Unsurprisingly, FIST is the kind of reading material that makes me worry someone could see over my shoulder, even though I’m alone in my apartment. It’s not a bad feeling — FIST, a zine by and for leatherdykes, or, queer women who get off on sadomasochism, is overflowing with photography, illustrations, poems, interviews, and essays exploring leatherdyke identity and culture. Each page cracks with the anticipation and energy that comes from speaking one’s desires aloud.
Although this might sound like a specific kink, the term “leatherdyke” refers to a vast range of activities and dynamics between consenting adults — whipping, wax play, restraints, spanking, verbal humiliation, bootlicking, and mummification, just to name a few.
FIST was founded in 2017 by Cristine, a Brooklyn-based artist, writer, and BDSM educator who saw a need for modern, diverse perspectives on leatherdyke culture and identity. After the runaway success of FIST: Issue 01, Cristine released Issue 02 in May. Both issues open with an intention to be “inclusive of and prioritize the voices of trans dykes and dykes of color.”
FIST celebrates a range of experiences — from “A Poem for the Whip Enthusiast” by Mistress Couple to “I Know Why the Serpent Devours Her Own Tail” by June Amelia Rose — without claiming there’s one way to be a leatherdyke. Cristine’s own essay “Ode to Fingernails/How Do You Fuck With Those?” is a soaring testament to the erotic potential of long, acrylic nails.
Cristine spoke to INTO about creating FIST, Catherine Opie and BDSM in the ’90s, feminist sex wars, and rude Instagram DMs.
I spent an evening reading FIST issues one and two. You put so much care into amplifying diverse leatherdyke voices and it really, really shows. What has the response to the zines has been like?
It has been really incredible! It’s still wild to think about all the feedback I’ve gotten from people who say it’s helped them discover their own inner pervert. When I was starting out, I sought out queer-owned printers to take on this project, and the first one I reached out to told me “We don’t print stuff like this.” Luckily I found a really great queer-owned local printer (Publicide) who was happy to print FIST. After issue one sold hundreds of copies, I decided it was worth having a release party for issue two. Here I was also faced with venues who had respectability issues with the zine content. I ended up having the party in a friend’s backyard and 75 people showed up to hang out and hear a bunch of queer perverts read smut out loud. It was amazing and the energy was so loving. I couldn’t have predicted a dyke SM zine would resonate with so many people!
In the introduction to FIST Issue 01, you write “leatherdyke subculture was documented and immortalized in the early ‘90s through zines and documentaries, almost frozen in time. We aim to pick up that tradition and achieve a new moment in time, sharing fresh perspectives through art and writing that encapsulate life as a modern leatherdyke in 2017.” I’ve seen the documentary Blood Sisters (1995), but I know very little about leatherdyke history. Why was there so much leatherdyke art and media in the ‘90s, and why did it stop?
My leatherdyke root was definitely going to a Catherine Opie exhibit at the Guggenheim in 2008. I saw her portraits of queer leather folk and specifically her photo called “Self-Portrait/Pervert” where she is hooded with play piercings down each arm, and the word “Pervert” carved into her chest. This photo was taken in 1994 and I think fits in to the timeline that I have of when the most leatherdyke art was being produced. After the Sex Wars of the late ‘70s and into the ‘80s (did they ever really end?), SM was coming more to light. I was born in ‘86 so I was just a kid in the ‘90s, but I still remember pop culture and that the entire decade was all about sex. At this time we also know there was a huge overlap between the punk and leatherdyke subcultures, and zines were a huge part of the DIY punk scene. A few things happened in the late ‘90s that I think contributed to less leatherdyke art and media after this time — the internet became popular and communities could exist online, and there was not as much resistance from mainstream culture. Mainstream feminism began to adopt sex-positive feminism so lesbians generally became less uptight and eased up on the “all sex is coercive and SM is violence” stance. This is not to say leatherdyke art and culture disappeared, or the fight was won, there just wasn’t as much being documented.
When you were envisioning FIST, were there any particular ‘90s zines or documentaries you looked to for inspiration or guidance?
Because these zines were printed so long ago, they are really hard to find. I have read a lot of books that mention the zines I wanted to emulate, and seen/read excerpts, but when I first printed FIST I had never actually read one. I think in a way that’s good because I got to be creative in making a new zine from scratch. I’ve since been able to purchase a bunch of copies of On Our Backs from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but they weren’t cheap. This magazine had financial backing, which means the production quality and advertising are not as DIY as I wanted FIST to be. There was a more working-class punk zine out of San Francisco called Brat Attack (a zine for leatherdykes and other bad girls) that put out a handful of issues from 91-94. There is now an archived page up online with select articles to read here. They talk about real issues like class, gear, fat acceptance, race, and SM tourism; there’s more of an authentic feel to this zine.
I’m curious about how you, as a young leatherdyke, access your history. Are there archives, digital or physical? Are there older leatherdykes in your life?
My only real access to leather history is through books and media. There aren’t many out there still in circulation, but they are so important and I wish that all the young people coming into the scene could read them. From what I’ve read, the way it used to be is that elders lead the community and there was more formal training for novices. In New York, where I live, there isn’t much of a close-knit scene. It feels like everyone is casually involved in SM, but not many view it as a lifestyle. There are various leather archives around the country (the most notable one in Chicago), but I haven’t been able to make it out there yet. This past September I went to the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco for the first time where I got to attend a documentary screening on the Catacombs (a fisting club active in the ‘70s in San Francisco) starring Gayle Rubin. The screening was obviously in a leather bar, it was honestly just perfect. I knew that Gayle Rubin had gotten a copy of FIST and I got to introduce myself and to thank her for what she’s done for all of us. Meeting one of the trailblazers was life-changing.
Are you doing a third issue?
Yes, and hopefully many more! I have submissions open for issue three until November 15 and I hope to have it up for sale along with reprints of one and two by mid-December.
This next question switches directions a little bit. Your Instagram is spectacular. I noticed you field a lot of presumptuous and misinformed comments from randos who are clearly turned on by BDSM, but aren’t navigating their interests with respect or a clear understanding of what it means to be part of a kink community. I’m wondering: how do you protect your time and psychic energy when you’re viewed as a free resource, or an authority on all things leatherdyke? I know this a huge question, so I understand if you can only stab at it.
Oh, what a question! There was a time when I didn’t post my kinky stuff on social media (I have a vanilla career), but then I realized this was such a huge part of my life that I’d rather risk whatever consequences came about than hide who I am. One of those consequences is, unfortunately, there are always people who think my account (which is just me — Hi! A real person who has a life outside of Instagram) is here for their education. The majority of questions I receive are around BDSM books to read, so I put together a recommendation spreadsheet I share with people that takes just a few seconds. I don’t usually answer DMs asking for advice, but once in a while I do use the Q&A feature on stories and answer people’s questions where I always have one rule: Don’t ask me questions you can easily Google.