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Common Sisters

A safe space for queer women to connect, share and be proud

MA 2023
Queer space, storytelling, community empowerment, connection

Common Sisters is a story-sharing platform that includes a queer female perspective, helping queer, Gen Z and millennial women connect, share their stories and be proud through a storytelling toolkit and art as interventions. It not only helps queer women explore themselves in the community but also helps them resonate through the exchange of stories and narratives while making their voices heard and seen by other individuals and society as a whole.



The Common Press is the finest LGBTQIA+ multidisciplinary venue based in the heart of East London. Featuring an intersectional bookshop café, a large events space, and a queer bar. It aims to provide a safe space for queer women to thrive as many are facing some struggles with declining queer spaces.

During the graduation project, I collaborated with The Common Press, exploring the relationship between the queer women’s space and community and its potential.

Through a deep understanding of The Common Press operations, queer women and the status quo of the community, I created a story-sharing platform for The Common Press and an experimental model from a wider queer perspective, helping every queer woman who comes to the space to participate in speaking out and sharing stories, connect with others, resonate, get support and externalise their voice that creates wider impact.

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Sexual identity and society are currently being hotly debated. Self-identity is at an all-time high, amplified by the media and interest groups around the world. People increasingly tend to define themselves by their beliefs, gender, sexual orientation or race.

Society is both polarized between inclusive/exclusive and diversity/monoculture.

However, being a lesbian in a patriarchal society means being more marginalized than being a gay man, and the fact that a woman is same-sex attracted not only means that she faces the risk of being rejected by her friends, persuaded by her family to marry Men, becoming the targets of threats, physical assault, sexual violence and harassment, as well as discrimination in hiring practices and pervasive economic inequality.

Because of their stigmatization as women, they face restrictions and violations of their rights.

Research process

During the 5-week volunteer work in The Common Press and LGBTQ+ communities, I conducted research combined with sociology and service design methodologies.

Discovery and insights



Due to the sensitivity of queer topics, I collected queer women's perceptions and their expectations for the future anonymously by displaying prompt questions.

After talking to 30 queer women about their perceptions and experiences of invisibility during #lesbianvisibilityweek, I found that invisibility mainly refers to the lack of social acceptance of their identities due to stereotypes and the lack of diversity in how queer women look and act. However, the media representation under the patriarchy, which lack of diversity makes it difficult for them to form a social identity and spread their voices.


In the process of collecting anonymous opinions offline, a discussion was accidentally opened and attracted more people to join (as shown in the picture above). I recognized the desire of queer individuals to communicate with each other, and the potential of a nudge in opening dialogue spaces.」

What makes queer women invisible?

  • Underrepresented in women's rights research, advocacy, and the media;
  • Historically erased from queer narratives, making individual's voices more invisible and unseen, not to be represented, not to be witnessed
  • Be ignored or oversimplified in the social science literature, there are challenges to the visibility of lesbians and how to normalise them from invisible groups

Collected manifestations

With themselves: proving to be ‘weird’ by dressing

With friends & parents: not believed in when coming out

Within the community: lack of acceptance sometimes

In society: assaulted and/or sexually harassed by heterosexual men; straight passing

Why does visibility matter?

  • Visibility is a social process that helps queer women explore, recognize, accept themselves, and identify with each other through role models and representation;
  • Its a witness to queer women's identities, beings, desires, sexuality and empowers them to pursue themselves;
  • At the same time, it means that queer women can find better sense of belonging and community to support each other so that their experiences, feelings and truest selves are seen, understood and witnessed , accepted and recognized;
  • It also means that they have more freedom to express and be heard.


I invited 20+ queer women to write anonymous letters, collected their experiences of being stigmatised, and tested their motivations of writing letters as a prototype.


What is stigmatization?

Stigmatisation means that queer women get stereotyped about what they should and cannot do in a patriarchal society.

Collected manifestations

  • With parents: take more responsibilities; be a good girl; to marry a man
  • With same-sex friends: exploring the balance and trust building between desire and same-sex friendships
  • In LGBTQ+ community: barriers to choosing a partner due to sexual orientation stereotypes
  • In society: changes in appearance are seen as pleasing others rather than looking for oneself


Through verification from interviews, it was learnt that they hope to be understood and see more role models, which can help them see themselves and their expectations for an ideal future through similarities. Role models not only appear in the media but also in everyone in the community.

