Language is legislation, speech is its code. We do not see the power which is in speech because we forget that all speech is a classi cation, and that all classi cations are oppressive: ordo means both distribution and commination. [...] Thus, by its very structure, my language implies an inevitable relation of alienation. To speak, and with even greater reason, to utter a discourse is not, as is too often repeated, to communicate; it is to subjugate: the whole language is a generalized rection.

[...] But language—the performance of a language system—is neither reactionary nor progressive; it is quite simply fascist; for fascism does not prevent speech, it compels speech.

Once uttered, even in the subject’s deepest privacy, speech enters the service of power.1

As Barthes states, just like our bodies, language is a limit. Words cannot grasp; structures are stiff, authoritarian, and depend on common sense. The rule of thumb is straight and oblique, prone to orient the way things and the other are enunciated, based on an allegedly learned, known, and, therefore, normalized universe, so as to guide and avoid misunderstandings, promoting a beneficial coexistence.

“Norm” is a term of Latin root that stands for “set square.” A norm is a rule to be respected and that allows adjustments of certain conducts or activities. In Law, a norm is a legal precept. [...] In Linguistics, the norm is a set of standard uses that speakers of a given language (a linguistic community) perform on a daily basis. Norma is also a feminine first name quite common in Spain and Latin America. [...] It is the Latin name for a constellation located in the Southern Celestial Hemisphere, between Scorpio and Centaurus. “Carpenter’s set square” and “Ruler” are some of the alternative names to this constellation, whose formal designations are “Norma” and “Regula”.2

As artificial as a set square, norms socially relapse as “natural” or “truths,” designating the different as abnormal (Homo sacer). It’s a game of power in which the abnormal constantly risks being annihilated by such an order, duly justi ed as the so-called “nature” of things, by this set square that intends to be truth, with the hand that manufactures and supports it, but can be equally strong and acute as trembling and obtuse.

Amidst this universe that aims outside of straight angles, the Queer City project came into existence in 2016, seeking to incite discussions and experiences towards a non-heteronormative (masculine, white) relation to the city. The meaning attributed by queer in this title regards precisely its non-heteronormativity.

It is noticeable that the current use of Portuguese bears more and more addenda in an attempt to qualify—and, why not, complexify or even deny—terms that no longer fit their original norm. This is why we commonly see gay marriage; open marriage; vegan cake; rice flour; girl band. It remains unknown to us if, in a few years from now, the term “marriage” alone will comprise the most diverse possibilities of love and union, not only a monogamous relationship between a man and a woman; until then, these addenda remain indispensable.

Likewise, the Queer City project placed itself in the world bringing along an addendum that aims at denormalizing the idea of city. A project simply named City would communicate something else. However, differently from the aforementioned examples, it might not be as clear what quality the term “queer” adds to the city.

To all appearances, queer is a term that came to Brazil by plane, landing in the academic world, in symposia, anthropology, and the visual arts. But as a foreign word, what does it enunciate? It is worth recalling that, even before finding the meaning of words, Brazil traditionally and easily swallows them through their signifiers—we are extremely “adjustable” to the sounds coming from the outside.3

In the case of queer, it was no different. Originating in the English language, its signier and signi ed went through changes over time, and became not only an international concept, nowadays part of the LGBTQIA acronym, but also a quali er of the cultural industry (as in the TV show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”). If in an English-speaking country I designate someone as queer, it is within the limits of clarity. Yet, what would queer designate in Brazil? Is there something unknown that will now be pointed as queer?4 Would it then be possible to translate it? Barbarize it? Classify it under a norm? How can one do so without normalizing it?


Queer Graphic Laboratory had four meetings, of nearly three hours each, to discuss and study problems around queer and denormatization in both visual and written language. The DGL’s most important principle is not to establish new paradigms, i.e., not to think that a problem is solved with the creation of a new structure, for the latter will be as normative as the previous one.

The first axis to be discussed was the translation possibilities concerning “queer”. As from the de nition of the Oxford dictionary, we went back to the history of Brazil, looking for neighboring words that could be analogous to the idea of queer. The goal was to create a lexical universe around the concept rather than actually translating it.

Assimilating that this lexicon, as well as its writing—queer, cuir, kuir—swiftly changes, artist and programmer Thiago Hersan developed a plug-in that alters the word queer when it shows up online in a browser, showing its neighboring terms at each page refresh.

