Beyond the Binary: Gender and Language

  • Beyond the Binary: Gender and Language, my graduate thesis at the Maryland Institute College of Art's Graphic Design program, studies the language of gender beyond limited notions of man and woman. Key terms are supplemented with animated interpretive graphics. These terms are then discussed with people of varying gender identities, and the graphics transform and expand to become visualizations of the individual identities of participants. The project was designed as a motion piece to be exhibited, large scale, at MICA. 

    My goal was to create a reference to progressive gender terminology by simplifying the content into an engaging and approachable form, then deepening it with personal narratives of individuals who identify with those terms. Motion was the medium of choice, as it reflects the ever-changing nature of language and creates an active and immersive reference guide. 

    Developed with guidance from Ellen Lupton, Jennifer Cole Phillips, and Jason Gottlieb.
  • Key Gender Terms

    I narrowed down a list of what I thought were key gender terms, and simplified their meanings, pairing them with uncomplicated, interpretive graphics as a visual aid. Simple shapes, color theory, and texture are thus used to build a visual language conveying concepts around gender, that can be easily understood and absorbed by a wide audience.
  • Interview: Isabella
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    I went on to speak with people of various identities and expressions to get a sense of how they engage with gender and the language that accompanies it. The animations follow the interviewees responses, transforming the initial visual system I created into highly personalized representations of their gender identities.
  • Interview: Drew

    For example, in Drew's interview, we start with a simple combination of pink with liquified stripes to convey femininity and a transgender identity. That visual representation then transforms to create a rich visual language personalized to her responses, which encompass her thoughts on what non-binary means to her, as well as a personal anecdote about the color red and her gender identity. 
  • Interview: Harley

    Many interviewees already had personal associations with color, pattern, and texture that related to their sense of gender and personal identifiers. This information further added layers of complexity to the graphic language, and provided friction to the idea that a simplified, universal language—linguistic or graphic—can exist. Sometimes language is highly personal. 
  • Interview: Vivian

    Some responses directly contradicted the visual language I had created, further deepening the definitions of the concepts at hand and their accompanying graphics. Vivian, for example, explained that while black is often used for agender pride flags, they relate more to the idea of a rainbow. Thus, their portrait opens with that metamorphosis. 
  • Interview: Julia

    Ultimately the language around gender proved to exist on both the public and private planes. We use words to engage with one another, but they mean different things to different people based on individual experience. Language needs to work for all of us in order to function as a system of communication.
  • Personalized Icons

    The final component in my graphic guide is a set of icons capturing moments from each interview, melding into one another to become increasingly complex amalgamations. This visualization is analogous to how meanings of words change over time based on how individuals within a society collectively use them. ​​​​​​​
  • The motion pieces were projected in MICA's Meyerhoff Gallery in the Spring of 2019.
  • The animations are featured large scale, filling an entire wall within the gallery, to create an immersive and dynamic learning environment. Viewers can scan multiple definitions at their own pace and relate them—the concepts build off one another from simple building block like concepts (e.g. gender v.s. biological sex) to more complex and nuanced concepts around gender (e.g. gender fluidity). 
  • In April 2019, the MICA GDMFA department gathered with guest critic, Silas Munro, for our thesis defense presentations. 
  • Jason Gottlieb, Stephanie Borgovan, Ellen Lupton, Silas Munro, Jennifer Cole Phillips