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DESIGN AND GENDER PRESENTATION Understanding design’s role in the individual’s development of gender identity and presentation through the lens of queer theory.

Sarah Santo Capstone Research Professor Jonas Milder 2013-2014

TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction Primary Resources People

Internet Community

Local LGBT Community

Synthesis Secondary Research

Research Foundation

Sourced Texts

Synthesis Tertiary Findings Product Precedent

Market Research

Project Statement Project Strategy SWOT Analysis Plan and Timeline Appendix

JeongMee Yoon “Pink and Blue” (2005-present)

INTRODUCTION For those who do not experience gender according to cultural expectations gendercoded products, environments, systems, services, and advertising can be harmful, alienating, and confusing. This project explores the way design contributes to the restricting binary structure of gender in our world.










A person’s sex, gender presentation, and gender identity are not always congruent with one another. A person whose sex, presentation, and identity do match up is called cisgender.



INTRODUCTION Vocabulary Sex: Biologically male or female Gender Identity: How a person defines themselves, by gender terminology: woman, man, transgender, genderqueer, boy, girl, etc. Gender Presentation: How a person expresses their gender through what they wear, how they act, what they say, etc. Cisgender: A person whose sex, presentation, and identity are congruent, according to cultural standards Genderqueer: A person whose sex, presentation, and identity are incongruent, but who do not identify as male or female by cultural standards Transgender: A person whose sex is opposite of their presentation and identity (i.e. transwoman = assigned male, identifies female) Androgyny: Being neither distinguishably male or female Queer: Umbrella term for gender and sexual minorities that are not heterosexual or gender binary

Learning points 1. Important for trans* folks to find people, aesthetics, and language they can relate to as early on as possible 2. Clothing and hair are easiest gender indicators to experiment with 3. Often experiences uncomfortable moments in public when people struggle to identify his gender


Left: Anderson pre-testosterone (T) hormones Right: One year on T

Traumatic Life Experience 1. Swimsuits are extremely exploitative of the body 2. High school forces young people into restrictive gender situations, especially in gym class

PRIMARY RESOURCES Anderson b. 1992, trans man Like many of his trans* peers, Anderson was kicked out of his home at the age of 18, when he came out to his parents as trans* and publicly started to identify as a man. In an interview, he described to me the challenges he faced early on in life regarding the pressures he experienced to present himself more femininely than he felt comfortable with. “Whenever my mom took me shopping for clothes, it was always a (pause) traumatic experience,” he confessed. “I wanted to shop in the boy’s section, but she would always say that that wasn’t okay because I was a girl. And it wasn’t just her, it was also the employees of the store and all of the advertising and other images around me that always made me feel like I was out of place no matter what I did.” He also commented on the idea that even tomboy-like clothes for girls were restricting because they were cut in feminine ways, as well as because of the basic principle that he simply did not want to wear clothes labeled as being for girls. We then had a lengthy discussion about gender expectations in high school, especially in the realm of gym classes. He told me about the crippling anxiety he felt in locker rooms, and about how having to wear a one-piece bathing suit in high school swimming classes drove him to a mental breaking point. “We weren’t allowed to wear shorts, or even rash guards, we had to wear exactly what the gym teacher told us. So, all the girls had to wear these one-piece red swimsuits and all of the boys got to wear long swimming shorts. I never made it out of the locker room, and eventually the guidance counselor helped me convince the school that I didn’t have to take swimming [class].”

Learning points 1. One cannot assume another person’s gender based on how they look. It is okay to ask someone how they identify. 2. Referred me to texts to look at. 3. We can only understand ourselves to a certain point if the environments we live in don’t expose us to new things.

Below: Scan from Meredith’s zine: ATTN FAG WANNABES

PRIMARY RESOURCES Meredith b. 1987, female Meredith carries a MA in sociology from The University of Texas of Austin, and is the author of a self-created zine called “Attention Fag Wannabes,” which seeks to educate those outside of the LGBT community on sensitive LGBT issues. One of the major areas Meredith teaches in is that of gender identity, and all things related to it. In my interview with her, she taught me about how to speak about gender with sensitivity and offered different perspectives on understanding identity. “There are infinite ways to identify yourself, and all of them are valid as long as that is how you actually feel about yourself. No one should be told that they have to be anything just because of their sex. Every single person is different, and gender is not separate of those differences.” Meredith identifies as queer, but goes by female pronouns. As a person who identifies as queer, she says that she does not always feel 100% female or male and recognizes gender as a social construct. When asked how she thinks design impacts the social construct of gender, Meredith answers, “nearly everything around us has some kind of gendered quality to it, whether it be through marketing, or styles of interiors, or the way people present themselves. Our environments really do restrict us in terms of what we’re exposed to in them.”

