Queer and Trans Zines in Pandemic Times

The Global Genders and Sexualities research cluster presented on Queer and Trans zines acting as archives of life-making during the pandemic, and led the audience through a zine making workshop

On March 17th, the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, directed by Prof. Paul Amar, began a series of presentations, featuring our research clusters discussing their work they have done in collaboration with global partners in recent years. This was not only to bring interesting programming to the UC Santa Barbara campus, but to showcase the success and value in the Orfalea Center’s mission of “activist research,” and the possibilities it can produce. These presentations were but one part of this core mission. The presentation was very well attended, with professors from several departments, including Feminist Studies, Global Studies, Film & Media Studies, and numerous undergraduate research fellows, Orfalea Grad Fellows and members of the university community. We also served food and hosted a creative zine-making workshop that all attendees participated in, which was a lot of fun.

The research produced by this cluster reflects our collaboration and shared thematic vision with the Security in Context network, and is also supported by the the Paul Orfalea Endowment.

This first cluster presentation was performed by our “Global Genders and Sexualities” research cluster (click here to explore the full resources and multimedia publications of the cluster). Their presentation, entitled Oueer andTrans/Zines in Pandemic Times featured Dr. Debanuj DasGupta (Feminist Studies), Dr. Mireille Miller-Young (Feminist Studies), PhD student Maisnam Arnapal (Feminist Studies), and PhD student Yuri Fraccaroli.

Dr. Mireille Miller-Young talking about a Zine project

As the title suggests, the collaborative production of “Zines” was the focus of the event, particularly looking at how Queer and Trans Zines can act as archives of life-making during the pandemic. Four zines were shown, all under the series of “A Queer Zine ”, specifically the “Covid Chronicles,” made in collaboration with the cluster’s global south partners.

One of the zines is a collaboration between the All Manipur Nupi Manbi Association (AMANA) and the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies. AMANA had been the global partner for the Global Genders and Sexualities research cluster at the Orfalea Center in the years 2021-2022. This zine aims to document the lives of trans indigenous communities of Manipur, India. Namely, Nupi Maabi (transwomen) and Nupa Maanba (transmen) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The next is Covid Chronicles: Bangladesh, a project supported by the UCSB Feminist Studies Program and the Orfalea Center, in collaboration with Somporker Noya Setu (SNS). This zine chronicles the journey of a trans-woman crossing borders during the first lockdown. The zine itself is actually done in a style that could be considered a full graphic novel.

The third zine is Covid Chronicles: A Double Epidemic. This was done in collaboration with The Chinky Homo Project (TCHP). It focuses on the complete shutdown of public transit during Covid-19 lockdown in India in March-April-May, 2020, and this impacted the lives of people living with HIV (PLHIV) and receiving Antiretroviral Therapy (ART).

Finally, there is the Kolkata Covid Chronicles: Samabhabona.  This one was about precarious workers, sex workers and trans rag pickers. It highlights the intersection of class and caste.

The graphic art for the zines was produced with the Global Genders and Sexualities research cluster’s global partner MadEarth Designs. The artists Jit Ray and Rima Ray worked with Santa Khurai, Joya Sikder, Raina Roy, Maisnam Arnapal & Debanuj DasGupta. They listened to the stories, designed story telling workshops, after which they produced the graphics in dialog with Debanuj & Maisnam. 

Why were zines chosen as the medium through which to tell these stories? The research team behind the AMANA zine explains this in the Zine itself. The project, specifically, is called Hope and Despair: Unheard Stories from the Periphery. Now, the motive, the research team says, to publish this research into a Zine, and not an academic paper, has many fold. They state:

“Since this research is a collaboration between the academic activist (not mutually exclusive communities), we decided to work on a crossover genre such as a zine that can include both critical ideas and creative works from the various subject positions of the trans indigenous communities of Manipur known as Nupi Maanbi (trans women) and Nupa Maanba (transmen). A zine also allows a high degree of flexibility and caters to multiple audiences period from day one, the research team wants to ensure that the main beneficiaries of this project are the trans community of Manipur who are also the main actors and voices of this project. At the same time, inspired by our conversations with the undergraduate students of feminist studies, we want to further the dialogue with the academic and research community through the medium of the zine. This is why, the scene carries reports, photographs, media analysis, life narratives etc to make the content as diverse as possible.”

Debanuj adds to this. He told the Orfalea Center that at the time of the research in 2021, Covid-19 lockdowns were complicating things quite a bit.  He said that traditional fieldwork and travel was still not possible; mobility was heavily restricted. These restrictions on mobility were not just an obstacle for field research, but more importantly, they were detrimental to trans-folks.

