←THESIS 2013


Explorations into queer theory through

design and digital technology that

play with embedded assumptions of

gender and sexuality. Brian Pelsoh



Make your world queerer. Tap your screen to turn your friend, couch, dog, or anything queer.


Play with gender by transforming photos from one sex to another and beyond.


Stop struggling to understand hetero-sexuals, TransL8R decodes when you can’t relate.


Visualize the sexuality of those around you in real-time without them even knowing.


Stop wondering, start knowing, identify the sexuality of anyone with 99.9% accuracy.


Transform your photos from leather daddy to riot gurrl with a single click.


Meet your queer personal assistant. She’s got a mind of her own and she’s not afraid to use it.


Shield yourself from homo-phobia by emitting a high-pitched frequency that only homophobes can hear.


This one-of-a-kind photo manipulator let’s you bend anyone’s gender beyond recognition. Transform your friends and family from male to female and vice-versa. This painless sex changer is so easy and fun to use, you’ll never look at sexuality the same.

Music by Tycho


HomoVision is the world’s only sexuality visualizer. It let’s you literally see who’s gay and to what degree. It's discrete and non-confrontational so it’s easy to use on the street, in the club, anywhere you want to find out who’s gay. Our patented homosexualty indicators work on anyone and are scientifically proven to be 99.9% accurate. Stop wondering and start knowing with HomoVision.

Music by Gold Panda


We’ve used the latest advances in artificial intelligence to bring you Queery, the first digital assistant with a real personality. She’s part queen, part butch, and 100% genius. Ask her anything. No matter how personal, mundane, or absurd the question; Queery has an answer. The more you ask her, the more she’ll know you.


The Expanding Lexicon of Queer Identity

This poster series explores the expansion of queer identity from the familiar LGBT accronym to include individuals who are questioning, intersex, and asexual. Originating in a poster workshop with designers Nancy Skolos and Tom Wedell, each of the posters started with an abstract collage made from several one inch squares to inform the structure. Various materials and methods were then explored to create the letterforms.


I was standing on top of my sister’s dresser and admiring myself in the mirror. I was wearing her purple skirt and pink shirt, and I told her, “I think I was supposed to be a girl.” I can remember this clearly, even though I was only eight years old. I don’t remember my sister’s response or what happened after. But for most of my life, the worry that I was born into the wrong sex haunted me. I tried to forget it, to hide from my feelings, to pretend I was “normal.” Growing up in Middle America in the Nineties, I was constantly reminded how special and unique I was, but to me this was just something my parents and teachers said. I wanted to be like everyone else. I didn’t want anyone to know about that day on my sister’s dresser, about that thought that was always in the back of my mind.


In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were seven. Colors had different associations as well. Pink = strong = masculine, blue = delicate = feminine.
Ruth Padawer

Girls gain status by moving into ‘boy’ space, while boys are tainted by the slightest whiff of femininity.
Ruth Padawer

Gender is cultural fiction, a performative effect of reiterative acts. Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the apperance of substance, of a natural sort of being.
Judith Butler

Individuals are ‘interpolated’ or ‘called forth’ as subjects by ideology, and that inter-polation is achieved through a compelling mixture of recognition and identification.
Louis Althusser

Our understandings of ourselves as coherent, unified and self- determining subjects is an effect of those representational codes commonly used to describe the self and through which, consequently identity comes to be understood.
Roland Barthes

On the whole, I had a good childhood. I did well in school, had lots of friends, built tree forts, collected bugs, and rode my bike as far as it would take me. When it came to playtime, there were two things that distinguished me from other boys. First, I hated playing sports and sucked at it. In elementary school, if you peed standing up, you were expected to play football at recess. Begrudgingly I went along with this. I was always picked last, because I could barely catch the ball. Most games I would daydream as far away from the action as possible, while at the same time hoping the ball didn't come near me. Second, I loved to play with Barbie dolls. I don't mean occasionally—I mean all the time. Up until we were teenagers, my sister and I created an entire world of Barbie, Ken, and Skipper dolls. With dolls in hand, we imagined families, relationships, jobs, and even a lesbian and a gay guy. I never had any of my own Barbies, and no one in my family ever said anything about it—which is impressive, because I have two brothers. The thing I liked about playing with Barbie dolls was that anything was possible. My imagination ran wild as I acted out with dolls what I didn’t have words to express.

