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FEMINIST - DIY - QUEER:
The zine Varla's Passed Out and FingerBang distro

An interview with Red Chidgey
from Brighton, England


by Elke Zobl

July 2004

fingerbang distro
doing the anti-business since
2001


resistance against racism,
fundamentalism
and oppression.

FEMINIST
DIY
QUEER

Inspired by riot grrrl politics and the desire to create and educate, FingerBang is a small independent distributor of ladymade and feminist goods.

The mission of FingerBang Distro is:
* support underground, d.i.y. and alternative cultures and publications
* promote the art, music, crafts and organisational projects of emanicpatory social groups and rebel grrrls/guys.
* organise events, panels, workshops, film screenings
* promote zine and comic communitites through establishing the UK Zine Network as a forum for discussion and skill-sharing.

http://www.geocities.com/fingerbangdistro/mission.html

Check out the following interview with the amazingly active and creative Red as well as her website!

 



Can you tell me first of all a little bit about yourself? How old are you, where are you originally from and where do you reside now?


A d.i.y. riot grrrl provocateur, 24, spending the summer at home in Clacton and preparing to move back to Brighton in the autumn.

What do you do besides your zine Varla's Passed Out and the Fingerbang distro?

I have started a Ladyfest film archive (http://www.geocities.com/fingerbangdistro/listings.html) that serves as a non-profit lending resource for UK Ladyfests and other activist and feminist events. This stems from my love of film and my desire to support film-makers, whether they are just beginning or are well established.

I've also been busy doing workshops for various Ladyfests (including one on surviving sexual abuse for Ladyfest Birmingham), and am seriously considering organizing a Ladyfest Brighton for next summer.

Other recent zines include: The Hand that Cradles the Rock (a sex zine), Girl Track Record (a riot grrrl zine), A less intimate disappointment (a personal zine about abuse, self-harm, riot grrrl and relationships).

Other things that take up my time: Finishing my MA in Critical Theory at Sussex University (and hopefully starting a course in oral history this autumn).

For how long have you been running your zine and distro now? Are you the only producer or is there a team?

I think I started Fingerbang in the autumn of 2001- it almost seems to have started itself. I remember writing about my desire to distro in Varla 4, and then it happened and I've been doing it ever since. It makes me really happy to be semi-organising this diffused zine networks, making them more accessible and promoting such wonderful writers and artists. Although it is just me who runs the distro I often write "we"- I think just because I like the sound of "we" better and the whole thing rests on everyone who helps it out a little. "I" sounds lonely, "we" sounds like something's happening.

 



What made you decide to start these projects? How did you come up with the idea and the names?

Before Varla, I had written a little "newsletter" called Vaseline, which was just a double-sided A4 sheet I put together on my computer and mailed out to friends. Then at uni I did "Medea" (which was later to become the name of my second pet rat), which had stuff like Free Tibet, my response to page three, stuff like that. I've always been interested in names, and they have to resonant with me. The myth of Medea is pretty horrific- killing her kids to spite her husband. It seems so counter-intuitive that I liked it. Most of the time I don't know where names come from- I jot things down if I like how they sound. Varla's passed Out Again, I liked as it reminds me of a stage I went through when I used to get very very drunk. I was always passing out at people's parties and there's this state of (un)consciousness which I used to really enjoy. Being utterly passed out, but still being self-aware and still being able to hear all the things going on around me. It was like some weird aural, out of body experience. I used to talk to myself a lot and think quite clearly in that state, like I was touching something. So that name reminds me of how self-destructive I can be, but also that beautiful, delicate and interesting states can also co-exist in the same experience.

I have a name that I have yet to do something with "Stella's Word". I'd like for it to be the feminist second hand book-shop (with gig space) that I'll someday run. There's also "je suis mort" which will be my next project-I want to record my family history. Just the other day I found out from my brother that my nan- who's Austrian- met my granddad when he was a prisoner of war. They escaped Austria, but some horrific things happened on their journey- including my nan being raped by two army officiers (Russians?) and my granddad killing one of them with his bare hands. These are the stories that I had no idea existed. Covertly, I want to collect them. I'd like to make little boxes with a zine in it for each family member. Transcribe their testimonies, plus add photos and my own memories. I want it to be as true as memory and story-telling can be, so I don't want anyone in the family to read it. Else, I might make two books for every family member. One that's o.k. and can be shared and one that can't pass over, that's meant to be buried and read by strangers until generations along the line discover the little packages in a loft sometime. These zines are definitely ones to be found, and then they'll be little time bombs. How amazing to be a kid and find your family history detailed so subjectively and hidden away. I like the name "je suis mort"- I am dead- because it's an impossible statement which I can't truly say when I'm still living.

