Colonial Imposition of the Gender Binary

As explained, heteronormativity and the strict male/female binary are tied to broader institutionalized and social discourses. These work hand-in-hand with the rendering of certain bodies as abject/ other while also defining what is ‘normal’ (Yarbro-Bejarano, 1990). The centrality of ‘controlling’ sexuality and gender as part of the colonial project in settler-colonial states like Canada is a critical historically situated process that has had the same consequence. For someone who claims to be an honorary Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) member on the homepage of his website, Peterson somehow manages to somehow be “skeptical… [of] ‘Two-Spirits’* as a category” (Donato, 2016).

“Our Elders tell us of people who were gifted among all beings because they carried two spirits: that of male and female…these individuals were looked upon as a third gender in many cases” (Rainbow Resource Centre, 2008).

*Two-Spirit – Definition: Native people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, other gendered, third/fourth gendered individuals that walk carefully between the worlds and between the genders (RRC, 2008).

Prior to colonial contact, Two-Spirit individuals were well-integrated, honoured, and revered in their communities (RRC, 2008 and McCann & Kim, 2013). However, upon the arrival of white settlers, legal structures such as the Indian Act and institutions like the Residential schools violently imposed the western gender binary and heteronormativity upon Indigenous people (RRC, 2008 and McCann & Kim, 2013) with unsurprisingly profound ramifications on their way of life.

Maria Lugones speaks about the “light and dark sides” of this modern/colonial gender system. The naturalization of the binary led to not only the “light” production of a respectable bourgeoisie (hetero)sexual ideology, but also the “dark” colonial imposition of the hierarchies of the (hetero)sexual system (Lugones, 2006). These manifested in the construction of non-white women as sexually aggressive and without femininity, in order to justify gender and sexual violence against them, which continues to scar Aboriginal and Indigenous women to this very day.

As we see carried over into this case study, categorical distinctions of gender and (biological) sexuality has profound consequences in the present and especially in policy debates (Stryker & Currah, 2014). Only by re-evaluating our prior, indeed pre-colonial understandings of gender, sex, embodiment, and identity (Stryker & Currah, 2014) can we attempt to bridge the divide between the constraints of the gender binary and the potential for subversion through inclusion and recognition.

Read on to find out how misgendering reflects a lack of inclusion and recognition for trans and non-binary folk.


Donato, A. (2016, September 30). Non-Binary Students React to the U of T Prof Who Won’t Acknowledge Their Pronouns. Torontoist. Retrieved from

“Two Spirit People of the First Nations.” Rainbow Resource Centre. 2008. Web.

Image credit: Sean Kinney

Academic References

Lugones, M. (2006). Heterosexualism and the colonial / modern gender system. Hypatia, 22(1), 186-209.

McCann, C. R. & Kim, S. K. (Eds.) (2013). Feminist theory reader: Local and global perspectives (3rd edition). London & New York: Routledge.

Stryker, S., & Currah, P. (2014). Introduction. TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, 1(1-2), 1-18.

Yarbro-Bejarano, Y. (1999). Sexuality and Chicana/o studies: Toward a theoretical paradigm for the twenty-first century. Cultural Studies, 13, 335-345.

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