Thesis Spotlights – Everyday Life of Individuals with Non-Binary Gender and Sexual Identities

Issue 43: Sociology Beyond Europe Mon 15 Jul 2019 0

Nina Perger, PhD student, Slovenia

Email: nina.perger [at] fdv.uni-lj.si
Institution: Centre for Social Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana
Time: 1 October 2015 – 30 September 2019
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Alenka Švab
Funding: Programme “Young Researchers”, (co)financed by the Slovenian Research Agency from governmental budget

The presence and increasing plurality of gender and sexual identities have been increasingly acknowledged in the social sciences, although less attention is still being paid to those identities that transcend the socially dominant sexual and gender binarism. Individuals with non-binary identities, that is, those who do not identify either as heterosexuals or as gays or lesbians (in terms of sexuality), and those who do not identify as either men or women (in terms of gender), have usually been analysed in terms of ‘identity trends’, and only rarely through the perspective of their everyday life and the particular experiences which have shaped their non-binary identities within society, where social structures are predominantly binary in character. Therefore, the thesis, while taking into account the omnipresent assumption and expectation of agents being identified and identifiable within a gender and sexual binary, focuses on particular aspects of the everyday life of non-binary agents, especially on their experiences with social recognition and misrecognition. The theoretical framework consists of bourdieusian constructivist structuralism and the work of various (trans) feminist authors (i.e. Sara Ahmed, Lois McNay, S. Stryker), which enables us to recognise and analyse the weight of doxa and the taken-for-granted state of everyday life, including its constitutive dimension of gender and sexual binary schemes of (self-) perception, (self-) classification, and the symbolic violence (and its physical and embodied manifestations), originating from it.

The first research question focuses on non-binary agents’ self-interpretation of non-binary gender and sexual identities, which enables us an in-depth understanding of the meanings attached to those identities. The second research question focuses on ‘identity trajectories’ and processes of self-recognising as non-binary agents, analysing the burdensome character of the socially predominant gender and sexual binary as embodied, not only in objective structures, but also in subjective schemes of self-perception and self-classification. The third question relates to experiences with misrecognition and strategies for coping with misrecognition and its affective residue (i.e. shame, guilt, fear). The fourth question focuses on the role played by the so-called ‘safer’ intersubjectivities that function as rare places of recognising and legitimising the agents’ non-binary identities (i.e. friendships, LGBTIQ+ community) and enable coping with social misrecognition. The fifth research question focuses on the role played by ‘unsafer’ intersubjectivities that function as continuous calls to order, aiming to discipline actors into the socially expected and doxic gender and sexual binary (i.e. family of origin, health system).

The weight of doxa is analysed through semi-structured in-depth interviews with 23 individuals with non-binary identities. Based on data, a distinction between freedom for and freedom from is established, the first connoting a type of formation of primary schemes of perception and classification, which enables more space to determine what is socially possible and liveable, what is allowed to reach for and to be and the latter connoting a type of formation that narrows this space of possibilities by limiting it to the obligations of ‘being in a certain way’, to proscribed and presupposed categories of gender and sexuality. Where major discrepancies between primary (binary) schemes of perception and classification and secondary non-binary ones exist, leaving traces in embodied and affective lives of non-binary agents, the concepts of destabilised and cleft habitus are applied to their everyday life experiences. The thesis concludes with suggestions for further research on destabilised and cleft habitus in order to gain a better understanding of the price being paid, in the name of social transformation subversion and transgression, by agents living in the socially misrecognised margins.

Authors