Edgeless: Conforming for Community & Identity

I’ve started to question why people try to put so many parameters on something that feels edgeless. I’m not sure if the exclusivity reached by hyper categorization in a desperation for identity is as positive as I once did.

I used to think that by every group finding a definition for itself, it would make it easier for people to find like-minded communities and foster more inclusion, but in reality I’ve found it can also do just the opposite.

The pressures of trading one cultural insistence for another can lead to guilt by disingenuous portrayal of self. Trying to interpret someone’s social cues who isn’t adhering to the cultural insistence, can be blurry and intimidating—in my experience.

Advertising the “type” of person you are with signs and symbols is not exclusive to queer women, but it is the lens that I’ll be using.

David Bereby says in his book Us and Them,

“Just as these letters are both fixed chemicals arranged on the paper and a sequence of words, so anything that conveys a code is both itself and the thing it represents. In the case of human kinds, people themselves often are the objects that carry code.” 2

I think semiotics are used universally to create code in everything from graphic design to the performance of one’s identity. I’m looking at everyone, not just the queers.

This common thread of coding that runs through how we design ourselves seems so obvious but I think it’s so ingrained in us, we forget that we’re doing it.

If you identify as the “L” in LGBTQ, great! Now let’s drill down and pick an archetype to assume with it. Don’t worry, this comes with clothes, demeanor, hobbies, sexual roles, and more! Not much thought required! Whether you like living off the grid with your plant nursery or play 32 different sports, we have the stereotype for you.

These risograph posters about each lesbian archetype (See what I did there?) attempt to embody those socially designated characteristics of a person assuming a supposedly all-defining identity. The type’s challenge the “rules” I’ve learned in design over the years about matching bowls, where typefaces are built (why not spray painted in a lawn?) and so on. It can be a bit uncomfortable to read or look at (much like the thesis book), but that’s the point.

I like poking fun at these lesbian tropes— they’re so limiting and couldn’t possibly define the complexities of any real human. We all subconsciously fall into our roles to some extent, and it was fun to make posters taking those tropes to an extreme, but in real life we are all naturally more than one thing at the same time. The same is true in printing techniques, with it’s translucent inks randomly layered over each other creating a more complex image than could ever be devised intentionally. Layering the stereotypographic posters on the risograph allowed for the queering of my original designs, creating unique compositions and sometimes illegible textures.

Sure, we’ll all continue to advertise the kind of person we are through semiotics, designing our appearance, and flying our subtle (or not so subtle) cultural flags, but my hope will remain that we can all find a community while at the same time allowing each other to be Edgeless.

Lex Poolos

Thesis advisor:
Lorena Howard-Sheridan

Edgeless: Conforming for Community & Identity is a body of work that follows my journey navigating the past and future of queer women and our obsession with labels. The visual work took the form of a risograph poster series challenging lesbian stereotypes.