“I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you….What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.” (Audre Lorde, feminist activist & poet)
Many important aspects of our individual experiences are rendered taboo by the unspoken rules of social discourse. We all have things we feel passionately about but feel an invisible barrier that blocks us from expressing them, even to close family or friends. The result of these conversational taboos is feeling alienated by experiences that ironically are often shared by many others around us. Keeping certain topics off limits prevents us from broadening our understanding of one another and helping one another negotiate the complexities of our shared struggles. Although a simple conversation is not typically seen as activism, the barriers in communication between us are barriers obstructing us from building the sense of genuine solidarity and common purpose that it takes for us to unite in effective activist work. It is essential that we shed our shame and silence regarding the societal problems that affect us and that we wish to address before we can effectively combat them. I chose to make a zine entitled “Things We’re Not Supposed To Talk About” as my activist project in order to engage the people around me in dialogue about the things that were important to them that they normally don’t have the chance to express.
I conducted and recorded a series of twelve informal and unstructured interviews with people I know that ranged in length from under five minutes to over two hours regarding their lived experience of topics including sexual assault, sex work, sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, identity, mental illness, disordered eating, body image, family problems, romantic relationships, feminism, personal passions, etc. The zine contains ten of the personal narratives of the people I interviewed, documented as anonymously and verbatim as possible.
Everyone I interviewed expressed feelings of catharsis, validation, and/or empowerment following the conclusion of their interview. Everyone had a story to candidly tell that they wanted others to hear. The project quickly became more about making myself into a space where such conversations could occur, rather than the zine itself. The further I progressed with “Things We’re Not Supposed to Talk About” as a formal project, the more I realized everyone around me was itching to talk about things they weren’t supposed to, and that I was more interested in having these conversations than in perfecting the zine. It helped me strengthen relationships with friends I had already and build friendships based on shared personal experiences with people that came to activism how I did, with reluctance born from doubt, but with a sincere desire to change things they saw as being unjust.
I initially wanted to provide everyone who interviewed and everyone in the class with a copy of the zine but when faced with the decision between abbreviating the stories that had been shared with me (totaling over forty pages & 28,000 words of content) or having fewer copies I opted to start printing the hard copies of my interview process, full text intact, on a staggered schedule for people who interviewed or express explicit interest in project. I hope that if you choose to wait for a copy, it will provoke thought and conversation for you on something that is normally swept under the rug.
If you are interested in obtaining a copy of “Things We’re Not Supposed To Talk About,” more information on the project, tips on making a zine, tips on talking to friends about sensitive issues, or are interested in talking to me in any context regarding things we’re not supposed to talk about, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I won’t have time to make another zine like this one anytime soon because it proved so labor intensive, but I will always have time to engage in breaking silence with you, regardless of the topic.