Date of Completion


Document Type

Honors College Thesis


Gender, Sexuality, & Women's Studies

Thesis Type

Honors College

First Advisor

Paul Deslandes

Second Advisor

Emily Manetta

Third Advisor

Mary Burke


sexual orientation, gender, style, fashion, sexuality, queer


The focus of this investigation is the ways in which people in the West (primarily in the United States) visually signal their sexual orientation and gender identity through various forms of body modification—including tattooing, piercing, and hairstyling—and self-fashioning, e.g. selection of clothing and accessories. The purpose of this thesis is to help people comprehend the possible latent reasoning behind their choices of visual presentation and how even their conscious self-fashioning and body-modifying decisions may be influenced by historical choices of self-presentation. More broadly, this investigation aims to enhance the general (queer and non-queer) population’s understanding of the nuanced ways in which Western society codes sexual orientation and gender identity into the subtleties of people’s body modifications and self-fashioning; I look both at how the observer interprets another’s self-presentation and what the presenter meaningfully intends to communicate through their presentation. Although there is ample information about historical methods of visually signaling sexual orientation and gender identity, I believe that this study will fill the void of scant research on such phenomena in the 21st century. Furthermore, this study is unique in its inclusion of observers’ perceptions of others’ style as well as its mention of nonbinary style, which was not discovered in historical literature in the course of my research, though sources do discuss “genderfuck” and overall gender ambiguity (e.g. in the goth and punk communities). Therefore, the aim of this study is to supplement the current scholarly conversation on visual identity-signaling of one’s sexual orientation and gender identity, and to do so in language that is accessible beyond the academic realm for the purpose of the enrichment of a broad community.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.