Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Casey Charles

Commitee Members

Louise Economides, Elizabeth Hubble


gender, nonbinary, phenomenology, gender failure, transgender


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Literature in English, North America | Other English Language and Literature | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


What does it mean to be “retired from gender,” and what role does such an identity play in daily life? Engaging with the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Judith Butler, this project attempts to elucidate the experience of nonbinary – that is, external to the male/female gender binary – gendered individuals, and the ultimate unintelligibility of that experience. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological approach to perception allows for an exploration of the social norms and regulations that determine how gender is defined in Western culture; combined with Butler’s significant work on gender and its performativity, phenomenology proves a useful tool for revealing the constructedness of gender. Although an arbitrary system, the gender binary serves as a mechanism of so-called social truth: because the nonbinary reality rejects this truth the nonbinary gender performance not only appears unintelligible to the binary other but also represents a threat to social stability. This paper uses the memoirs in Gender Failure – written by two self-identified nonbinary individuals – to consider how social norms inform binary perception and how that perception constitutes the nonbinary self. Perceived from within the binary matrix, the nonbinary self appears unintelligible: as a result, the validity of their gendered reality is threatened. Conscious of the conceptual gap between nonbinary and binary individuals, this project explores gender as the subject of the perceptive act and not only outlines the delegitimization of the nonbinary reality but also suggests opportunities to make space for non-normative gendered experiences.



© Copyright 2016 James Warwood