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Re-imagining the Nation: Nationalism and Sexualities

The relationship between sexuality and nationalism is a two-part relationship; in one sexualities exerting influence on nationalisms and thereby defining such nationalisms by giving meaning to it, and in the other nationalisms exerting influence on sexualities and playing a pivotal role in shaping sexualities and defining the state’s role in it. The interconnection of nationalisms and sexualities through family, religion, media, nation and state, all either working in conjunction or in conflict with each other, are frequently not perceived by the scholars working in the area as one often disregards the significance of the other. But such disregard is being erased off only recently.

Some researchers would emphatically contend for a more integrative way to deal with understandings of sexuality, one that perceives the inseparability of gender and sexuality, since social implications of sexuality are significantly gendered and gender is significantly sexualized. Both gender and sexualities though intricately connected are not synonymous to each other and nation’s and state’s affect on each cannot be undermined.[1]

The 1999 Clinton-Lewinsky scandal which almost led to the impeachment of then president Bill Clinton and the conviction of the deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, on the charges of sex crimes during 1993-1998, both became an international spectacle, where a person’s sexual conduct defined not only his private life but also the political office that person held. Such highly publicised sexual issues obviously clarify how national interests and elements of the state can identify with the most unpredictable and unequivocal points of interest of individuals' sexual lives.

Sexuality is a natural and private matter of personal identity, without need of outside intervention, except in cases where there is a danger of harming others or ourselves or breaking a significant social taboo. Elements like age, power, personal identity etc. that are used to determine taxonomy of sexuality are usually based on gender, and therefore, inequalities relating to gender lead to need for intensive social regulation of sexual identities. These identities have been established through homosexual/heterosexual dichotomy and find its roots in Euro-American as well as Asian cultures. Therefore, we can conclude that there is no facet of sexuality that is not societally moulded. Culture along with the social control established by state institutions controls what is seen as normal and acceptable, and what is seen as aberrant or unacceptable. Such institutions along with family and media used methods like sexual repression to define such ‘normal’.

The 1982 Michael Hardwick case[2] clarified that how the most personal, individual sexual acts can be matters of control by the organizations of the state. This likewise demonstrates the way agents of the state while denying homosexuality, can sexualize national social customs from a heterosexual point of view. The state policy of sexual repression usually targeted marginal groups including gay men and women, especially deviant men, led to putting of such deviant men and women under surveillance. This further led to reform in laws with stringent measures being taken against homosexual sex crimes, while putting ever-increasing heterosexual sex crimes in the backseat. Such reforms and methods got backing of national interests, along with national cultures and morals. The promotion of tourism by United Nations, along with World Bank and United States led to promotion of sex tourism as well. The Thai sex industry Night Market, flocked businessmen and tourists from all over the world. Sex tourism became an important economic source and therefore the third world countries relying on the income from this industry, promoted such tourism, thereby promoting exploitation of women, solely based on economic interests.

Michel Foucault argued that regulation of sexual identities by the states relates less to repression but more to normalisation of sexualities and thereby defines the concept of respectable sexuality.[3] Respectable sexuality though subjective, usually represents the customs and interests of the dominant class disguised as national interests and are socially and legally enforced, thereby forming the societal normal or respectable and abnormal or deviant which are coextensive with homosexuality and heterosexuality.[4] Ironically, the respectable and deviant sexualities are mutually dependent and thus form a relationship where certain sexualities are privileged by the state while the others are devalued. Such differentiation found its basis in notions of decorum, decency and modesty, also relating to exercise of accepted attitudes and morals towards sexuality. Nationalism was used as a tool to promote respectable sexuality, thereby promoted the ideals of the middle class demarcated as national ideals. This could clearly be seen in the German’s Life-Reform movement and its connection to nudism, where under respectable circumstances nudism represented the national sexual respectability. Differences were brought out between normal and abnormal sexualities, where normal characterised by reproduction and physical and moral prowess, while abnormal formed any non-reproductive practices like homosexuality and masturbation. Any kind of sexual abnormality, not just same gender sex was considered a deviance, and was thereby embodied by homosexuality.