The matter of gender markers in Portuguese—and Latin languages as a whole—also presented itself, whether in the predominance of the use of masculine terms for plural constructions or its presence permeating all things (names), at first as an insurmountable issue. Experimenting with this problem, artist Fabio Morais rewrote the Portuguese translation of Danna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto in two different versions: one using masculine words, and the other with feminine terms exclusively. The matter of boundaries between what is said and how it is said raised an important discussion: is it possible to make a feminist publication having a patriarchal language as its grounds? In Portuguese, when we say we are all feminists, is this “all” masculine (todos) or feminine (todas)? Is the need for speech greater than the subversion of forms? What is the good measure between these two things?


Still part of the same confrontation, we discussed the limits of using “x” and “@” as a solution to replace gender designations with an encompassing of all gender identities, also approaching how it would be possible, in the stiffness of our alphabet and lexicon, to subvert this issue.

This way, we began to question what a queer vowel would be like, coalescing “a”, “e”, and “o” to allow for an open indication of gender, but without affecting reading (unlike what happens with the usage of “x” and “@”, that somewhat brake and discontinue the text). Form is intrinsic to content, for we always have to choose a typeface, which brings along a history as well (who are the typographers behind the fonts we use the most, what are their histories?), even if opting for a said “neutrality.” We questioned what a formal vocabulary regarding queer would be like, as well as which cases and colors were associated with it. Since the proposition did not involve the creation of a new normativity, we opted for subverting the most popular and massi ed fonts—Times New Roman and Arial—instead of developing a new typographic family.

A queer vowel was proposed and designed by Laura Daviña, through experiments with parts of characters taken from stencils. Since this process is made by previously cutting the font’s glyphs, it resulted in fragments of letters that were then manipulated in order to compose different combinations.

Considering that the idea was to create a typeface to be used in the textual experiments undertaken in the laboratory, we proceeded to interfere in the characters using the font’s digital files. The vowels’ glyphs were vectorized and cut out following the same logic of the stencil, and then assembled in distinct ways. The variation that resulted in the Cuir Roman Times font family, the glyphs of “a” and “e” are fragmented, and their parts are inverted and reorganized to form the degenerate vowels. While identifying the characters in the typeface mapping, the glyphs of “a” and “e” were pointed as characters that could be read either as the original correspond- ents of “e”, “a”, and “o”—the usual gender desinences in Portuguese.


In an essay from 1919, Freud writes about “Das Unheimliche” (the Uncanny). The text has not yet been published in Portuguese, but the word is often translated as weird, disturbing—a concept that refers to something that is not exactly mysterious, but rather oddly familiar, arousing anguish, disturbance, and strangeness—or even terror. The Uncanny seemed pertinent to us as a reaction of the normative world towards queer.

We then proposed an exercise of mixing Freud’s sentences, leaving a blank space with the lexicon of related words in the backdrop:

Either we can find out what meaning has come to be attached to the word “uncanny” in the course of its history; or we can collect all those properties of persons, things, sensations, experiences and situations which arouse in us the feeling of uncanniness, and then infer the unknown nature of the __________ from what they all have in common.

But foreign dictionaries tell us nothing new, perhaps only because we speak a different language. Indeed, we get the impression that many languages are without a word for this particular variety of what is ___________ .

We have now only a few more remarks to add, for animism, magic and witchcraft, the omnipotence of thoughts, man’s attitude to death, involuntary repetition and the castration-complex comprise practically all the factors which turn something fearful into an __________ thing.

Another exercise involved interfering in sentences written by artist Vito Acconci, in which he approaches the performativity of writing and the city, overlapping them with a sinuous grid taken from the city of São Paulo.

The interactions between typography and São Paulo's city map was also explored in the proposition made by Laura Daviña and Thiago Hersan to occupy the facade/wall of Explode!, an eleven-day immersion-residency (between August and September 2016), in a house in the East Zone of São Paulo, located in Vila Nova York. The outcome artwork was influenced by Sister Corita's work as a tribute.


Download the typography experiments:
Cuir Roman Times


[1] BARTHES, Roland. “Inaugural Lecture, Collège de France,” translated by Richard Howard. Available at:, accessed on April 10 th, 2017.

[2] Available in Portuguese at Accessed on February 28th, 2017 (our translation).

[3] There are numerous examples, ranging from the music genre forró (whose uncertain origin can come from Portuguese forrobodó, French faux-boudon, or English for all) to uses of Black Friday, off, sale, hamburger, abatjour.

[4] See in this book Queer city, a reader the personal reflection of Vi Grunvald “Some personal reflections on the decolonization of queer”, and “no olho do cu(ir) – queer: the center and the margins of a fagged out word”, by bibi Abigail.