Liberation Front: Exploring feminism and punk at its best
interview with Kylie Lewis
Personality Liberation Front is an Australian feminist zine dedicated to challenging mainstream society's ideals and gender stereotypes as well as to putting the so-called "liberated" diy-hardcorepunk scene under the microscope.
Kylie not only publishes this zine but she also runs a mailorder distro and is involved in many other DIY-feminist-punk community projects. When I read about her zine in another grrrl zine and got an issue of Personality Liberation Front , I wanted to know more and asked Kylie for an interview. In the following, she emailed me from Barcelona where she is currently on vacation.
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?
i'm kylie and i´m 27 years old and i originally hail from brisbane, australia. i´ve also lived in london, uk and for the last year i´ve lived in dublin, ireland, but right now i´m traveling for the summer. a lot of my life is connected to zines and the diy network, so i spend a whole lot of my time making zines, going to zine events, benefit shows etcetera. i also travel a lot and -unfortunately- also have quite a bit of my time stolen by the horrible capitalist world of work. I do a zine called personality liberation front -a diypunkemofeminist zine of which there has been 4 issues so far- and there's also the mailorder distro, which concentrates on disseminating records, zines, books and other small-press propaganda (while I'm in europe the distro is definitely in the category of the worlds tiniest shoebox distro in my bedroom).
What do you do besides your zine?
oh yeah and i also have a one-off zine project called "letter to Kathleen Hanna" which is a letter to kh of bikini kill/le tigre but also kind of a personal essay about third-wave feminism and riot grrrl and the way it has been misrepresented by the mainstream media (and also the punk scene, in many ways). it's looking at the ways some aspects of riot grrrl have been co-opted by the consumer society and something that's really important to us suddenly gets reduced to "girl power" and "girls rock!" slogans on t-shirts in the mall, y'know. there's also a little zine project I do called "ladies liberation handbook", which is something i hand out for free at large-scale wimminzy events like Reclaim the Night, International Women's Day and various protests/actions. it's part of my desire to communicate a little more directly with all the rad wimmin/grrrls I have fleeting encounters with at these events. the last issue had writing on issues like body image politics and activism and grrrls in punkrock. I have also done stuff for various other zine projects like Spiral Objective (Australian diy network zine), Merge (community arts activist zine), Bypass (UK "zine about zines")
I started plf with my friend katherine circa 1996. our inspiration and motivation came out of some very important discussions we had together about gender and feminism and riot grrrl in relation to punkculture, as well as our personal experiences of sexism and oppressive patriarchal attitudes. I think it's important to say that at the time our "community" was basically each other, as we were feeling alienated from mainstream society but were also very much "outsiders" to the punk scene because we were at that very awkward, intimidated stage of involvement where you feel like a "misfit" even among the other "misfits". so it was very much me and her, knowing very clearly what we *didn't* want to be part of but not quite sure exactly what we wanted instead, and we wanted to create a zine that expressed our alienation and dissatisfaction but also our desire to be connected to a larger network/community/world of likeminded people. we did 2 issues together before it kinda naturally evolved more into my own zine project, although now there are people who write columns and who help me out with the things i´m not so good at, like cover art and screenprinting patches for the zine, and also i collaborated with tom of deplorable records and he put together the cd compilation that comes with issue 4 of the zine.
What was your first exposure to zines? How did you find out about them?
my first exposure to zines was through an independent toy-comic-diy-zine store (silver rocket) in my hometown brisbane when i was 16, and i picked up a copy of Grot Grrrl, a zine from melbourne australia which really inspired me. it had a really pro-grrrl attitude, with an emphasis on building a network of grrrl bands, supporting wimmin in diy art/culture/punk, supporting wimmin in prison and other political struggles. however, it was really well put-together with a snazzy layout and "properly" printed, with obvious concrete links to a larger community of people who supported them. so although it was inspirational in terms of opening my eyes to brand new worlds I was quite "in awe" about it ("wow, I could never create something like that") so it didn't really instill in me the DIY ethic of inspiring me to create my own zine. same deal with other bigger-distribution international-networking newsprint zines like Profane Existence that I was reading at the time.
it was smaller cut-and-paste photocopied-stapled handmade zines that really made me realise I could do my own zine, some of these were Seditious Intent , Woozy and Fight Back, as well as Adrienne from Spitboy's zine (Too Far). i also picked up a mailorder list for (the australian distro) Spiral Objective and i wrote away to Greg & co for their catalogue and soon discovered a whole new underground world of zines and records through them
What topics do you discuss most often in your zine?
by zinemaking/creating i want to express myself, explore my beliefs and connect/collaborate with other people. I write a lot about feminism, body image politics, gender and queer issues in the context of how I experience them and how I encounter them in my daily life, which is through conversations, interactions, attitudes. and because I am involved in the radical and diy and hardcorepunk community, it's also a big part of how I experience these things. so if I write about issues like gender, it is somewhat inevitable that I would critically analyse mainstream gender role programming, as well as putting the so-called "liberated" diy-hardcorepunk scene under the microscope, too. the hardcorepunk scene (actually I hope I can use the word "community" instead of simply "scene" and its trivialising connotations) is somewhere I consider to be a refuge from the outside world and all of its oppressive attitudes, so it can be intensely frustrating and disappointing to encounter them when I least expect it. and it sometimes makes you wonder why you bother but then you remember you can at least try to change things on a little scale and so the punk scene is a good place to start, esp. because we have so much emphasis on communication, discussion, dialogue.