Learning points 1. Because Kali is genderqueer, they present their gender in a variety of ways. They describe this experience as changing day-to-day, where some days they feel like presenting extremely femininely and others, masculinely. 2. Raises questions about personal preference in terms of presentation. 3. Belives that sex and the expression of a sexual identity is something that should be more welcoming in public. 4. Feels as if they are not taken seriously in society.

PRIMARY RESOURCES Kali b. 1991, genderqueer Kali is a student at a liberal arts college majoring in women’s studies and minoring in anthropology. They are also a popular political correctness and sex-positive blogger on the site Because Kali is genderqueer, they prefer gender neutral pronouns, such as “they/ them” and “ze/hir.” Their gender presentation changes constantly, and they switch between presenting masculinely and femininely often. So far, Kali has been very helpful in teaching me about androgynous culture and referring me to useful precedents:

! “I’ve considered pretty much all the possibilities [of swimwear] available.”

Learning points 1. Back to bathing suits: of all the people who answered, not one said that they felt 100% comfortable in bathing suits. 2. The reasons for feeling insecure in swimwear are extremely varied, and not specific to people dealing with gender issues.

PRIMARY RESOURCES Tumblr While these blogs are known for many, many different things, the aspect of them that benefits me is the ability to be a part of a conversation amongst thousands of other people across the world. On, I host a blog where I collect and discuss art, design, social theories, and creative writing. Through this blog, I have access to a small (96, but steadily growing) number of “followers,� or subscribers, who have similar interest and are almost always willing to discuss anything. Here is an example of a post in which followers became involved:

Reddit Reddit is even more open when it comes to discussing social issues. The /r/asktransgender thread on reddit is one of many extremely valuable threads where people all over the world are constantly discussing issues of gender:

I was even able to get lots of responses on about how trans* and queer folks felt about swimwear:

PRIMARY RESOURCES This person wants swimwear they can “tuck” into

Interested in androgynous swimwear, binding female chest

Interested in swimwear that adds thickness to hiparea and covers areas of thick body hair.

The Attic Youth Center 255 S 16th Street Philadelphia, PA 19102 The Attic Youth Center is an organization in center city Philadelphia that provides a variety of services to young people experiencing challenges related to gender. Some of these services include peer counseling, private therapy, group therapy, and social gathering events. In my visits to the center, I have been able to meet and speak with numerous young people who go there to be a part of their otherwise neglected communities. I’ve gathered that this is a very special place in that it is specifically designed to serve, as well as understand, it’s own community. Jacinto Grant, associate director of The Attic Youth Center, explains that “a lot of the kids here don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. As a straight, cismale, I can’t personally relate to them, but I’m always learning from them and that’s the beauty of our relationship. We’re all here to teach each other.”

“I can’t personally relate to them, but I’m always learning from them and that’s the beauty of our relationship. We’re all here to teach each other.”

PRIMARY RESOURCES William Way LGBT Community Center 1315 Spruce Street Philadelphia, PA 19102 This community center is geared towards people of all ages, sexual orientations, and genders. My visits here are mostly focused on visiting the library, which houses hundreds of books on gender, sexuality, and many other topics.





Attic Youth Center


William Way Center

Community responses

Face-to-face discussion

Swimwear theme

PRIMARY RESOURCES Key points: 1. Never assume someone’s gender based on their appearance. It is okay to ask someone what pronouns they prefer. 2. Hair and clothing are easiest and quickest gender indicators to experiment with. 3. Our environments play a huge role in how we understand ourselves and the people around us. Currently American society consists mainly of binary gender restricting environments. 4. Swimwear seems to be the most gender-exploitative of clothing items. Even those not experiencing gender issues feel uncomfortable with the sexualization of swimwear

Synthesis: Being pressured to present your gender in stereotypical male/female ways is a huge part of why people experience issues with their gender as they grow up. There is a large community of people that do not feel they fit into the binary structure of gender, and a large community of trans* people who feel that society, and design, discludes them. The topic of swimwear came up first in my conversation with Anderson, but it quickly became aparent that this is a giant field of struggle for those I’ve been able to question about it.

