Paper title: Queer Domestications of Gender Fluidity in Nina Bouraoui’s Tomboy

Blase A. Provitola ( College, Hartford, CT, USA


Proposed format: 20-minute presentation (flexible)


I propose to explore the domesticating effects of queer theory in a postcolonial Francophone context by looking at how it has influenced the reception of Franco-Algerian author Nina Bouraoui’s autobiographical novel Garçon manqué [Tomboy] (2000). More broadly, my intervention suggests that Modern Languages as a discipline helps us to unpack universalizing assumptions often at work in notions of queer “non-normativity.” Considering queer theory as one among many lenses through which to study sexual epistemologies allows for a greater understanding of historical and geographical regimes of knowledge and power.

Garçon manqué depicts gender and sexual fluidity in the context of the protagonist’s immigration from Algeria to France following the Algerian Revolution. Born to a white French mother and Algerian father, Bouraoui is perhaps the only Francophone self-identified lesbian author of color to be widely known and critically acclaimed. Her autofiction constructs a mosaic of non-linear memories rooting the development of her gender fluidity and same-sex desire in her Algerian family history. Academic studies of her work

typically use Judith Butler’s notion of gender performativity to posit the protagonist’s subversive resistance to fixed identities: she is neither man nor woman, neither French nor Algerian. However, this celebration of hybridity does not always attend to how “queerness” universalizes that which is considered subversive in the first place.

Since its arrival in academic milieus in Paris at the end of the 1990s, queer theory has been widely critiqued as an Ivory Tower concept that is easily assimilated into French Republican universalism’s hostility to identitarian movements (Bruno Perreau 2016; Sam Bourcier 2005). Predominantly white authored queer theory has been more readily adopted than have been critiques of non-normativity from the decolonial perspective of queer and trans scholars of color such as Paola Bacchetta, Joao Gabriel, and the collective Les AssiégéEs. Drawing on their analysis, I argue that Garçon manqué stages the violence that immigrants endure as they are pressured to domesticate their gender presentation and conceptions of

desire when arriving in France.