Fingerbang means two things to me- masturbating (it's some American slang) and a girl holding out her fingers to mimic a gun.

Most of my projects are started through a desire to shake things up, aim for the unspeakable, support little things that are important and through which whole worlds could begin.

What do you hope to accomplish by making your zine and running your distro?

I feel compelled to do zines and the distro- because they are my passion and I am infinitely amazed at taking blank space and making something happen. I want to reach out and connect with other people, break through the bullshit and distance and do the completely unexpected which is hand my heart and pain to someone to digest and speak back to. I feel very dissatisfied with the quality of journalism and critical writing and everything that purports to be radical or important and doesn't make you feel, doesn't speak to experiences, and doesn't dare to cross lines to make something more interesting happen. I'm always interested in what's on the other side.

What topics do you discuss most often in your zine, or are discussed in the zines you carry?

Feminism as it's my skeleton and spleen. Art as I continuously hope that I could make something beautiful. Sex as I was introduced to this through disrespect and abuses of trust and power; so now I'm working out what sex really means to me. Everything is connected by desire and a sense of commitment to the world and forces more prevalent and fluid than I can imagine. I'm fascinated by issues of memory, love and alternative ways of being.

 

What does zine making and distributing mean to you? What do you love and find challenging about zine making, running a distro and mailing list?

It's a complete buzz to self-publish. I like entering into a dialogue with people and to put thoughts and ideas out there and hope that it might trigger something in someone. I hope to be provocative, informative, a voice testing what it feels like to be without limits and to actually be that centered, ethical, good person (as well as acknowledging darker moments). Writing is a way of working out how I feel about things and learning to refine my experiences, get out of situations which are no good for me, and create the communities and relationships I need to exist in. Zine- making allows me to put out the ideas and suggestions that I really do want people to think about.

Distroing again connects me into all the great work women are putting out. I like to help support things I believe in, and create a little crucible for all these elements to do their magic.

It takes time, but its something I love a lot. I'm not too fussed out being the fanciest distro on the block, I'm quite happy in keeping it small and old-fashioned. I've been doing it for about 3 years and I hope to always be doing something like this. Sometimes someone's gotta do the work to make things easier for other people- distro kids are like this. We go treasure hunting and then want everyone to know about all the cool, amazing things we've found.



What are some of the zines you read and admire?

I really love Doris for being so articulate and spot on, and dealing with heavy stuff in this enchanting way which makes you hooked. A renegade's handbook to love and sabotage is like a survivors manual and basic check list for up and coming revolutions. That lady is a genius and has a lot of information, experience and inspiration- and she's not afraid to be critical. Footsteps in the dark is a brilliant little zine- Rachel makes me feel like I know her well. She's decoding her brain on the page.

What advice would you give to others who wanted to start a zine and/or distro?

Believe in yourself, take leaps of imagination, think about form as well as content (i.e. think about the visuals, the binding, the shape, the size, the paper, the cover). Remember to leave plenty of margin space so your work doesn't get chopped off when it comes to copying. Promote your zine through flyers and the internet. Join the Uk Zine network (you don't have to live here to be part of it!). Email directly for tips about starting a distro (red_chidgey@yahoo.com). Basically, all you need is to be an organized person with a huge love of zines and time to commit to the project. Take a look at other distros to see how they organize their catalogues, different methods of taking on zines (wholesale, trades, sale or return, etc), and whether you'd like to focus on a particular topic (e.g. feminist, queer, anti-racism, cookery, music, art…)

Do you feel part of a zine community or network, locally, nationally or/and internationally, and what does it mean to you?

It's an imagined community in one way. As much as I adore meeting zine-writers, I love that I only know people through the things they circulate on paper. I love sharing people's secrets and strengthening ties of familiarity and support that circumnavigate the usual routes of talking. I think that other forms of communication are really neglected, and I hate being smothered in small talk or being self-conscious when I speak. I love writing for adding another dimension to relationships and community building. I do feel part of a community insofar as I know I share this passion with other people.

Could you please describe a little bit the grrrl, lady, queer and transfolk zine community or network in your country (or in Europe in general)? Who are some of the most active participants?

