A Nation by Rights: National Cultures, Sexual Identity Politics, and the Discourse of Rights

A Nation by Rights: National Cultures, Sexual Identity Politics, and the Discourse of Rights

A Nation by Rights: National Cultures, Sexual Identity Politics, and the Discourse of Rights

A Nation by Rights: National Cultures, Sexual Identity Politics, and the Discourse of Rights

Synopsis

The dynamics of identity politics frequently have been studied from the perspective of "outsider" groups, those outside the bounds of the imagined community. But how does this dynamic play out in the construction of the "national imaginary"? How do nations themselves respond to identity politics, especially the politics of sexuality and sexual orientation?A Nation by Rightswill help reformulate how we use rights-to what end and through what means. It is clear that same-sex acts and identities have been deployed in the construction of national cultures, especially in times of crisis. It is also evident that identity politics in the future will become increasingly globalized and articulated to rights discourse. Through five diverse case studies, Carl F. Stychin examines how sexuality and sexual orientation intersect with gender, race, ethnicity, and religion in the ongoing formation of national identity, all within an era of increasing economic, political, and cultural globalization. Case one:The controversy over the right of lesbians and gays to march in Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade, which exemplifies a fundamental rights dispute, the place of identity politics in American life, the role of rights discourse in shaping an American national identity, and the construction of identities within public space. Case two:South Africa, to examine how rights discourse can figure when previously divided groups attempt to come together and when the language of rights is central to the formation of a national identity. Case three:Quebec, to illustrate how sexual identities have been employed to help consolidate national identities where nation and nation-state fail to meet. Case four:The "supranational" identity being imagined in the European Union, where rights discourse may serve as a bond of commonality (and a source of division) in the future. Case five:Australia's use of the language of international human rights, which has been successfully deployed in the struggle to decriminalize same-sex sexual acts. Stychin conveys the complexity and range of national responses to sexual identities and identity politics to achieve a deeper understanding of the meaning, capabilities, and limitations of rights discourse more generally. Author note:Carl F. Stychin, currently Senior Lecturer in Law, Keele University, is the author of Law's Desire: Sexuality and the Limits of Justice,and co-editor (with Didi Herman) of Legal Inversions: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Politics of the Law(Temple, 1995).

Excerpt

This book is about three central themes: national cultures, sexual identities, and the discourse of rights. My interest is in how national identities are constituted in sexual and gendered terms, how groups mobilize around sexual identities and articulate their relationship to the national culture, and how rights discourse informs and constitutes both national and sexual identities.

The relationship between these identities has intrigued me for a number of years. When I arrive at London's Heathrow Airport, I am immediately confronted by the physical separation of travelers at the immigration checkpoint into two categories: European Union citizens and Others. As a permanent resident of the United Kingdom, I occupy an awkward position that does not easily fit either category. I proceed to the Other line, among those who have no entitlement or right to enter the country. Although many in the line may be subjected to questioning, I know that as a white, male, middle-class academic, my encounter with the authorities will be brief, painless, and perhaps even friendly. I may be sharing the line with others, but I know that, to all outward appearance, I am not the other here.

The construction of some identities as other to the nation makes me think about how English (as opposed to British) national identity has had such an ambiguous and contradictory relationship to sexual identities, particularly the "homosexual" as the nation;s other. Official discourse has long sought to constitute homosexuality (or, in contemporary terminology, lesbians and gays) as a threat to the nation and its values. Historically, homosexuality was bound up in the identity of the upper class as decadent and perverse, thereby erasing diverse working-class sexualities. But British popular culture has regularly deployed at least male homosexuality as an integral, and not particularly threatening, element of the national identity, even when the word "homosexuality" could not be spoken on stage or screen. Homosexuality seems to reside both . . .

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