What do you love and find challenging about zine making?
i love writing down things that that i might not be able to articulate verbally and spend time choosing the right words to express how i feel and what i believe. and i love being able to research topics (esp. about gender) and spend an in depth period researching, analysing, writing...and in that spirit, i spent about a year working on the article about masculinity that was in issue 4, i enjoyed researching in libraries and online, re-reading zines, analysing, writing and re-writing, finding visual representations to match the text. although i love writing about feelings and beliefs in an intensely personal yet oh-so-political way, the most challenging thing about zinemaking for me is probably also trying to get past my own harsh self-critique and always feeling like what i write is stupid and that everyone who reads it will be laughing at my ridiculousness.
What are some of the zines you read and admire?
off the top of my head...inside front, synthesis (uk), beating hearts of the world unite (aust), morgenmuffel, ideas is matches (ireland), doris and from brisbane, the zines made by my friends like villagebike, lezzarine, ugly duckling.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start a zine?
my advice would be to start by creating a really small microzine and distributing it to 10 or 20 of yr close friends, or otherwise just leaving them at random book/record stores around town...once you put something out there into the world there is a sense of accomplishment and relief, and also the possibility of getting some critical and/or positive feedback! it´s then easier (at least for me) to stand back and reflect and see what you could work on improving next time. as for content, my advice would also be to read through the zines you REALLY like and think about exactly what it is that makes them so great and inspiring.
it that snazzy handwriting and those dreamy romantic whirlwind adventure coffee
drinking tales like in Cometbus? or is it those dazzling critical analytical breathless
revolutionary turns-of-phrase like in Inside Front? Is it the simple honest confessional
tone of diary-style zines like Set Fire to My Home? Is it the DIY how-to-guides
like Crimethinc and countless other diy kids put out? Is it the cute and sometimes
heartbreaking comix stories like in Doris and/or the Assassine and the Whiner?
think about what makes a zine great, think about what you can do, and then start
by making a small zine and go from there and keep raising the stakes and reinventing
the ladies liberation handbook
Do you feel part of a zine community or network and what does it mean to you?
I think that right now the zine community in australia is really exciting and pretty amazing. I sometimes tend to erroneously associate "zines" with the "interviews with bands/reviews/columns" format, however there are so many zines coming out of the australian zine community that go far beyond simply following the somewhat empty "punkzine" format. I would say that almost every sub-sub-genre of the general leftwing ratbag counter-culture in australia is represented somewhere in the zine community, and a lot of activists use the zine medium for communicating and disseminating information, most notably the situation with refugees and detention centers (woomera, baxter etc), the forest blockade crew and the anti-prison movement (like the Justice Action network). a lot of people tend to use the zine medium to put out their art, and in general a lot of people tend to use the medium for self-_expression, there are so many very-small-print run, very personal zines of thoughts and feelings that people hand to each other at events/shows and they are just like letters to the world (or to your community)
there is a really strong zine network and a real sense of community, and the most visible manifestations of this can be seen in things like zine launches, zine/spoken word events, zine exhibitions, zine/independent publishing/small press festivals (make it up in melbourne, soob in brisbane, this is not art in newcastle), really active online discussion lists/messageboards, zines in libraries, zine libraries, workshops and the indymedia hq's in most cities have space and resources for zinesters and other indiemedia-making kids to use.
some of the most active participants from the grrrl zine community who pop into my mind immediately are carmen of ugly duckling, loocy of villagebike, melamoo of lezzarine, kylie purr of purr zine, 422, laura panic and a million others, jyoti who does beating hearts press, riva who does happy pancakes and coordinated the "this is not art" zine fest
for the most part, the grrrl zine community does not seem separate from the larger zine community...perhaps grrrl zines are a little bit marginalised by certain aspects of the music-focused punk zine community, however, for the most part it seems that the grrrl zine community keeps the larger zine community energised and exciting.
Do you consider grrrl and genderqueer zines 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?
the really strong zine network i feel part of seems very much connected to the general leftwing community of people who resist oppression and try to create a better world. I think zines and/or indiemedia formats are such an important way of communicating with likeminded (and otherwise) people in the radical queer and feminist community(s), and zines give us a space to critically discuss the issues that affect us, gain new perspectives and further develop our analyses. and of course it is incredibly empowering to share what is going on in our hearts and minds and lives.
billy bragg was saying in an interview that the role of the political performer is to play, to inspire and that´s all they can really do, and then it´s the audience who gets filled with inspiration and they go back into their daily lives and get re/inspired to change the/their world. maybe zines might not change the world but they can shake it up a little and people can read them and get inspired to struggle for meaningful social and political change. at the very least they build a network of friends/community and decrease alienation in this fucked-up world. and it´s good to remember that anyone can create a zine and anyone can change the world, or at the very least, the little part of it that they inhabit. zines are like our photocopied blueprints for a better world, with clues for taking back control of our lives and as such they are so necessary and relevant for those of us in the queer/feminist community.