I came to zine cultures through riot grrrl so am fortunate to know a lot of really talented, impassioned and inspiring people who combine their feminism with energy, music, art and attitude. I'm quite jealous of how organized North American zine cultures are and the number of exhibitions and conventions that go on. It's my mission to make zines more accessible and out in the open here. We have the UK Zine Network, Caption comic convention, and lots of people writing away in bedrooms and hoping to scam photocopying one way or another. In the UK I love the zines: Capital Frantic, Who's that Bitch, Electra, Assess Yr Weapons.

Has the experience of doing the distro, zine and mailing list been empowering to you? In which ways? What were some of main influences that have empowered you (punk/feminism/zines/ friends…?) in your life?

It's been totally empowering as I've learnt how easy it is to take charge and create something sustainable. I get off on the zines I read- they make me laugh, turn me on, make me think, expand my horizons. I learn a lot from zines and have become more confident since writing my own. Feminism, riot grrrl and Ladyfest constantly inspire me to take action and spread revolution like fire burns and kisses.

Which role does the Internet play for you?

It is invaluable for the distro- which is constantly updated. I'm in contact with a lot of people through email and find out about new things through quick internet searches. It's an important thread in the d.i.y. activity I do, although I do keep tabs on the amount of time I spend on-line. It's a cheap thrill compared to attending ladyfests, hanging out, and getting stuff done.

 



Varla's passed out, issue #4

Can you please tell us a little about the mailing list UK Zine network you have been involved with?

My intention with this was just to set up a forum for people to take where they wanted. I hoped that people would discuss zines, plug their projects, share resources, ask each other for help. There's about 40 members and it's quite active which is good, although I'd like to see more zines being banded around. There's a lot of zines being produced in the Uk but no central resource to tie all the threads together- I hope to keep spreading the word to entice more people to get involved.


You are writing your thesis also on the topic of grrrl zines. Can you tell us a bit about what you are doing? How do you see your role as researcher/scholar and cultural producer?

My dissertation is looking at riot grrrl zine cultures in conjunction with different interpretations of "post-feminism" (some people say it's a backlash discourse, others that "postfeminism" can be a critical project which combines other anti-foundational discourses like post-structuralism, post-colonialism, psychoanalysis etc). I'm interested in considering zines as alternative sites of theorizing, outside of the academy, and how they function as archives documenting and creating feminist history. It's been an interesting project in which my own role has been blurred- I've been involved in riot grrrl networks for years so this dissertation is very close to my heart. Part of the work is to debunk some of the myths and reified definitions surrounding riot grrrl- to legitimate and acknowledge all the amazing stuff that's happening right now in European networks (where riot grrrl exists as a forum for education, activism and community building). Ideally, I would love my dissertation to accompany a zine, challenge conventional layouts and finish the chapters with d.i.y. tips about writing zines and how we can bring them into the classroom. But I do feel like I have to stay within certain regulations and offer my critique from within established conventions. Why isn't academia a more creative place?

In my feeling a lot of grrrls are doing research on zines, riot grrrl and ladyfests right now. Do you see this too, and what do you think could come of this? What kind of research is needed in your opinion?

To be honest, all the best work seems to be coming from young women at the moment. I'd love for more of my peers to be published, for their experiences within zine and feminist cultures to be recognized, and for curriculums to get up to date with all the innovations that are happening. I would love for more girls to share their work (and the grrrl zine site is brilliant for this), organize events and invite each other to speak, think of new ways in which to present research- in the U.K. a lady called Melanie has just published a version of her MA thesis as a zine (complete with a feminist directory in the back). This is amazing and something I hope a lot more people will consider doing. We need to make theory more accessible and also recognize that different forms of theory and critique can take place in the zines we write. Zines can be sites for critical thinking and strategies for change, they shouldn't be underestimated.

Do you define yourself as a feminist? What are the most pressing issues you are confronted with in daily life (as a woman/ feminist/…)?

I am so proud to define myself as a feminist- it's the most creative, persistent and active form of revolution-making I've ever come across. On a day to day basis, I would say that I am more personally affected by class discrimination than sexual oppression. This is something I'm just figuring out and hope to channel into my feminism, to start getting things done to recognize and name class experiences. It's almost like realizing you're breathing, class is so engrained into your whole being and way of seeing the world. I'm kind of an 'inbetweener'- I'm a uni girl who's future could be upwardly mobile if I choose it to be. This gives me vantage point from a number of positions. I'm actually really excited about this- I want to take my d.i.y. skills and start to put something back into my community and try and create opportunities from scratch. Feminism can sometimes seem to be very middle-class, and it's important to me not to become absorbed into that.