SECONDARY RESEARCH Research Foundation Early in the semester, I came up with this research plan to take to libraries in order to find sources:

Area of interest: Gender-coding, androgyny, feminist expression I want to learn more about why gender-coded products exist, and why we have masculine and feminine versions of various products. From my own observation, more and more people seem to be becoming aware of this phenomenon and trying to resist it. I’ve noticed that texts I’ve found from the mid-1900s tend to be substantially more focused on designing for gender than texts of today. I think I would like for my project to end up focusing on androgynous design, though I’m not yet sure where it will go exactly (clothing, appliance, tool, etc.). Keywords: gender-coding, gender, androgyny, feminis*, queer theory, gender neutrality, sexism, designing for women, designing for men Looking for: images of products, case studies, scholarly journals

SECONDARY RESEARCH Mechanical Brides by Ellen Lupton Gender-specific design began with the industrial revolution and marketing appliances and other homely products towards women, who were generally the store-goers of the American family. Design is almost always entirely led by white, cisgender men, so design and advertising is from the white male perspective. This is ironic considering Lupton argues that so much of the design world is aimed towards women as a primary consumer. “Mechanical Brides: Women and Machines from Home to Office consider design history from the perspective of female users and consumers. The telephone, typewriter, washing machine, and electric iron have been central to the definition of ‘women’s work’ in twentieth-century America. Cultural ideas about the duties and ambitions of women are reflected and reinforced by the ways appliances have been designed, marketed, used, and imagined.” -- Back cover.

This book opened up the door that led me to making the connection between gender issues and design. The biggest point this book makes in my argument is that the perspective from which products come from is often not that of the consumer. In the case of Mechanical Brides, design aided in creating an extremely sexist consumerist market. This sexism also relates to my findings in that our consumerist market similarly ignores the perspective of those who do not identify as cisgendered male or female.

SECONDARY RESEARCH Queer Theory and Social Change Kirsch, Max H. This book questions whether the role of queer theory is as big in the world of social activism as it was intended to be, and discusses new methods of globalizing social change. Kirsch argues that queer activists need to insert themselves into society as communities in order to create social change, rather than simply spreading ideas by word of mouth. “The traditional “heterosexual/homosexual” dichotomy should be abandoned, and a third or more ways of describing and analyzing sex and gender should be proposed” (34).

“A perception that we can reject binary systems of gender without rejecting all bases for identity, however temporary they may be, is necessary for true resistance and social change.We cannot fight alone, not against a world system with military power and the ever-present threat of force and economic destruction. If “all things queer,” then, is to become anything more than a novel digestion of difference, it must include the individual as more than the self as text. It must accommodate the individual in society” (54).

SECONDARY RESEARCH Profit and Pleasure Rosemary Hennessy “The structural contradictions on which capitalism is based shape the work we do, the food we eat, our mobility in the world, how we know, who and how we love” (36). In this book, Hennessy argues that sexual and gender identities are shaped by capitalism. The book is written through a queer theory lens, as well as from a Marxist perspective which states that capitalist societies pressure people into heteronormative lifestyles for the sake of expanding economy, rather than improving way of life or promoting equality. She also inforces the idea of how important it is for queer identities to be visible in media so as to avoid destructive social structures.

Hennessy’s analysis of queer theory in capitalism gives eye opening examples of how our society fights the queer theory movement by oppressing those who fall outside of heteronormativity. It is important in understanding the relationship between politics, economy, and social issues. She also identifies queer theory as being completely separate from lesbian and gay issues - it is more of a rejection of all labels, an in-your-face rebelliion that refuses to be oppressed under any specific term.

