Unsettling Sexual Citizenship

37 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2009 Last revised: 18 Oct 2010

Date Written: February 10, 2009


This essay/review by Ruthann Robson and Tanya Kessler, published at 53 McGill Law Journal 535-571 (2008), situates Brenda Cossman's book Sexual Citizens in the context of sexual-citizenship discourse, which has arisen from the critique of dominant theories of citizenship that fail to recognize citizenship as gendered, racialized and sexualized. Cossman employs the term "citizenship" to mean not only a formal legal status, but also metaphorically as forms of belonging, recognition and participation. Using examples from popular culture, she seeks to illustrate that the emerging sexual citizenship of sexual minorities in the United States is overtly sexual, yet also privatized and self-disciplined.

Using Sexual Citizens as an illustration, the authors suggest that sexual citizenship discourse currently neglects the issue of sexual minorities' access to formal citizenship. In many cases, formal citizenship status is even presumed. At a time of burgeoning repression of immigrants in the United States and elsewhere, sexual-citizenship discourse should be more cognizant of citizenship as a formal legal status and explore the manner in which immigration law regulates sexual practices. Although the language of citizenship can provide some valuable metaphors for sexual minorities and is an apt response where the nation-state invokes citizenship to regulate behaviour, this analysis should confront the notion of citizenship itself. Indeed, the rubric for theorizing the regulation of citizenship should not necessarily be citizenship, since it risks perpetuating the notion's noninclusiveness. The authors thus propose that a language of "personhood" may be more suitable in pursuing rights and participation for sexual minorities.

Keywords: sexuality, citizenship

Suggested Citation

Kessler, Tanya and Robson, Ruthann, Unsettling Sexual Citizenship (February 10, 2009). McGill Law Journal, Vol. 53, 2008, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1340764

Tanya Kessler

CUNY School of Law ( email )

2 Court Square
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States

Ruthann Robson (Contact Author)

CUNY School of Law ( email )

2 Court Square
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States

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