Debanuj said There was a huge conversation around migrant workers returning to homes from the cities during the pandemic because of lockdowns, and focuses on their difficulties traveling in this time, with many of them even dying making the long journey. When they would return home many were rejected due to fear of the virus.

However, as Debanuj said, “Trans folks returning home means going back into the closet, and these narratives were not coming out in the media. The zines were a great way of incorporating visuals and written texts as a way of archiving these moments.” He asked, “How were trans people making a life, building a livable life in this moment?” The graphic novel zine, Covid Chronicles: Bangladesh is a great example of this.

 It was not just the traveling that zines documented, but other daily aspects of life as well. Depictions of relief, gardening, or even just hanging out. As Debanuj asked, “what were they doing to feel a sense of safety?” These were pictures of life in this time. Debanuj stated, “The zine serves as a form of assemblage art, as a way of gauging how trans communities build life during the pandemic.”Beyond the zine, the physical nature of it, and the communities possessing this physical zine was also important, but why? According to Bebanuj, “the zine serves as a tangible witness to injustice they faced.

All zines are available on the Orfalea Website here, under “publications.”

Activist Oral History

Maisnam Arnapal added to this, presenting on “Rethinking the Indo-China border, North Eastern States of India” through a transgender studies perspective. Maisnam took us through a series of three oral history interviews. These interviews by Maisnam were taken in Imphal, the capital city of Manipur, on the Indo-Myanmar borderlands. A selection of the transcript for each interview is available on the website here, under “projects.”

The first interview was with Api Athokpam (she/they). Api belongs to the Indigenous Meitei community from the Indo-Myanmar borderlands, and is the founder-convenor of Manipur LGBTQ+, an Indigenous queer and trans youth collective. The second was with Sadam Hanjabam (he/him) – the founder and CEO of Ya_All, LGBTQI+ Youth organization based in Northeast India. Ya_All has curated one of India’s first transgender football teams, and it organizes Queer Games Northeast every year. The third interview was with Santa Khurai, who is an Indigenous Nupi Maanbi (transwoman) from Manipur, Northeast India. She is an activist, scholar, and writer. She is the secretary of the All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association (AMANA) and is also associated with Solidarity and Action Against HIV Infection in India (SAATHII).

Creative Writing Workshop as Methodology

Yuri Fraccaroli is a new member to the cluster, and as such, has not engaged in specific Orfalea research with a global partner, yet Yuri did present on their own work as part of the panel. In Yuri’s own words, their work “reported to Acervo Bajubá’s methodology of creative writing workshop as an activity to engage with LGBT+ histories and memories in Brazil beyond the foreclusions of the archive.”

By incorporating different social and political actors and movements, Yuri states that these workshops engage in dynamics of memory, critical thinking and critical fabulation, poetic or short-story writing. Yuri first addressed the program structure, acknowledging Acervo Bajubá’s partner (Selo Agrupamentos + Parquinho Gráfico da Casa do Povo) and then discussing three case studies (click here to access them): Rexistência tem voz de mulher (on women’s political participation and memories of the Brazilian civil-military dictatorship); Poéticas de Vida: Escritas de (Si)da (on hiv/aids experiences and perspectives); and “Não parecem sentir vergonha”, (on trans people’s experiences during the dictatorship).

 Zine Making

Debanuj leading a Zine making workshop at the end of the presentations

The event ended with a group interactive activity. We actually made zines ourselves with art supplies. Dozens of attendees were taking to using the zine format to express or tell whatever story they please. Not only did this work to give up front familiarization with zine making as a medium, but it hit another priority for the Orfalea Center in putting these events on – to act as a social and team-building event where you can encourage and support each other, build community, and cultivate friendships.

According to Debanuj, the zine making was not only a fun way to close out the event. Through zine making, “people in attendance [were able to] provide feedback to the cluster.” He continued by pointing out that “Zine making [is] a creative engagement [which] allows people to condense the material.


The Global Genders and Sexualities research cluster did a fantastic job showcasing the creative methods in which to do research and the potential Zines give for new and different ways of expressing and documenting life for trans-communities. As Debanuj said to the Orfalea Center “Zines function as a research method and as an archive of queer and trans lives, and pedagogical purpose.”

Looking forward, Professor DasGupta is going to be using Zines with LGBTQ+ communities in order to document the experiences of refugees from Syria, Ukraine, and Russia who are escaping war and seeking refuge in Argentina.

The research produced by this cluster reflects our collaboration and shared thematic vision with the Security in Context network, and is also supported by the the Paul Orfalea Endowment.

Page Editor

Omar Mansour
Omar Mansour
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