The nature of queer experience is often one of privacy: quiet words exchanged between individuals or a look into the mirror in solitude. Moments of queerness can also be loud, radical, combustive, and widely heard. All of these stories should be documented.
The mission of this book is to share these stories, moments, and experiences with one another, to document them, immortalize them, and, effectively, to ‘queer the space’ which is Brown University’s campus.
This project hopes to offer a crowdsourced archive and public record of our communal learning as queer folks. It aims to harness our collective voice to document that queerness has been here before, lives here today, and belongs here tomorrow. Each contribution may serve as affirmation, validation, or education for another queer person.
The book is composed of anonymous submissions by Brown alumni, detailing stories of queer experiences on campus. Specifically, my prompt for stories asked about “moments of queer learning” on Brown’s campus. “Learning,” in this sense, could take the form of pain, joy, strength, normalcy, defiance, defeat, love, loneliness — anything.
The timeline for this project spanned a month and a half. This is an overview of the steps taken to make it all happen.
Step 1: Outreach
In order to start collecting stories, I first had to build a list of queer Brown alums who might be willing to contribute. I started this process in the John Hay Library’s Special Collections, sifting through archives of Brown’s queer/LGBTQ/gay student publications, searching for mastheads, writer names, attributed quotes, etc. This process spilled over into archives of the Brown Daily Herald and the Brown Alumni Magazine. I ended up with a list of about 70 names.
I then searched online for each person, looking for any way to contact them. I sent out requests for their contributions via email, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn with a link to a Google form for submissions. I left the form open for about 3 weeks.
Responses from alumni slowly started to filter in, and the project was officially up and running! I sent the form to some current students as well, waited for the deadline for entries to pass. I ended up with a total of 26 submissions, dating back to 1969.
Step 2: Design
I compiled and formatted the 26 entries using InDesign. The photos and text are inverted intentionally, in order to make the next step work properly.
The pages were then printed on transparency film.
Step 3: Cyanotype
Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print. It was discovered in 1842 and used primarily as a way to produce blueprints (though I’m more familiar with cyanotypes of plants). Because of the historical connection to the blueprint, this process stuck out to me as the perfect medium for this ‘mapping’ project.
My first step in this process was to mix the solution to treat the paper. Potassium ferricyanide and Ferric ammonium citrate were mixed with water separately. Those two solutions were then blended together in equal parts. I brushed that solution onto watercolor paper in a darkroom and allowed the sheets to dry. I taped the transparency film prints (from Step 2) to the treated paper and exposed them to UV light in an artificial exposure unit for 15 minutes.
The cyanotype emulsion is photosensitive. Simply put, the parts of the treated paper that are exposed to UV undergo a reaction, and the paper turns a shade of dark blue. Areas protected from the UV rays remain unchanged. So wherever there was white on the transparency overlay, the paper underneath turned blue. And where there was black on the transparency, the paper was protected from UV, and remained white.
The final steps of the printing process involved rinsing the sheets of paper in order to remove any remaining photosensitive chemicals, allowing them time to dry, and finally binding the book using a 5-hole pamphlet stitch.
Note: This is an ongoing effort! If you’re willing to contribute to the next edition of the “Queer Learning” book, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Final Product
The final 25-page book, digitized. My process for creating it is detailed in the next section.
This project would not have been possible without the support of many friends on many late nights, the RISD store, John Hay Library’s Special Collections, and the many queer students who walked Brown’s halls before me. Thank you all!