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