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“The whole point is that we're not supposed to look like anything”: non-binary (un)intelligibility and carving out space in gender's border-zones

Author:

A. A. McDonald

Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society, AU
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Abstract

Non-binary people exist in a world in which the conditions for their existence are foreclosed by the dominant cultural frames, a world in which the human can only be understood through membership of one of the two binary gender categories of male and female. This article explores the ways that non-binary participants articulated their experiences of non-binary gender identification through Butler’s concept of (un)intelligibility and Hale’s idea of gender’s border-zones. The participants exist within the discursive frame in which adhering to the binary gender system is a necessary condition for a liveable life. This article explores how those non-binary people who live within gender’s border-zones are forced to develop new discursive tools to carve out space for their inclusion within the realm of the intelligible. Drawing on interviews conducted with self-identified non-binary participants, this article explores the way that participants negotiated their non-binary gender, by exploring the ways they are both included and excluded from discursive spaces due to their non-binary gender. This article explores the way that gender unintelligibility opens up space for the multiplicities, contradictions, and ambiguities of non-binary experience, as well as how this same unintelligibility renders non-binary people vulnerable to violence. The violence articulated by the participants was specifically to do with their experiences of erasure—being included into the existing binary gender categories that do not adequately describe their experience—and physical or verbal abuse due to their exclusion from the binary gender system. This article argues that non-binary can be understood as a distinct gender category that has permeable borders, and that inclusion in this category through self-identification has material consequences for non-binary people.
How to Cite: McDonald, A.A., 2021. “The whole point is that we're not supposed to look like anything”: non-binary (un)intelligibility and carving out space in gender's border-zones. Intersectional Perspectives: Identity, Culture, and Society, (1), pp.74–95. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18573/ipics.40
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Published on 11 Oct 2021.
Peer Reviewed

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