumptions about readers having privilege and resources. Advice topics include networking, publishing, and interviewing people who are marginalized in ways you are not.
The essay “Media is Not a Dirty Word,” which suggests thinking of your work as media, the “merger of art and business” that simplifies gaining an audience by taking advantage of other people’s publishing platforms. Self-promotion as an artist is arduous, and this essay gave me realistic expectations of how difficult it is while acknowledging both the difficulties and the advantages of publishing work through someone else’s channels.
“On the Value of QPOC Art Activism” is a must-read for anyone who cares about financial and social justice for queer artists of color. Nia asks probing questions like, “Why is it the people who make this vital work have to sell their labor to someone else to pay the rent? Why isn’t it enough to add beauty to people’s lives and fuel to the fire for social justice?” Queer artists of color deserve much more financial and emotional love than they get. This essay sings their praises and can remind white and cishet artists and non-artists how vital queer artists of color are. We all need to remember.
#ArtLife also offers reflections and suggestions about ethical dilemmas that are often overlooked in art and journalism spaces. Nia uses feminist, Black, Chicana, indigenous, and disability justice-oriented research methodologies to challenge the journalistic ideal of limiting involvement with subjects. As someone who strives to be ethical in my own work, I really appreciate hearing about Nia’s experiences and thoughts.
#ArtLife holds a special place in my heart and in my room, because it’s so useful I never want to fully put it away. I treasure Nia’s work and hope to contribute to the vital project of advising marginalized artists by writing about my own experiences and advice as a white queer and trans disabled artist.
Nia is also the editor of Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives, volumes 1 and 2, which collect many of her interviews with artists from her podcast We Want the Airwaves. If you’re looking for more of her work (and you really should be), visit her website. You can also support her on Patreon to help fund the QPOC art revolution.
Bending Spoons: A Field to Ableist Microaggressions by M. Sabine Rear is a beautiful, compact quarter-size zine of illustrations of people making everyday ableist comments about Sabine’s blindness, paired with explanations of how what they said was harmful.
It’s very elegant, in both visual style and writing style. Sabine’s illustrations of ableist jackasses and well-meaning but misguided commenters are simple but packed with character. My personal favorite is a dude with crosshatched hair and a beard protesting, “…but you have such beautiful eyes.” The last bit of his comment is written in cursive and the “i” is dotted with a heart, which is the kind of detail that makes me love this zine.
Sabine’s explains the assumptions she observes behind each ableist comment, as well as reflecting on her personal feelings about it and how the comment fits into broader ableist patterns. I recommend checking your own behavior and thoughts about blindness against the illustrated quotes and using Sabine’s analysis to learn how to do better if you notice any of your own anti-blind ableism. Even if you know better than the people who are being blatantly obnoxious, you may not recognize some of the subtler microaggressions as such. Personally, I’ve caught myself making a mistake similar to the person who tries to relate by telling her, “I’m pretty near-sighted too.”
Language like “internalized ableism” and “crip embodiment” may feel dense or confusing for readers who aren’t familiar with disabled and anti-ableist language, but part of unlearning ableism is familiarizing yourself with the language disabled people use to describe our experiences. This is a great place to start.
Bending Spoons inspires me to experiment with the power of simplicity. It’s a quick, short read packed with useful information.