This not only verifies the needs of queer women to interact and express with real people in queer space; it also emphasizes their deep desire of being seen, heard, accepted, and understood for a wider social impact


What is queer space for queer women?

For them, queer spaces aren’t just places to meet or drink, they’re community hubs where people can feel safe, be themselves and learn about their histories.

By surveying the status quo

Urban spaces often don’t make queer women feel safe, equally welcome, or belong, making queer women-friendly spaces in cities becomes discontinuous. During the past decades, queer venues have been rapidly declining globally, which has been driven by complex social and economic changes, and are interwoven with the development and gentrification of cities.

Likewise, The Common Press’s bar announced its closure this February.


From observations in TCP

Lack of connections and opportunities to meet:

In The Common Press, many customers from other cities hope to have more opportunities to interact with people, but because of limited access or unknown space, many people can only read books alone and go to the next destination;

Understanding the community

Lack of sustainable communities:

  • Lack of communicators of history.
  • The current queer female community and activities are mainly centralized activities. Due to the high-speed population mobility in the community and in the city, the community is unstable.
  • Community connections are more based on individuals and lack sustainable community mechanisms to support everyone, and their voices are unheard by a wider community.


Enable every queer woman who comes to the space to participate in communication or creation, connect, express themselves, make a difference, have some takeaway, or even become an influencer?

Design direction

How might we use The Common Press as a culture hub platform to help queer women be seen, be heard and be supported by helping them explore themselves and express themselves freely?

From a strategic point of view, I have designed a series of interventions. Intervening through a service named Common Sisters, I developed the story-sharing platform built for the bookshop centred on this intersectional space, and an experimental model from a wider queer perspective, including the queer women's community.

In fact, what I really want to provide is a decentralized queer support network that can be used by The Common Press and its partners to increase wider participation and influence.


Step1: Offline engagement toolkit

  • Contains postcards based on the storytelling toolkit, DIY badges, a dialogue where you can freely create characters, post questions, and reply to questions
  • Aims to help individuals participate through voices by answering questions, posting questions, creating art and sharing stories
  • Dialogue not only helps queer women support each other but also create an empathetic space for more people to know what they hope to be told when struggling, while providing free space for opening new conversations

Step2: Discord discussion group

  • Ensure the accessibility of the service platform by establishing physical touchpoints in bookstores;
  • Facilitate queer women sharing stories, exchanging experiences, connecting, etc.

Step3: Story-sharing website

  • Ensure accessibility of the site by establishing touchpoints on Discord and the official The Common Press site;
  • Queer women share their stories based on categories of topics on the website so that more people can hear the voices of queer women
  • Queer women can share stories inspired by books based on a story-sharing toolkit to resonate with more people


Common Sisters is a platform that helps queer, Gen Z and millennial women connect, share stories, and be proud. The Common Press can market through a collaborative network and use the platform to bring together queer women, host events, distribute information, build a digital network of mutual support, and create an influential, externalizable community.


‘ Super exciting!! I've never seen a bookstore doing anything like this! I do get many queer women who told me they want to talk to people. Hope to make it realized ASAP! ‘

—— Alfonzo, The Common Press manager

‘ This is so cool! I’m so happy to see that people can connect with others and I want this! ‘

—— April, a reader in The Common Press


Once the platform and service are widely developed, we can start to build the entire service better.

Common sisters, as a community participation framework that gathers queer women, includes a variety of participation mechanisms and media.

By then, perhaps we won’t need #lebianvisibilityweek anymore, and the stories of queer women and queer individuals more broadly will be gathered and integrated within the community, and be seen digitally every day. People stand together and every day will be a celebration.


Exceptionally thankful to my tutor David Eveleigh Evans for his precious guidance and support; I would like to thank Alfonzo from The Common Press and Lip from The LGBTQ+ Community Center for sharing with me their queer experiences, insights and visions as community operators!

Also, I want to thank every single person I've met and talked to along the way! 💗

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