This duality of pretending to be a normal boy at school while playing with girl’s toys and playing dress-up at home went on until middle school, which was when I started to became conscious of my sexuality. It wasn’t because of some profound epiphany but because my classmates made me think about it. Rather than spend my lunch hours playing basketball like other boys, I spent my time gossiping and laughing with the girls. This did not go over well in the halls of Sennett Middle School. I was taunted and ridiculed as the school fag. Boys who had been my friends for all of grade school stopped talking to me; kids who didn't even know me would point and laugh. Walking down the hall was like being on trial. If I walked too gingerly, gestured effeminately, or spoke to too many girls, I would be bombarded with the snickering and sneering of other kids calling me faggot, fag, fairy, gay, queer, fruit, and homo.

One of my classmates had a particular disdain for me. I’m not sure if he was sexually insecure or needed attention from his peers, but he tormented me relentlessly. One afternoon, as I stood nervously waiting for my turn to climb the rope that stood dangling in the middle of the gym, he tapped me on the shoulder. “After school, I’m going to beat you straight. I muttered something like, “I’m straight,” but my voice cracked. Before he could say anything else, I was saved by the P.E. teacher blowing her whistle instructing me to jump up onto the rope. Luckily it was final period, and somehow I made it out of the locker room and onto my bus without my bully finding me. My mom found me crying in my room later that night and, with my dad’s help, got me to tell them what had happened earlier. They let me stay home from school the next day and called the principal. When I did go back to school, my bully didn't say anything.

While many of my classmates were convinced I was gay (and deep down I knew there was something different about me), I was determined to be straight. I bought a skateboard, wore baggy clothes that were two sizes too large, and started wearing my hair shaggy. Middle school was hard for me. It was a time of great turmoil and heartache in which I became more reserved and quiet. I dropped out of orchestra and chorus and stopped raising my hand in class. I only had a couple of friends, and didn’t really talk to anyone else. I didn’t even talk at the dinner table anymore. I barely left my room, and when I did it was only to go to school or go skating. Eventually, my parents took me to see a psychologist who told me I was depressed.

In high school, I perfected my performance as a straight teenage boy. I had a few girlfriends, whom I took to school dances, and I even kissed them. No one questioned my sexuality anymore. While I kept up the public appearance of being a heterosexual, I indulged in queer culture. Growing up in the liberal enclave of Madison, Wisconsin, made this possible. Just a few miles from my childhood home was the campus of the University of Wisconsin, which held monthly all-ages queer dance parties, cleverly called “10% Society Dances,” referencing the Kinsey statistic estimating that 10% of Americans were homosexuals. A few friends and I went regularly. Although I never danced with a guy and no one hit on me, I saw that there were proud young gay people in Madison. Guys made out with guys, girls made out with girls, and no one batted an eye. I also started going to the midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which brought many like-minded individuals together to celebrate Tim Curry’s phenomenal drag performance in the 1970s cult classic. There was a stage show and mandatory participation as we sang along and yelled at the screen. While I explored the queer subculture available to me as a teen, I was still struggling to admit to myself that I was gay, that my sexual attraction to men was real. I still didn’t want it to be true, because then I would have to live it.

The weekend before graduation, on a moonlit walk with my then girlfriend, I admitted that I might be gay. She wanted to move to California and go to college together. I wanted to stay close to home and get out of my relationship with her. I told her flat out, “I don’t like girls like that.” I said we should break up. She didn’t take this well, and we haven’t spoken since. It was the first time that I admitted to anyone that I was different.

Over the next six months, I became more and more comfortable with the thought of being gay. A lot of things changed in my life that helped this happen. Most notably, I started college. I moved out of my parents’ house into my freshman dorm at UW–Madison, and in the first week my roommate accused me of being gay. He had used my shiny new iMac and saw a gay site in the browser history. He told me he didn’t want to shower with a gay dude. For the first time, I wasn’t crushed by being called gay. I proudly asked for a room reassignment.

