What comes to mind when you hear the word “border”? If you’re in the United Kingdom, Ireland, or anywhere in the EU for that matter, the daily push and pull surrounding Brexit probably isn’t far from your mind. If you’re living in America or Mexico, the debate about President Trump’s proposed border wall is impossible to ignore. Then, of course, there’s the migrant crisis in Europe that’s been dominating the news since it began, in 2015.
Borders dictate so much about our world, but at their very simplest they are just a line drawn between two things, and seemingly arbitrarily at that. So if borders are—in a sense—made up, why have we imbued them with so much power? How do we define these lines? Who is most affected by them? And what happens when those lines aren’t visible to the naked eye? These are some of the threads we wanted to explore in this issue.
In this edition we dig into physical border issues, such as how European microstates’ draconian abortion laws force women to travel, why polio continues to elude health workers in the porous space between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how Brexit has sent Northern Ireland toward unknown catastrophe. But we also examine the more abstract and invisible borders that aren’t so easily identified: We learn how Filipino cuisine is being redefined in the diaspora, hear about the hidden stress that comes from growing up a child of immigrants, investigate what doctors are getting wrong about patients in vegetative states, and examine the fantasy of authenticity through the rise of bespoke online porn.
Borders are difficult to delineate, and the design of this issue attempts to symbolize just that. We chose a simple continuous line to create distinct visual boundaries. This lone graphic element acts as a constant barrier from page to page, interacting with and overlapping type and image. The line is constantly shifting and can be difficult to keep track of, seeming almost labyrinth-like.
We chose dual covers for the issue because it would have been impossible to pick one image that could adequately sum up the complexity of borders. Luke Archer’s cover photo was taken in Gibraltar, the only part of British territory located on mainland Europe. His project aims to document Gibraltar’s heritage and, with Brexit looming, the challenges it may face if it leaves the EU. We loved the various elements in play on the photo—the fence jutting out and encircling the people around it, and the “otherness” of the land in the distance with the stark border cutting across the horizon.
Dustin Thierry’s cover features a portrait of a member of the European ballroom community. Thierry began documenting these communities in 2013, highlighting queer people of color—mostly gay Black men and trans women—and the way they honor Ballroom’s heritage and expand upon it in their cities. We love how the subject’s costume creates a literal divide between their two identities.
We don’t always see the borders we’ve constructed, but we feel them in various parts of our lives. Our hope with this issue is that you can better see how they’ve shaped our worlds. —Ellis Jones, Editor-in-Chief
If you want more border stories, check out this additional package which explores how the borders that divide and surround Europe affect the lives of the people living near them.