What do you think about feminism today? Do you see yourself as part of "Third Wave Feminism" and if yes, what does it mean to you? Or, why not?

Although I can appreciate the reasons some feminists refer to themselves as "third wave", to me it doesn't really say anything useful. I'm much more interested in learning about all the feminist history that doesn't or hasn't been told- there's so much more than the Western, white, middle-class track records. My experience of feminism has been AMAZING. Riot grrrl allowed me to join a community and not stand isolated, it also gave me permission to think of myself as an active agent of social change. Sometimes I feel like I am part of a group of women who are making history right now.


Can you see any unique contributions grrrl zines may have made to the feminist and trans liberation movement?

Zines are amazing spaces for showing the sheer diversity between feminists (although zine-writers, really, are not as diverse a bunch of people as I wish). There's been so much amazing writing about gender and queer issues, all put together on a very personal, intimate register. That's what I Iove. Whilst pamphlets might have been the staple of the second wave, I feel like we're producing new literature through zines.

We need to make zines more accesible: two places where I think zines would be invaluable would be:
School libraries and rape crisis centres.




Varla's passed out, issue #3

Do you consider grrrl and genderqueer zines and projects as an important part of a social movement? Do you think grrrl, lady, queer and transfolk zines, resource sites, and projects can effect meaningful social and political change at large, or do they have significance mainly in individual lives?

To recognise their importance we have to re-define what we consider as political change, social movements, and activism. Zines are just part of a whole range of interventions, experiments and protest: they are limbs and oxygen but they ain't the whole body. We shouldn't place the burden of radicalism and social change on zines- they are limited sites, sure, but they don't really AIM to change or mobilise the masses. They are substitutes for mainstream magazines, telephone conversations, idle bus jouneys, feelings of alienation. They are alternative spaces which create something new, something not quite asimilable into our existing concerns and measurements of how to assess things. They're more important than props to a movement, they're like a re-direction of time and energy, and work in quite pronounced, small ways. They empower individuals but feed into a bigger networks of activism, skill-sharing and support for revolutionary change.

What would a utopian grrrl- and genderqueer-friendly society look like in your view? How do you think society might be re-thought and transformed to come closer to an "ideal" world? Do you have any suggestions for the development of women/grrrl/transgender/genderqueer-friendly policies?

I close my eyes and I imagine: being able to love and have sex with who ever you want, consensually, without regulation or being considered dsyfunctional. Sex and gender roles would be so fluid it wouldn't make sense to think only in terms of men or women, masculine and feminine. Families would be organised differently; caring, health and education would be deemed more important than military killing or corporate greed. Physical spaces would be changed: public space would be public space and not advertsing runs for capitalists. Houses and restaurants and public buildings would be designed to encourage more comunal interaction. We would grow up more knowldgeable and intimate with our own bodies, how they work and how they feel.

We could feel safe to be in the streets and in our own homes. The treatement of sex would be completely different and women and men would not be sold to peddle products.

At this moment I think that education and a hijacking of the mainstream media would be one strategy to implement change. We have to intervene in this culture which promotes capitalism, self-hatred, competiton, and abuses of power.

First of all, all legislation and public practice should be equal for all genders and sexualities- i.e. equal marriage, property, heritage rights etc. Sex education should cover all practices and sexualities.

Workers need to unite and overtake the means of production. People need to refuse to be part of capitalist systems built on exploitation. Any utopía would have to extend to financial security and mental and physical well-being as well as expressive and sexual freedoms.

We have to start implemeting our ideals in our everyday life- each little step can be important. No one can tell for sure what a liberated future would look and feel like- there are no scripts, just alternatives we need to strive towards.

What are some of your personal wishes/visions/ideas/plans for the future?

Ideally, I'd like to be able to support myself doing something I love and which combines my principles with my ideas for change. I'd like to help with education and communication, and spread d.i.y. feminist practices as far and wide as possible.

Some ideas of projects:
- create a uk version of Bitch and Bust
- make a film about uk riot grrrl
- start up a 'big sister' mentoring project between unis and schools
- run a second hand bookstore with girl exhibitions, public speaking, gigs, reading groups, craft stalls, and vegan café
- organize zine exhibitions and archives in libraries
- organize a 'vote drive' next year to inform people about the general elections and encourage them to vote
- put on a ladyfest in brighton
- be in a band

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

A CALL OUT TO ALL FILM-MAKERS: please get in touch and send me your stuff. This distro is only as good as you make it.

 

Get in contact with Red!

red_chidgey [AT] yahoo.com


http://www.geocities.com/fingerbangdistro


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