SECONDARY RESEARCH Key points: 1. Queer theory is a rejection of labels and heteronormative society 2. American consumerism plays a huge roll in the oppression of the LGBTQ community as a whole 3. To create social change, one must insert themselves into active change

Synthesis: The relationship between queer theory and consumerism is extremely complex. There are an infinite number of factors in hetero-normative society which work to oppress queer voices and movements. The way to fight these oppressive forces is to work as a community to make global change and become part of social change with numbers. These readings were all very important to me because they taught so much about why merchandizing is so heteronormative and why it is so destructive to the queer community. Because of these books, and other readings, I am validated in the importance of this field of design.

TERTIARY FINDINGS ck one In 1994, Calvin Klein released a fragrance meant to be “for a man or a woman,” with the specific label of unisex. The fragrance is often described as: refreshing, light, relaxed It has notes of: Bergamot, Cardamom, Fresh Pineapple, Papaya, Jasmine, Violet, Rose, Nutmeg, Musk. Men’s fragrances typically have these notes: citrus, aromatic woody scents like cedar, and spicy scents like leather and musk Women’s fragrances typically have these notes: florals, such as rose, fresh scents like fresh linens or a meadow, and spicy scents such as herbs and woods.

TERTIARY FINDINGS Veer NYC Though not gender neutral, Veer NYC is one of many online retailers specifically geared toward clothing for androgynously presenting females. The average price for their items is between $100-200 a piece, and a simple t-shirt is $49 - their most affordable item. From their website: “Jenny McClary and Allie Leepson had been searching for a store with a collection that spoke to their identities...something truly in the grey area. They would spend hours scouring the streets and the internet for menswear and womenswear brands that fit both physically and aesthetically. The beauty of fashion is freedom of expression, but more often than not, the industry seemed to silently scream out rules and guidelines for what to wear and how to wear it.”

The prices at Veer NYC, like many other niche stores, are extremely high. I’ve found that amongst the people I’ve spoken to, most people looking for nonbinary clothing cannot afford prices like these.

These designs seem to speak more to individual style than they do the mission of androgyny.

TERTIARY FINDINGS Bindle & Keep Bindle & Keep is a custom suit shop in NYC that has just recently started to fit women for custom made suits identical to those of men. The women’s suits are unlike pantsuit combinations that are typically seen in department stores - these suits are cut exactly the same as mens. This store has become a hit amongst lesbian and trans* people who have struggled to find clean cut business attire to flatter their unique body shapes. Where women’s clothing tends to accentuate the hips and breasts, these suits create a silhouette like a man’s. “The suit really helped me in ways I never expected it to,” she said. “I hadn’t ever felt handsome before. I had put together these makeshift outfits for special occasions and always felt like I was being overlooked in some way. I felt like I was ready to be paid attention to. It brought me to the precipice of becoming who I am now.” Bindle & Keep customer

Positive: GIving a professional, clean look to a market of people who have struggled to achieve this with existing professional wear. Negative: These suits are custom-made and do not reach out to the larger public that is in need.

TERTIARY FINDINGS Rasing Children Androgynously Parents Kathy and David are raising their three children completely without gender expectations “The couple believe they are releasing Storm from the constraints society imposes on males and females. They claim children can make meaningful decisions for themselves from a very young age. They called parents who make choices for their children ‘obnoxious’, instead telling their children to challenge how they’re expected to look and act based on their sex. Their older children, Jazz and Kio, already decide when to cut their hair and pick out their own clothes - from the boy and girl sections of stores. Five-year-old Jazz, for example, just picked out a pink dress which he loves because it ‘really poofs out at the bottom’ and ‘feels so nice. This case study is proof that with less pressures to behave a certain way, children will turn out to be more themselves, and be overall more happier and confident later in life.

TERTIARY FINDINGS RodeOH Harnesses This company makes harnesses that can be used either for holding a dildo in a sexual context, or for comfortably wearing a packer (a soft, fake penis) for daily use.

The main feature of the RodeOH that sets them apart from other harness manufacturers is that they apear to be just like any other type of underwear, yet they have this added feature. Other harnesses are made of straps and uncomfortable materials, but RodeOHs are cotton. They also fit packers between two layers of cotton, whereas otherwise a trans* man would wear a packer directly against his skin, which is uncomfortable and unsanitary.

