“I Love Who I Am as a Nonbinary Person—That’s When I’m Most at Home”: Life-Stories of Nonbinary Adults and Elders from Aotearoa New Zealand Spanning 1953 to 2023
This thesis explores oral history life-stories, as well as life-stories gathered as written qualitative data, of nonbinary adults and elders from Aotearoa New Zealand. Nonbinary gender, which encompasses gender identities outside the binary of man/woman, has garnered global attention in recent years thanks in part to the emergence of certain Western identity labels (including ‘nonbinary’ itself). However, this kind of gender has an older history. The study opens with a consideration of what might be included within the umbrella of nonbinary history in New Zealand, including an overview of gender diversity from pre-colonial gender diverse takatāpui to present figures, concluding that an oral history methodology is best suited to researching nonbinary history in Aotearoa. Three subsequent chapters on the different life-stages of the research participants—childhood, younger adulthood and older adulthood—outline what nonbinary life has looked like for them from the middle of the twentieth century to the present day. The first chapter highlights how in childhood, participants (narrators) encountered both the violence of gender hegemony and greater space for gender nonconformity than might be expected in settings like rural New Zealand and the postwar period. The second chapter follows the narrators’ first interactions with lesbian, gay, bisexual and takatāpui communities and shows how these could be safe spaces for expression but how they could also be limited in their acceptance of ‘non-normative’ gender and sexuality. The third chapter investigates the narrators’ engagement with trans and nonbinary models of identity from around the turn of the century onward, as well as what challenges they currently face and what community looks like for them today. This thesis contributes to a growing body of research on trans history in Aotearoa. It shows that nonbinary people have a past here beyond the twenty-first century, and that despite gender dogma, they have lived full and rewarding lives.