Gender and Language, Vol 11, No 2 (2017)

Emerging genders: semiotic agency and the performance of gender among genderqueer individuals

Anna I. Corwin
Issued Date: 20 Jun 2017


This article examines how individuals who identify with genders outside a male/female binary make use of the semiotic material available to them in the environment to interactively construct non-binary gender(s). Through microinteractional analysis of the speech produced by individuals who identify as genderqueer, the article demonstrates how individuals draw on an array of signs to create and perform non-normative genders. The article argues that the implementation of embodied signs can be understood using a model of semiotic agency, which reveals how the signs themselves vary in their durability and manipulability in time and space. The article further exemplifies how these semiotic displays are used to perform gender as non-binary, mutable, and changing in time. The article uncovers how genderqueer individuals both challenge and maintain a binary gender system in their daily interactions. Moreover, the article demonstrates how individuals draw on available semiotic material available in the environment in ways that allow gender to emerge dynamically in interaction and transform over time.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/genl.27552


Agha, A. (2007) Language and Social Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ahearn, L. M. (2001) Language and agency. Annual Review of Anthropology 30: 109–37.

Ashton, K. (2013) Self-authoring gender outside the binary: a narrative analysis of (trans) gender undergraduates. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.

Besnier, N. (2002) Transgenderism, locality, and the Miss Galaxy beauty pageant in Tonga. American Ethnologist 29: 534–66.

Blackwood, E. (2005) Gender transgression in colonial and postcolonial Indonesia. Journal of Asian Studies 64(4): 849–80.

Blackwood, E. and Wieringa, S. E. (eds) (1999) Female Desires: Same-Sex Relations and Transgender Practices Across Cultures. New York: Columbia University Press.

Boellstorff, T. (2007) Queer studies in the house of anthropology. Annual Review of Anthropology 36: 17–35.

Borba, R. and Osterman, A. C. (2007) Do bodies matter? Travestis’ embodiment of (trans)gender identity through the manipulation of the Brazilian Portuguese grammatical gender system. Gender and Language 1(1): 131–47.

Brownell, S. and Besnier, N. (2013) Gender and sexuality. In J. G. Carrier and D. B. Gewertz (eds) The Handbook of Sociocultural Anthropology 239–58. London: Bloomsbury.

Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London: Routledge.

Butler, J. (1993) Bodies that Matter. London: Routledge.

Cameron, D. (2005) Language, gender, and sexuality: current issues and new directions. Applied Linguistics 26(4): 482–502.

Cameron, D. and Kulick, D. (eds) (2003) Language and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Campbell-Kibler, K., Podesva, R. J., Roberts, S. J. and Wong, A. (ed.) (2002) Language and Sexuality: Contesting Meaning in Theory and Practice. Stanford, CA: CSLI.

Corwin, A. (2009) Language and gender variance: constructing gender beyond the male/female binary. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality 12. Retrieved on 19 May 2017 from

Csordas, T. (1993) Somatic modes of attention. Cultural Anthropology 8(2): 135–56.

Davies, S. G. (2010) Gender Diversity in Indonesia: Sexuality, Islam and Queer Selves. London: Routledge.

Davis, J., Zimman, L. and Raclaw, J. (2014) Opposites attract: retheorizing binaries in language, gender, and sexuality. In L. Zimman, J. Davis and J. Raclaw (eds) Queer Excursions: Retheorizing Binaries in Language, Gender, and Sexuality 1–13. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Drislane, R. and Parkinson, G. (2004) A. Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences. Retrieved on 9 June 2015 from

Duranti, A. (2004) Agency in language. In A. Duranti (ed.) A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology 451–73. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Feinberg, L. (1996) Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Goffman, E. (1979) Gender Advertisements. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Goodwin, C. (2007) Environmentally coupled gestures. In S. Duncan, J. Cassell and E. Levy (eds) Gesture and the Dynamic Dimensions of Language 195–212. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Goodwin, C. (2013) The co-operative, transformative organization of human action and knowledge. Journal of Pragmatics 46(1): 8–23.

Hall, K. (2012) A third-sex subversion of a two-gender system. Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 20: 1.

Hall, K. and Bucholtz, M. (eds) (2012) Gender Articulated: Language and the Socially Constructed Self. London: Routledge.

Kessler, S. J. and McKenna, W. (1978) Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Kockleman, P. (2007) Agency: the relation between meaning, power, and knowledge. Current Anthropology 48(3): 375–401.

Kulick, D. (1998) Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Kulick, D. (2000) Gay and Lesbian Language. Annual Review of Anthropology 29: 243–85.

Leap, W. (ed.) (1996) Beyond the Lavender Lexicon: Authenticity, Imagination, and Appropriation in Lesbian and Gay Languages. Amsterdam: Gordon & Breach.

Levy, D. and Lo, J. (2013) Transgender, transsexual, and gender queer individuals with a Christian upbringing: the process of resolving conflict between gender identity and faith. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought 32(1): 60–83.

Livia, A. and Hall, K. (eds) (1997) Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mayo, C. (2007) Disruptions of desire: from androgynes to genderqueer. Philosophy of Education Archive. Retrieved on 11 May 2017 from

McNeill, D. (1992) Hand and Mind. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Morris, R. (1995) All made up: performance theory and the new anthropology of sex and gender. Annual Review of Anthropology 24: 567–92.

Nanda, S. (2014) Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Nevile, M. (2015) The embodied turn in research on language and social interaction. Research on Language and Social Interaction 48(2): 121–51.

Ortner, S. B. and Whitehead, H. (1981) Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parker, A. and Sedgwick, E. K. (1995) Performativity and Performance. London: Routledge.

Reddy, G. (2005) With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India. Chicago, IL: University Chicago Press.

Saltzburg, S. and Davis, T. S. (2010) Co-authoring gender-queer youth identities: discursive tellings and retellings. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Social Work 19(2): 87–108.

Sedgwick, E. (1993) Tendencies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Smyth, R., Jacobs, G. and Rogers, H. (2003) Male voices and perceived sexual orientation: an experimental and theoretical approach. Language in Society 32: 329–50.

Speer, S. A. and Green, R. (2007) On passing: the interactional organization of appearance attributions in the psychiatric assessment of transsexual patients. In V. Clark and E. Peel (eds) Out in Psychology: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Perspectives 335–68. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Speer, S. and Stokoe, E. (eds) (2011) Conversation and Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stokoe, E. and Smithson, J. (2001) Making gender relevant: conversation analysis and gender categories in interaction. Discourse and Society 12(2): 217–44.

Teh, Y. K. (2002) The Mak Nyahs: Malaysian Male to Female Transsexuals. Singapore: Eastern University Press.

Valentine, D. (2003) The calculus of pain: violence, anthropological ethics, and the category transgender. Ethnos 68(1): 27–48.

West, C. and Zimmerman, D. H. (1987) Doing gender. Gender and Society 1: 125–51.

Weston, K. (1993) Do clothes make the woman? Gender, performance theory, and lesbian eroticism. Genders 17: 1–21.

Young, A. (2000) Women Who Become Men: Albanian Sworn Virgins. Oxford: Berg.

Zimman, L. (2014) The discursive construction of sex: remaking and reclaiming the gendered body in talk about genitals among trans men. In L. Zimman, J. Davis and J. Raclaw (eds) Queer Excursions: Retheorizing Binaries in Language, Gender, and Sexuality 13–34. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy