The Limits of an Acceptable Deviation: A creative-led study of non-binary gender performances in gender-fluid science fiction

Author: Caitlin Roper

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 23 Dec 2022.

Roper, Caitlin, 2019 The Limits of an Acceptable Deviation: A creative-led study of non-binary gender performances in gender-fluid science fiction, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This creative-led thesis examines representations of variant gender performances in Ursula Le Guinn’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice (2013) and John Scalzi’s Lock In (2014) through a foundation of the theoretical framework of Judith Butler’s 1990 theory of gender performativity. This thesis activates a creative-led reconfiguration of that theory and actions those representations through the interplay of the artefact and exegesis. The exegesis researches these transforming representations and determines what performances continue to be excluded and then posits the creative thesis as the next development of gender variance in fiction by filling the gap perceived in the texts of Le Guin, Leckie and Scalzi. Fiction captures, configures, frames and transforms gender and can serve to transform our social perceptions. With the rise of social advocacy groups and transgender and gender fluid public figures, alongside the recent legalisation of same-sex marriage within Australia, this current period offers a significant contextual frame to study the representations of gender variance.

By studying these texts, I examine through this doctoral research how the representations of variant gender in popular science fiction have evolved and then determined the limits of what constitutes an acceptable variant gender performance and thus the absences in this discourse that lie beyond those limits. The study of these texts has shown that female and feminine gender performances and the intersection of sex with gender variance are missing from popular gender variant science fiction; the creative thesis Nothing like the Sun seeks to contribute to the field of gender fluid science fiction by filling this gap. By filling this gap this thesis invites new research into bringing new representations of LGBTQI identities out of academic arcana and into everyday culture to help combat the pervasive social and cultural suffering of non-binary individuals and to combat the policing of gender performances, be they binary or non-binary.

Keywords: Judith Butler, gender performativity, creative-led research, creative thesis, creative artefact, Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness, Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice, John Scalzi, Lock In, science fiction, representation, semiotics, deconstruction.


Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2019
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Tara Brabazon