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Open Access Publications from the University of California

"You used 'elle,' so now you're a girl": Discursive possibilities for a non-binary teenager in French class


Non-binary individuals comprise one third of the transgender population and may be especially vulnerable to marginalization. The study of languages such as French, grammatically based in a binary gender system, offers unique challenges to non-binary learners for representing themselves in accordance with their identity. Grounded in a poststructuralist understanding of identity (Butler, 1990; Norton Peirce, 1995; Weedon, 1987), this exploratory case study employs discourse analysis (Blommaert, 2005) to delve into the experiences of a non-binary high school student of French. What subject positions are imposed on the student through the discursive systems of English and French, and how is the student able to assert alternative positions? Findings demonstrate the varied and strategic linguistic constitution of the student's identity based on factors including linguistic resources and social positioning, illustrating the student's agency, creativity, and resilience. Implications for teachers are discussed, including the harm caused by misgendering and recommendations for gender-expansive pedagogies.

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