In the South Asian Subcontinent, the mere existence of Gaysi, a now well-known multimedia platform for and about the LGBTQ community, is a form of activism. However, Gaysi is way beyond just existing. It has been leading a revolution in the region by consistently creating meaningful content that’s not only treasured by the community it’s targeting but also by national and international mainstream media. Having started off as an online blog to provide a safe space to share stories about the LGBTQ community, Gaysi eventually diversified into various offline events and into an independently and meticulously produced print magazine – The Gaysi Zine.
The Gaysi Zine has released five issues so far, one of which was a graphic anthology. The magazine has been creating a unique mélange of words and graphics to present sensitive and progressive content in a highly nuanced way.
We spoke with the editor of the magazine, Priya Gangwani, and with Fishead, the visual editor (except for the fourth issue for which Sreejita Biswas (Solo) was the visual editor).
Language is tricky when it comes to queer politics and narratives, as it creates categorization." - Madeleine Morley from MagCulture said this in the piece they did on The Gaysi Zine. Could you elaborate on this? How difficult is it to choose language and artworks while talking about queerness?
Priya: Often we don't have the language to describe our desires, identities, and experiences. It is at this juncture that illustrations, graphic stories and comics come to our rescue and help us articulate what words cannot, or are forbidden to. Moreover, art pushes us to look beyond the normative, question things labelled as ‘unnatural’ or ‘abnormal’, thereby exposing the trouble with validity of that notion.
It is very critical to collect and curate artworks while talking about queerness for it brings many aspects of queer lives to light without clutching to the support of written words. It can be bold and explicit. It is a powerful form of expression, and thus validates our existence.
Could you tell us a bit more about the Graphic Anthology issue - how did it all come together?
Priya: The fourth issue of The Gaysi Zine, a graphic anthology, was a remarkable experience. We always wanted to create a visual language in the queer space. Art has been an important and effective tool in starting a conversation in Indian society about queerness, sexuality and homosexuality; and it seemed like the right time to do it. We collaborated with over 30 comic makers, writers and artists to bring forth the anthology of 28 unique queer graphic stories.
It created an amazing space for re-imagination, and allowed the complexities of human emotions and desires to shine through in its most raw and honest form.
The covers have always been a huge strength of your magazine. They are instantly intriguing and stunning. Could you talk about the cover of the fifth issue in particular - All that we want?
Fishead: The cover is a war of its own to tackle. After quite a few explorations and many, many ideas that sounded great in my head and looked shit on paper, the one that you currently see came to fruition. It represents an exchange between the individual and the collective within the queer universe, where our imaginations, our ideas, our expressions about gender and sexuality help us grow both individually and collectively.
Different characters represent different desires – the pregnant man is a reflection of the desire to challenge the biological limits of your body; the android represents the vital role that technology plays in our love lives and our sheer dependence on it; the child represents a longing for innocence in an ever-changing world; and the falling girl represents, well, falling. The cover is us.
You guys have stayed independent so far which is highly commendable for a print magazine- how crucial is this independence? Does it in some way reflect the entire ethos of what Gaysi is all about?
Priya: The magazine is a confluence of conversations and community through art and written text. These conversations are personal essays, fictions, experiences, memories, feelings, dilemmas, anything and everything that is woven into the very existence of a queer person. We are loud without imitations. We take space without apologies. The independence helps us to not have to negotiate the above!
However, as part of our ideology practiced at Gaysi, we are always seeking ways to collaborate with people and organisations that embrace similar sensibilities.
The Gaysi Zine aims to reach people living in smaller cities ‘who have no access to private parties or public spaces and hence feel isolated from the queer movement’. How do you ensure the reach of the print magazine to the tier 2-3 cities in India?
Priya: There are many ways in which we realise this aim. Firstly, we collaborate with many people from such towns and cities: visual artists, writers, photographers. They bring the unique experiences and perspectives of being queer and navigating their wants in these cities.
Secondly, we reach out to the queer organisations and support groups in tier 2-3 cities when the zine is released, and send them a few copies, which could circulate in their on-ground network.
Thirdly, we design the zine keeping both the content and visual language simple and accessible to most. And of course, social media helps cover this gap and blur the many lines dividing the metropolitan cities from tier 2-3 cities in India.
Editorially and production-wise, what have been some of the biggest learnings so far? How has the magazine evolved in these areas?
Priya: One of the biggest learnings was that all narratives are important on their own, and offer unique perspectives that together form a sum of parts for what it means to be a queer person of South-Asian subcontinent, and navigating within the contexts of class, caste, identity, race, prejudices and religion. Second learning is that in many ways the narratives in the magazine are still just touching the surface of the deeply hidden and not spoken about queer desires. But we hope that it unlocks all of that.
The magazine has evolved on various counts, the most important being the method in the way we tell our stories. As we grow by each issue, we realise the importance of how we’re bringing and presenting these narratives together, whether it’s through design, visual voice, curation, or editing. From a largely written documentation, the zine is now diverse in its creative expression: there are personal accounts, fiction, poetry, non-fiction, graphic narratives, illustrations, and photo essays.
The Gaysi Zine is not only admired in India, but has also been getting a lot of well-deserved recognition internationally. How much does that really inspire you to keep going?
Priya: The recognition is great and we appreciate the international platforms that recognise the good work happening in India in the queer space. However, what really inspires us to keep going is when Gaysi reaches new people, their friends and families; and inspires them to share their stories with the larger community. Our aim is to seek out a larger community and collaborate with a myriad of individuals, that is, women, feminists, gay men, trans people, bisexuals, pansexuals, heterosexuals, and gender non-conforming folks. Any mention, recognition and award that helps fulfill this goal makes our world a very happy place.
What's next for The Gaysi Zine?
Priya: As storytelling continues to evolve in countless ways, we strive to always be engaging and inspiring to our readers. We are focusing on collaborating with people from different disciplines, bringing diverse narratives, experimenting with design and visual mediums that foster independent thinking, and looking out for creative methods which thrive on reimagining the narratives of queer persons in India.
Fishead: What’s next is understanding how we can narrow the gap between digital and print in the way we tell our stories with our future issues.