Talk: The Discursive Construction and Performance of Non-Binary Identity

This study examines the discursive construction and performance of non-binary identities in the context of lived experience narratives. It uses a broad thematic analysis (Bradford et al. 2019) to contextualise and enrich discursive analysis (Corwin 2009) into how participants manipulate the semiotics (Silverstein 2003; Jaffe 2016; Gal 2016) of implicitly and explicitly gendered lexicon (following Zimman 2014; Zimman 2017a). Results show that this allowed participants to legitimise their self-identification by separating identity and embodiment (Zimman 2017a), and to create a non-binary inclusive ideology able to legitimise the experiencing and expression of their identities (Corwin 2009; Darwin 2017). The analysis further revealed how the discursive construction of non-binary identities was informed by the complex interaction of gender, embodiment, and sexuality (Connel 1995; Cameron 1998; Kiesling 2002; Eckert 2011; Zimman 2013). In showing how these identities were related through multiple instances of iconisation and indexicality (Gal 2016; Jaffe 2016), this analysis showed how they are constituted and interrelated in normative gender ideology more broadly (West & Zimmerman 1987, 2009; Butler 1993). Therefore, it is shown that in discursively constructing and performing their non-binary identities, participants engaged with this normative gender ideology and ultimately sought more emphasize individuality and personhood against the restrictions of binary gender. Thus, this study contributes to the literature examining how non-binary identities are discursively constructed and performed, but also offers crucial insights into the constitution of normative gender ideology and its relation to embodiment and sexuality. It concludes that this shows the need for more research within a sociocultural linguistics framework (Bucholtz & Hall 2016), where embodiment and the physical body are seen as central to the production, perception and social interpretation of language.

Bradford, Nova J et al. 2019. Creating gender: A thematic analysis of genderqueer narratives. International Journal of Transgenderism 20(2-3). 155–168. DOI:
Bucholtz, Mary & Kira Hall. 2016. Embodied sociolinguistics. In Nikolas Coupland (ed.), Sociolinguistics: Theoretical Debates. 173–197. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies that matter: on the discursive limits of sex. New York: Routledge.
Cameron, Deborah. 1998. Performing Gender Identity: Young Men’s Talk and the Construction of Heterosexual Masculinity. In Jennifer Coates (ed.), Language and gender: A Reader. 270-284. Oxford: Blackwell.
Connel, Robert. 1995. Masculinities. Berkeley, CA: University Press.
Corwin, Anna I. 2009. Language and gender variance: constructing gender beyond the male/female binary. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 12.
Darwin, Helana. 2017. Doing Gender Beyond the Binary: A Virtual Ethnography. Symbolic Interaction, 40(3). 317–334. DOI:
Eckert, Penelope. 2011. Language and Power in the Preadolescent Heterosexual Market. American Speech, 86(1). 85-97. DOI:
Gal, Susan. 2016. Sociolinguistic Differentiation. In Nikolas Coupland (ed.), Sociolinguistics: Theoretical Debates. 113-135. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jaffe, Alexandra. 2016. Indexicality, stance, and fields in sociolinguistics. In Nikolas Coupland (ed.), Sociolinguistics: Theoretical Debates. 86-112. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kiesling, Scott F. 2002. Playing the Straight Man: Displaying and Maintaining Male Heterosexuality in Discourse. In Kathryn Campbell-Kibler, Robert J. Podesva, Sarah J. Roberts, and Andrew Wong (eds.), Language and Sexuality, Contesting Meaning in Theory and Practice. 249-266. Stanford, California: CSLI Publications.
Silverstein, Michael. 2003. Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language and Communication, 23(3-4). 193–229. DOI:
West, Candace & Don H Zimmerman. 1987. Doing Gender. Gender & Society 1(2). 125–151.
West, Candace & Don H Zimmerman. 2009. Accounting for Doing Gender. Gender & Society, 23(1).112–122.
Zimman, Lal. 2013. Hegemonic masculinity and the variability of gay-sounding speech: The perceived sexuality of transgender men. Journal of Language and Sexuality, 2(1).1-39. DOI:
Zimman, Lal. 2014. The Discursive Construction of Sex: Remaking and Reclaiming the Gendered Body in Talk about Genitals among Trans Men. In Lal Zimman, Jenny Davis, and Joshua Raclaw (eds.), Queer Excursions. Chapter 2. Oxford University Press: Oxford Press Scholarship Online. DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199937295.001.0001
Zimman, Lal (2017a). Trans people's linguistic self-determination and the dialogic nature of identity. In Evan Hazenberg & Miriam Meyerhoff (eds.), (Re)Presenting Trans: Linguistic, Legal, and Everyday Perspectives. 226-248. Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University Press.


Day: 2020-11-20
Start time: 12:45
Duration: 00:30
Room: Odille Morison
Track: Discourse Analysis
Language: en



Click here to let us know how you liked this event.

Concurrent Events