TERTIARY FINDINGS Market research 1. Many people in the queer community do not have the resources or money to afford or gain access to many of these things 2. Many of these products are marketed towards very upscaletrendy consumers and disregard the larger community 3. BUT they also attract people outside of the community, which is necessary for growth 4. Apparel for trans* and queer people need to include special features like holders for packers, chest binders, crotch tuckers, etc. 5. Queer bodies vary to all extremes. Designing for all queer bodies is probably impossible 6. Defining something as unisex is possible 7. Providing people with the option to be whoever they want to be is encouraging

PROJECT STATEMENT I want to design some kind of product or experience that fights the heteronormative constraints created by the existing American market, so as to open up an area of comfort for those who identify differently. This object or experience must come with a strong message of what it intends to do in society, as well as provide a sense of identity for those who are seeking relief from genderrestrictive design.

PROJECT STRATEGY I have many concepts for what this object or experience could be, but all of them have the basic idea that they are tools to help individuals be comfortable in their skin, regardless of the gender they identify as. Some of my concepts focus on apparel, since what we wear is the number one gender identifying product. Other concepts focus on merchandizing, and how the store-going experience can be less stressful for those who feel pressured to shop in specific ways or sections of stores. The last of my concepts are more in the socio-critical realm of design, imagining methods to normalize a queer presence in our culture.

Gender Fashion Show • highly publicized event where people of all gender presentations could be seen and celebrated

PROJECT STRATEGY Unisex Clothing Brand • entire line of clothing that genderbends • each piece of clothing would have both feminine and masculine qualities

Neurtal Merchandizing • imagine a store that did not advertise gender in any way whatsoever

Genderfluid Dolls • tool for discussing gender • toy for children that dismisses gender expectations • socio-critical design


New Gender Indicators • something that clearly labels a person’s preferred pronouns so that they are not misgendered in public

Anti-Label Labeling • what if clothes in stores were labeled on a more politically correct scale rather than being separated by gender?

PROJECT STRATEGY The concept that I decided to go off of is that of gender neutral swimwear. This one is most relevant to some of the information and insights that I received form my primary resources, especially Anderson, tumblr followers, and reddit users. Now, this concept has evolved very much. I no longer want to just create “neutralizing swimwear,” I also want it to cater to the needs of the trans* community, as requested via reddit.

I’ve isolated the market of swimwear as the avenue I want to take. Swimwear is an extremely difficult area for those who struggle with gender issues, as well as many other types of body-image issues. It exposes the body, dry or wet, and often excentuates parts that exude sexuality. I’ve learned through those I’ve asked that it often makes people feel exploited and uncomfortable in situations that are meant to be fun and recreational, such as going to the beach or tanning. I want to create a swimsuit that can make a person feel comfortable, regardless of how they express their gender.


Strengths • sewing skills steadily improving • genuine interest in gender studies and human-centered design • not my first design project dealing with social issues • lots of positive responses from general community • internet presence


Weaknesses • extremely challenging issue, not much precedent to follow • wide range of bodies to work with • some experiences I can not at all identify with



Opportunities • access to good number of potential testers in local area • seemingly big market for gender neutralizing swimwear in addition to queer swimwear


Threads • online community as well as local community members as consultants • access to professional seamstresses who can help fabricate final models

Material, Sketch, and Form Studies Material, Sketch, and Form Studies Show Studies to Client Community

Collect Feedback Incorporate Feedback, Sketch Incorporate Feedback, Sketch Incorporate Feedback, Sketch New Round of Feedback

PLAN AND TIMELINE Sewing prototypes Sewing prototypes Sewing prototypes Client testing

Incorporate New Findings Sewing Prototypes Final Patterns Final Patterns Send Final Patterns Out for Production


Hennessy, Rosemary. Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print. Kirsch, Max H.. Queer Theory and Social Change. London, GBR: Routledge, 2000. p 54. Copyright Š 2000. Routledge. All rights reserved. Lupton, Ellen. Mechanical Brides: Women and Machines from Home to Office. New York: Cooper-Hewitt, National Museum of Design, Smithsonian Institution, 1993. Print. Warnke, Georgia. Debating Sex and Gender. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.

SWIM* Research  
SWIM* Research  

Rough research book. Completed book expected April 2014.