Exploring the B/ordering Processes for Non-Binary Youth

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

Non-binary genders are gaining increased attention with younger generations identifying in diverse ways, although there is a lack of cultural recognition of such genders. Additionally, there has been little academic interest focusing specifically on non-binary youth (Hammack et al., 2021; Paechter et al., 2021). Youth are often positioned “transitionally”, occupying a space between childhood and adulthood, with expectations of meeting certain developmental milestones and achieving a stable identity (Tisdall & Punch, 2012). Developmental milestones are based on cis- and heteronormative assumptions, therefore, non-binary youth face unique challenges in their transitional positioning (Tatum et al., 2020). Borderland theory (Anzaldúa, 1987) was used as a theoretical framework of selfhood to explore the complexity of identities that cannot neatly be categorised. I used qualitative methods, informed by feminist and trans theories to explore the regulation of non-binary youth. I interviewed 10 U.K.-based participants who identified as non- binary and were aged 16-21. Interviews were semi-structured and invited participants to talk about their genders, adolescence, and identity borders. I used feminist relational discourse analysis to capture both discourse and experience simultaneously and produce a personal-political account of identity borders and regulation for non-binary youth (Thompson et al., 2018). The findings show how professionals used the participants’ ages and mental health to question the “legitimacy” of their genders, requiring them to “prove themselves” by educating others about non-binary genders, which was exhausting. The participants voiced their loss and vulnerability from such questioning and drew on the collective queer community to preserve their energies. Physical transitions away from home(towns) provided distance from the exhaustion of educating others and “brain space” to connect with their genders, which was freeing. Relationally, connections with other queer people increased which fostered an affirming space for their identity development and a sense of belonging in the world. Finally, contextual understandings of “the self” as continually developing provided “freedom” from the restrictions of the gender binary. However, pressure to be an individual and to do “identity work” by yourself increased. The participants struggled with a desire to “be themselves” and resist regulation and internalised pressures to conform which caused the participants to self-censor themselves. This thesis concludes that a “transitional positioning” is complex to navigate and that non- binary youth draw on community and contextual understanding of themselves during their identity development. Therefore, future research should use feminist and trans-informed approaches that can embrace multiplicity and resist demands to simplify personal-political experiences. Recommendations for practice include the need for practitioners to ensure they are educated about gender diversity and communicate their inclusivity.
Date of Award22 Nov 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Stirling
SupervisorJane Callaghan (Supervisor), Peter Matthews (Supervisor) & Sian Lucas (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • non-binary
  • gender
  • youth
  • discourse analysis
  • feminist

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