What were some of main influences that have empowered you in your life?
probably riot grrrl, feminist politix, the realisation that the personal is the political, the do-it-yourself ethic, creative activism, the realisation that i can speak personally and dare to speak the things that i´ve always been told "shouldn´t be talked about" but say them anyway and making amazing connections with people, people who live outside the system (or "off the excesses" of the system, if that is more appropriate) and remind me to take responsibility for my life/actions at the everyday individual level and that to find fleeting moments of happiness in this world is still a possibility.
What role did punk play for you as a grrrl when you grew up? What do you think about punk today?
i discovered punkrock when i was 14/15 via community radio station 4zzz in brisbane and discovered stuff like pansy division, bikini kill, hellnation, doom, and a whole lotta zines and new ideas. punk has been an inspiration at different times of my life - to turn vegetarian and then vegan, to be involved with various anarchist anticapitalist pro-queer and refugee struggles. punk today? i am still inspired by it and i am involved in the hcpunk music scene(s) and a network of friends with music as our connection. though i have to say that lately a lot of my connections are coming not so much through punkrock but through the general radical culture and community related to diy, squatting, radical art, food not bombs (things which punk is also inextricably linked to) - places where i´ve met so many radical not-necessarily-punk people who are committed to DIY. i love punk but i´m of course also critical of the limitations of it, it has to be more than just music for me.
Which role does play the Internet for you?
i use email for communication with partners-in-crime, re-connecting with wandering hobo friends, hooking up with zinesters to trade, looking up online resources, writing to my parents etcetera. it´s pretty amazing for that instant gratification connection, although i get quite dazed and frustrated after staring at a screen for a long time. i guess the internet plays a reasonably big role in my personal communications and for connecting to wider worlds and communities
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 a feminist, absolutely. sometimes i struggle personally with identity and identifying with labels, but basically in a world that oppresses wimmin, i am so completely and utterly proud to say i am a feminist. the most pressing issues confronting me in my daily life would be those surrounding my body - i already struggle with body image issues and with sexuality issues, and this is compounded by feeling like my body and the bodies of my friends are under the gaze of men, threatened by the potential violence of men in the street (and in other places like our houses and in our relationships). also, living in ireland for the last year put abortion and a wimmin´s right to choose right back into the forefront of my mind. because well, you might know that the situation with women being able to access free safe legal abortion on demand is far from ideal in ireland, in fact even getting information about where to access clinics is illegal
What do you think about feminism today?
feminism today is pretty damn exciting and inspiring. for me, it is great that (white) feminists are starting to look beyond feminism as a single issue and to make very important -and necessary- (inter)connections between issues of sex-gender-feminism with issues of race and class. that´s extremely imporant work to do politically and personally. also feminism has had (thankfully) a big role in antiglobalisation anticapitalist antiborder struggles, and for me this is really important and vital.
i don´t know if my feminist beliefs and agendas align me with "third wave feminism" or not - or should i say, i don´t actually know if i identify or label myself as such, and i have to admit i´m not exactly too sure of the definition, but here goes with what i DO identify with:
i see myself as a feminist -most definitely and for sure, and i see myself coming from a long and continuing history of women´s struggles and women´s movements for social change, and i feel very connected to current struggles. i feel part of the broad diverse feminist movement and also particularly connected to a feminism (or feminisms, if that is more appropriate) that is aligned with radical anticapitalist multiracial queer-diverse culture and community. and of course, i have a very special place in my heart for the riotgrrrl zinester diy anarcho punkrock branch of this feminist community!
What would a utopian grrrl-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 for women, grrrls and queer folks? Do you have any suggestions for the development of women/grrrl/queer-friendly policies?
i would love a world where constructs such as gender would be seen as unnecessary old-fashioned relics of the past, where checking the M or F box or the heterosexual-homosexual--or bisexual box would be something of a bygone era, and you could act in any free liberated way you chose. we would have space to think and to create and to build strong diverse communities. i suggest we start by trying to build wimmin/grrrl/queer/trans communities right now in this world-as-it-is, by creating spaces where we help each other to survive, live, create and grow old together, through squats, through vegan cafes, through informal and formal support networks, through friendship, through art, and of course through ongoing struggle/action to change the rest of the world. i feel like that could be a good starting place for realising that another world is possible and that we can get started on building it now!
What are some of your personal wishes/visions/ideas/plans for the future, if you like to share them?
the (very) immediate future, i am travelling for the summer. right now i am in
barcelona with the promise of more summer adventures still to unfold. i want to
discover (more) squat cafes and pirate restaurants and info-shops and zine-libraries
and random adventures that i can´t even begin to imagine right now. then
when i´m back in australia, i would like to avoid work (crappy capitalist
work, that is) and be involved in what´s going on in my community and make
more zines...perhaps that´s a good note to end on!