A message from Dr. Maria Gurevich, SHiFT lab director:

Congratulations to Alexander Vasilovsky, who successfully defended his doctoral dissertation, “Mainstream Psychology and the Gender Binary: Toward an Account of Becoming ‘Non-Binary.’”

Relying on a synthesis of a genealogical construct analysis, empirical investigation and a participatory action-inspired artifact project, Alex’s dissertation addressed two objectives. The first was to detail how the psy disciplines’ construction, interpretation, and administration of trans and gender nonconforming (TGNC) subjectivities ended up – sometimes intentionally – maintaining gender as binary; these disciplines include fields of knowledge associated with the mind, mental life, and behaviour, most typically psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis. The second was to provide an alternative account of these subjectivities and identities – specifically, of how the 24 participants he interviewed (on two separate occasions) had sought to live legible and livable lives as “non-binary” persons. The gender binary haunts mainstream psychology’s history of medicalizing TGNC people, particularly its construction of their gender identities as psychopathological and in need of treatment for violating the binary logic of normative (cis) development. In contrast, Alex developed an account of “becoming” gendered (non-binary, in this case) as an alternative to the mainstream models of gender identity development. Becoming (a) shifts from the etiological “why” to the psychosocial “how” (as in, how to go about assembling oneself as non-binary; labels and pronouns are key); (b) eschews teleology (there is no end goal with regard to embodiment); (c) privileges gender self-determination; (d) attends to intersectionality; and (e) foregrounds intersubjectivity. The participants were largely concerned with asserting the validity of their gender identities as non-binary, which are routinely dismissed and invalidated, and this dissertation works toward undoing psychology’s own invalidating practices.

Alex has been a prolific and innovative researcher in the SHiFT Lab (Sexuality Hub: Integrating Feminist Theory) and a delight to mentor. He will begin supervised practice at Toronto’s Centre for Interpersonal Relationships this fall, while continuing to develop his research program.

The external examiner noted that this dissertation was “presented to a very high standard and the reach of theoretical engagement is exceptionally impressive. It covers all the material and more that I would expect to see in the development of an innovative engagement with the self-identity category ‘non-binary’ that has grown in popularity with gender non-conforming people in the last 5 years.” They go on to say that they “found this a nuanced, theoretically rich, beautifully written piece of doctoral work.”

Thank you to the diligent and incisive members of the doctoral examining committee: Dr. Tae Hart, Dr. Thomas Teo (Historical, Theoretical, and Critical Studies of Psychology, York University), Dr. Marco Fiola (Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures), and the external examiner Dr. Katherine Johnson (Director of the Social and Global Studies Centre, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia). We greatly appreciated their insightful questions and comments. Thanks are also extended to Dr. Miljana Horvat (Associate Dean, Graduate Studies, Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science), who deftly chaired the defence.