“Ni fille, ni fils” : gender/genre fluidity in Nina Bouraoui’s Garçon manqué and Leïla Sebbar’s L’arabe comme un chant secret
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This paper is an exploration of Nina Bouraoui’s semi-autobiographical novel Garçon manqué and Leïla Sebbar’s collection of autobiographical essays L’arabe comme un chant secret. The protagonist of Bouraoui’s Garçon manqué has many first names: “Je passe de Yasmina à Nina. De Nina à Ahmed. D’Ahmed à Brio,” the narrator states (62). Through the narrator’s exploration of her gender identity, the novel traces themes of the body as a site of exile, the gendering of land and nation, and the multiplicity of identities. The narrator describes her body as a site of exile, torn between France and Algeria, inhabiting both the masculine and the feminine. Her fluid gender identity opens up queer possibilities as she questions and explores her sexual orientation. Similarly, in her writing, Sebbar plays with gendered language to challenge colonial, patriarchal, and linguistic systems of domination and control. Shifting the gendered articles and adjectives, Sebbar feminizes words that are grammatically masculine, and masculinizes words that are grammatically feminine, deconstructing fixed notions of identity. The ways in which she queers gender in language disrupts binaries of colonizer/colonized, mother/father, son/daughter, France/Algeria. Throughout this paper, I demonstrate how Bouraoui and Sebbar employ autofiction and autobiography to reveal the constructed nature of gender identity as it relates to language and nationality in a Franco-Algerian context.