Taking its cue from the work of Foucault and Mosse[5], it is to be considered how profoundly interconnected and mutually developmental are nationalisms and sexualities, national and sexual identities are. In most societies, heterosexuality and homosexuality are not given equal footing, resulting in deprivation of certain rights and privileges of the homosexual identities.

Nationalism is communicated through sayings of heterosexuality and the state helps influence heterosexuality to appear to be ordinary and plainly obvious in our lives. To re-express the point heterosexuality is verifiably and unequivocally advanced in national, social and political settings. The weight on heterosexuality is mostly persuaded by the contention that homosexuality and heterosexuality exist just in connection to each other. Jonathan Katz[6] finds that Euromerican medicinal researchers in the last third of the nineteenth century concocted the idea of heterosexuality while expounding new thoughts of corruption and aberrance, which came to be reflected in the idea of homosexuality.

Concentrating altogether on how homosexuality is socially marginalized would lead to fortification of heterosexuality as normal. The part of the national state in managing national personality, heterosexuality, and homosexuality is backed with the power of law. Such privileging and side-lining of what esteemed degenerate or strange sexualities are can have complex results for an approach towards state policies. As opposed to the through and through privileging of heterosexuality, gay HIV/AIDS was focused in the US. This is a case of how Africa ends up homogenized and described by conventional heterosexuality to the impairment of AIDS-control there.

The advancement of individual privileges of lesbian, gay, transgendered, and bisexual individuals might be partly successful particularly when these individual rights collide with majority rights. Their incorporation, without significantly reforming their idea in the national group, is deficient. Heterosexuality as its ordinary and normal form incorporates individuals who are gay, lesbian, indiscriminate, transgendered, two-lively, transvestites, or third-gendered.[7] The issue may not involve positive nationalism or negative nationalism, but it continuing imbalances identified with race, sex, sexuality, ethnicity, class, and religion making inclusionary nationalism basically improbable.

Therefore, the examination of nationalism under the light of sexuality and from a marginalised point of view showed us to what extent does one affect the other and to what extent does state policies leads of marginalisation of abnormal sexualities. Further, the promotion of respectable sexuality led to inequality among citizen and encroachment of their legal, social and cultural rights. In lieu of modern reforms and the idea of a nation from the Queer Nation perspective, equal footing has to be provided to men and women of all sexualities, with projection of anyone sexuality as supreme or desirable. To eradicate the deep-rooted biases, a complete change inclusive of legal, social and moral reforms are of foremost importance. It is quintessential that these reforms be promoted under new kind of nationalism ideals, where all kinds of sexualities are respectable.


References - [1] Puri, Jyoti. ‘Checking (Homo) Sexualities at the Nation's Door: Nationalisms and Sexualities’, Encountering Nationalism, Oxford Blackwell Publishing (2008) 42-69. [2] Bowers v. Hardwick [1986] 478 U.S. 186. [3] Foucault, Michel, ‘The History of Sexuality: An Introduction’, New York: Pantheon Books, (1978) Vol 1. [4] Pryke, Sam, ‘Nationalism and Sexuality, What are the Issues?’ Nations and Nationalism. (2004). 529 - 546. [5] Mosse L. George, ‘Nationalism and Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe’ New York: Howard Fertig, (1985), 21-22. [6] Katz, Jonathan Ned , The invention of heterosexuality’ , Routledge International Handbook of Heterosexualities Studies Routledge, (2020) [7] Jaunait, Alexandre, Amélie Le Renard, et Élisabeth Marteu. ‘Sexual Nationalisms? Contemporary Reconfigurations of Sexualities and Nationalisms’, Raisons politiques, vol. no 49, no. 1, (2013) pp. 5-23.


Author - Tanisha Papdiwal, Penultimate Year Law Studentat O.P. Jindal Global University.

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