UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Keep it confusing" : gender nonconforming youth resisting structures of legibility in a high school Slovin, LJ


Scholarship on the cisheteronormativity of schools predominantly focuses on risk discourses and the experiences of binary trans youth. In response, this dissertation uplifts the lives of specifically gender nonconforming youth who challenge and complicate narratives of binary gender. I spent a year moving alongside six gender nonconforming youth as they went to classes and activities, performed in plays and band concerts, passed time in the hallways, and navigated their daily lives in a high school. In our relationships, we invited capacious forms of gender, an expansiveness that often did not feel possible at school. While it is important to recognize the challenges these youth encountered, I am not interested in adding to scholarship that remains tethered to thinking through how hard it is to be gender nonconforming. Rather, this study underscores three forms of labour that youth engaged in while moving through their days to resist, ignore, and mitigate cisheteronormativity. First, youth worked to understand adults’ transphobia. Second, gender nonconforming youth laboured to make themselves legible (or not) within adults’ narrow conceptions of gender nonconformity. Finally, youth created both physical and fantastical escapes where they could exist in relation to their genders in ways that adults in the school either did not see or could not understand. Importantly, ideas about gender legibility have never been exclusively about gender. Therefore, an interlocking thread of this study is an interrogation of the broader normative landscape of East City High. Throughout this study I examine how cisheteronormativity is always already entangled in whiteness, settler colonialism, and ability. Gender nonconforming youths’ existence upends the naturalness of the categories and systems that schools rely upon to know students. Yet, gender is not a stable, categorizable entity; neither are gender nonconforming youth. Gender nonconforming youth live in productive incoherence: they are illegible, ambiguous, and fluid, and the intention of this dissertation is not to make them knowable. Researching, thinking, and writing alongside gender nonconforming youth necessitates inviting and honouring their incoherence. This dissertation moves with the youth as they work to trust and create space for their genders regardless of others’ refusal to see them.

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