Letter from JV: These zines are personal

I have to strike a tricky balance as I assign, manage, and edit the work found in each issue of Broken Pencil.

On the one hand, it’s important to reach outside of my orbits to bring in new contributors. I’m the Queen of cold emails (watch those inboxes!) and try to approach all kinds of folks whose work I admire, and who bring in knowledges I’m not likely to access otherwise. The awesome editorial contributions of my co-editor, Anisa, are also crucial to that end.

On the other hand, part of being an editor in an artistic community requires actively participating in it. Like many people in the arts, my work, social, and artistic lives are deeply intertwined. So, naturally, I also lean on personal relationships, community ties, and the occasional friendly favour to fill the pages of the magazine.

Being an editor in an artistic community requires actively participating in it.

For this issue, I turned to my friends and community more than ever. You’ll notice, for example, that I appear in the photos of this issue’s Folio, curated by Darien Taylor. Darien is a friend, mentor, and family to many folks in and around the HIV/AIDS activist community of Toronto, including me. She’s also a sharp art critic. I shouldn’t be surprised that soon after I approached her to curate Folio, I ended up at her home making masks with her and other members of that close-knit chosen family. It was an intimate and playful afternoon — I feel honoured, and, admittedly, kind of vulnerable to share it in this issue.

I also feel honoured and vulnerable about our cover feature on sex worker zines. I’ve been wanting to do this story since I became editor of Broken Pencil. Perhaps because I’ve been reading, making, and sharing zines on the topic of sex work since I started escorting in my early 20s. Oh wow, yup, I’m coming out right here in the editor’s letter. Deep breaths, Jonathan.

To be honest, I’m not particularly ashamed about this aspect of who I am. But until we live in a world where sex workers are valued, honoured, and respected, I think it’s to be expected that folks practice caution about how and with whom we share this information. Funnily enough, disclosing my identity as a (former, occasional, variously privileged) sex worker isn’t news to a lot of people who have read my zines, several of which touch on the subject. I hand those puppies out like lollipops, especially to other queer and trans folks, and leave them on tables with a “pay what you can” sign at zine fairs across Canada. I guess I have a general sense of trust towards the folks who enter zine spaces (and queer spaces) and might encounter those zines, and those who bother to read them.

The value of sharing work within communities is a key message of Amber Dawn’s fantastic article, which traces her own experience making zines with a collective of sex workers through to a number of other rad projects that are, above all, by sex workers and for sex workers — with the occasional perk that allies might also access them when it’s appropriate.

The cover story has been completely conceptualized and produced by folks within the sex work community: writing, editing, and photography.

Sex work zinesters like Amber Dawn and the folks who make Don’t Hate My Heels (featured on our cover) seek to honour the dignity, safety, and genius of sex workers in all of our diversity. They create spaces and platforms for sex worker voices and wisdom to be shared in ways that make sense and feel right to each of us. To that end, the article doesn’t mention every zine by, for, or about sex workers, nor every relevant story or bit of wisdom. What you will find is a thoughtful piece about how sex worker zines work in the world, why they’re so critical, and how allies can engage with them.

So, I am super proud to share this piece. It has been completely conceptualized and produced by folks within the sex work community: writing, editing, and photography. I want to send a giant thanks to Amber Dawn, of course, as well as Chatz, Vanessa, Reiko, and Kristen, for all of the work you put into this, and all of the innate trust we shared amongst ourselves. You all showed immense care and solidarity for this project, and I don’t know if I’d be writing this otherwise. Big gratitude to all of the sex workers in the world — the ones I know intimately, the ones I admire from afar, and the ones I’ll never meet. Warm, queer love and appreciation to Darien, Anthea, Mikiki, Jess, and all of my queer family.

By us, for us: as an editor working with both personal connections and outreach beyond my network, this motto helps me remember that striking that balance is not so clear cut. After all, how is “us” defined when each of us straddles so many experiences and identities?

I hope that with this issue, and in future issues, we can at least bring Broken Pencil closer to being a resource that honours the specificities of different communities, but also brings them into a dialogue through our shared medium of zines and DIY. It’s not always easy or perfect, but with the right folks at the table, I think we can do it.