Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Serene Khader

Committee Members

Linda Martín Alcoff

Paisley Currah

Subject Categories

Feminist Philosophy | Indigenous Studies | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Metaphysics | Other Philosophy | United States History


Nonbinary, gender binary, decolonial theory, feminism, LGBTQ, social ontology


This dissertation examines core metaphysical properties of nonbinary and genderqueer categories in dominant U.S. contexts. I address a prevailing argument that these categories, by definition, resist the gender binary and are therefore radical modes of existing. In response, I put forth a view of ‘nonbinary’ and ‘genderqueer’ that I call the Diachronic Approach, which describes these categories as yet another set of tools within an imperialistic gender system, much like ‘man’ or ‘woman.’ In other words, they are what I refer to as imperialistic social categories. While nonbinary and genderqueer people do not fall perfectly within the U.S. gender binary and are, arguably, oppressed by that binary, they are not necessarily united in a struggle against the hierarchy imposed by that binary. I examine ways that ‘nonbinary’ and ‘genderqueer’ are accompanied by their own set of rigid gender norms, such as androgynous gender presentation and use of ‘they/them’ pronouns. To define these categories as resisting the gender binary by virtue of participation in such norms, which several theorists do, is to conflate identity and expression in a way that reinforces another brand of gender normativity. Furthermore, the argument that ‘nonbinary’ and ‘genderqueer’ resist the gender binary typically fails to consider the historical and ongoing role of the binary in justifying colonial objectives of exploitation, displacement, and genocide. I analyze claims that the U.S. gender binary is an imperialistic invention designed to label white people as the only ones who embody gender categories correctly, all while criticizing the presentations and identities of Black and African people, Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, and non-white people, depending on the context in which the gender binary is reproduced and enforced. Insofar as ‘nonbinary’ and ‘genderqueer,’ which are defined in relation to the gender binary, do not inherently reduce or respond to the colonial harm that it inflicts, they cannot be correctly characterized as resisting oppression owing to that binary. I end by considering how ‘nonbinary’ and ‘genderqueer’ have come to play an important function in imperialistic discourses around U.S. “modernity,” “progress,” and “superiority,” as ‘resisting the gender binary’ becomes a Western value in specific, yet worrisome, ways.

I aim to contribute to recent literature that takes seriously the history and present of the gender binary in dominant U.S. societies impacted by and impacting colonialism, in addition to relevant implications for how to theorize about social categories in a way that actively refuses imperialistic logics. It can be inferred from the Diachronic Approach to defining ‘nonbinary’ and ‘genderqueer’ that violence caused by the U.S. gender binary, including that experienced by nonbinary and genderqueer people, must be evaluated in the context of racism and imperialism, rather than being treated as entirely analytically distinct. In bridging U.S. metaphysics of gender and decolonial and postcolonial theory, this project has broader implications for advancing nonbinary and genderqueer liberatory projects that center colonized and formerly colonized individuals and communities.