The Queer Writing on the Bathroom Wall

Mark Addison Smith, Assistant Professor
Electronic Design and Multimedia
The City College of New York

The Queer Writing on the Bathroom Wall documents my typographic and theoretical process of discovering an instance of homophobic graffiti—gay fagget fucker die you know it’s a truck driver—within a midwestern truck stop men’s bathroom, translating the author’s letterforms into a coded-language system for the targeted queer community, and using my newly designed typography to “talk back” against and eradicate the source hate.

Cross-referencing design theory lenses of Sassure’s semiotics, Dunn’s graphic signal, and Meggs’ metasymbol against queer theory lenses of Kinsey’s bathroom, Foucault’s confession, and Munoz’s disidentification, my role as communication designer existed as analyst and visual-activist. I reappropriated the strokes, angles, and terminals of the graffiti author’s non-repeating 20 letterforms into a complete 52-character uppercase and lowercase alphabet based upon his writing style. Through a process of mirroring and overlay, I arranged these letterforms on top of each other to design a homosexualized alphabet of same-letter ligatures, or, same-sex letters having sex. I returned to the original bathroom stall and deployed my own response, let’s face it we’re all queer (a graffiti battle-cry from the 1970s New York City queer revolution), directly on top of his graffiti—to both reference the source of my redesigned typeface and provide the audience with a translation-key—in an act of eradication and reclamation. Through textual manipulation, I’m hoping to analyze the emotional baggage carried within the individual strokes of the author’s handwritten language, to uncover the latent homosexuality within his written homophobia, and to generate a letterform-based code in which the author cannot answer back.

Desire teaches us that the more something is kept as a secret, the more we are driven to uncover and interpret it. Design allows us to interpret it. Such is the nature of Foucault’s confession, and our desire—as interlocutor—to translate and assimilate…and, from a design perspective, to ultimately visualize identity-formation and reverse-discourse empowerment.

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This research will be featured as a chapter in Routledge’s Diversity and Design: Understanding Hidden Consequences, to be released in 2016.