I was liberated and, for the first time, started experimenting sexually with other guys. I didn’t talk openly about being gay, but luckily the Internet provided a private way to communicate with other gays and then meet them in public. This was scary at first; every part of my brain told me meeting someone I’d met through the Internet was dangerous, but I did it anyway. I remember the first guy I met. We met behind Bascom Hall, an old, neo-classical temple that stood on top of the hill overlooking the entire campus. It was dark, and we planned to meet by the back door. He was late, I got cold feet. I saw him drive up, but he looked too old. I darted off. He confronted me about it later online, and I denied it.

Slowly I got better at prescreening my dates. I learned which questions to ask to figure out if they were crazy. After several dates and one-way crushes, I decided to come out on my 18th birthday. I told my high-school friends with whom I had gone to the 10% Dances, and they replied, “Duh.” What I thought would be hard and tortuous was actually quite easy. We went on with our night without even talking about. Later that night I told my sister, who was also unimpressed by the news. She supported me but admitted that she already knew I was gay. When I asked her how she knew, she reminded me of the time we spent together playing with Barbie dolls. Telling my parents was not as easy. They took me out to dinner for my birthday a few days after the fact. Back at home, they sat me down in the living room to give me presents. I opened the last one and blurted out, “Mom, Dad, I’m gay.” They didn’t believe me. I had to explain. I had been seeing men. I didn’t like girls romantically. They told me they loved me no matter what, but that maybe this was a fad, that I should keep my options open. I was crushed.

Throughout college, I continued to experiment with men and became more and more open about my sexuality, while never flaunting it or letting it define me. By sophomore year I had a boyfriend and had a subsequent string of six-month relationships throughout my twenties. None of them ever lasted because I never found someone that I truly clicked with. The relationship was either physical or else we were just friends. This makes it sound like I dated a lot. I didn’t. By the time I graduated college, I was single and had been for some time. It wasn’t until well after college in my late twenties that I found a real connection with someone. I’ve been with a partner for the last three years. He has helped me immensely. He helped me get out of a job I hated and go to grad school. He moved across the country to be with me.

My own life experience is what propelled me to do my Master of Fine Arts thesis project on queer theory. Queer theory is dense and difficult to understand but incredibly powerful and enlightening. Ellen Lupton, my program director, encouraged me read up on queer theory over the summer between first and second year. I did, and at first I was confused. I didn’t understand what I was reading. I read a short primer on queer theory by Annamarie Jagose and Gender Trouble by Judith Butler. It wasn’t until I read the book Gaga Feminism, by J. Jack Halberstam, that things started to click. To me, queer theory opens up a whole new world of possibilities in terms of gender and sexuality. An eight-year-old boy who thinks he was born into the wrong gender and plays with Barbie dolls and footballs all in the same day is queer.Queer is a term that encompasses all of human gender and sexuality without excluding anyone. It accepts everyone and tries to break down the polarizing extremes of male and female, gay and straight. It is a theory that admits there is much in-between, and as queer activist Asher Bauer puts it, “Queer doesn’t mean ‘Don’t label me.’ It means ‘I am naming myself.’ It means ‘Ask me more questions if you’re curious’ and, in the same breath, means ‘Fuck off.’” This is the rallying cry that I needed.

What I took from reading queer theory is that gender, like sexuality, can be represented and manifested in myriad ways. I think a queer is someone who has a non-binary view of gender, who sees all trans identities as valid, and, as Asher Bauer puts it, “given this understanding of infinite gender possibilities, finds it hard to define their sexuality any longer in a gender-based way.” Sexuality is fluid, and promiscuity and abstinence are both valid. Love can be expressed in many ways and isn‘t reserved for physical intimacy between two long-term partners, not that there‘s anything wrong with that. Queers are many things (tops and bottoms, asexual and pansexual, men and women, intersex and transsexual) and have many types of relationships. From life partners to complete strangers, all are acceptable ways to express oneself sexually. According to theorist Annamarie Jagose, “Queer may describe an open-ended constituency whose shared characteristic is not identity itself but an anti-normative positioning with regard to sexuality.” Queer theory lets me feel comfortable in my own skin. By learning about queer theory, I was able to make sense of my own life and make peace with my demons from adolescence. The dresses I wore, the Barbies and footballs I played with, even the Internet dating all made sense. I am queer.



APRIL 14, 2013