Publication details

Constrains of the Language : The Identity Narrative in the Nonbinary Memoir



Year of publication 2021
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Drawing on my Master’s thesis on identity construction in nonbinary memoir, which I am further developing in my PhD research, the presentation introduces the genre of nonbinary memoir, positions it within the wider genre of queer memoir, addresses the issue of identity construction in the nonbinary memoir, and examines how nonbinary authors approach and navigate language. The postmodern and queer life writing narratives expose identity as changeable and fractured; however, this also points to the privilege of having a cultural identity that is universally recognized. Without recorded history and the familiarity of the gender binary to lean on, the contemporary nonbinary authors - Jacob Tobia, Maia Kobabe, and Akwaeke Emezi - grapple with a fundamental question: “how does one formulate an identity one cannot name?” Their nonbinary identities are not universally acknowledged. The acute threat of abjection often forces the adoption of techniques such as strategic essentialism in identity narration. Language is identified among the greatest challenges in the lives of nonbinary individuals, and as such it is often thematized in the primary texts. The presentation maps some strategies the authors employ such as renaming, reclamation of slurs, use of metaphors and figurative language, and general language creativity. It points to the differences based on the cultural and linguistic background of the authors. The narratives by Jacob Tobia and Maia Kobabe are rooted in Western traditions of both life writing and conceptualizations of gender identity. Both actively engage with language by using its metalingual function, foreground the connection of language to identity formation and dis(empowerment), and stress the importance of self-designation. On the contrary, Akwaeke Emezi, whose imaginative autobiographical novel is informed by Igbo ontology, seems to deliberately avoid terminology related to Western views on gender, most likely because of their potential culture-specific oppressive connotations.
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