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Surveillance, and the boundaries of binary gender: flashpoints for queer ethics

Son Vivienne

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Despite ubiquitous surveillance of identity and scrutiny of performances of binary gender, an increasingly large number of people are choosing to stake out public and private spaces that are inbetween, including ‘non-binary’ and ‘gender-queer’. In this article I outline some of the ways in which gender is literally and metonymically monitored at boundary-crossings at national borders and bathroom thresholds, and in the certification of birth and citizenship. I think through why shifting perceptions of gender, and the ways that we categorise gender in different spaces, for different audiences, is an issue for queer ethics in practice. What is a ‘safe space’ for sharing stories of stigma and state-imposed identity categorisation? How can affirmed gender-diverse categories and spaces remain open to accommodate change, fluidity and multiplicity? I draw on auto-ethnographic experiences of self-surveillance and attempts to propagate and celebrate my own multiplicity as a non-binary person. I speculate on the ways that (un)gendered Selfies might constitute creative and imaginative practice that challenges hegemonic injunctions to perform gender in finite and rigid binary ways. Can this sharing of complex and multiple selves have implications for the ethics and politics of categorising gender in educational, health and social service contexts? What might ‘queer ethics in practice’ look like in workshops, at reception desks, at airports?

Keywords: non-binary genders, categorisation, surveillance, queer ethics, boundary patrol


Bibliography: Vivienne, Son: Surveillance, and the boundaries of binary gender: flashpoints for queer ethics, INSEP – Journal of the International Network for Sexual Ethics & Politics, Vol. 8, Special Issue 2020, pp. 93-108.