Sexual Citizenship

Ruth Lister. Handbook of Citizenship Studies. Editor: Engin F Isin & Bryan S Turner. Sage Publication. 2002.

Until fairly recently, the notion of ‘sexual citizenship’ would have been dismissed as an oxymoron. As conventionally understood, citizenship transcends and is disconnected from the body and sexuality. The sexual pertains to the ‘private’ sphere, whereas citizenship is quintessentially of the ‘public’ sphere. The idea of ‘sexual citizenship’ thus defies and disrupts the public-private divide, which has traditionally underpinned citizenship.

The concept has appeared in the citizenship literature only relatively recently. It has two different, though overlapping, meanings. The first signals a shift in the terrain of what is considered relevant to citizenship to include ‘the intimate’ (Plummer, 1995). As such it acts as ‘a sensitizing concept,’ highlighting ‘new concerns, hitherto marginalized in public discourse: with the body, its possibilities, needs and pleasures; with new sexualized identities; and with the forces that inhibit their free, consensual development in a democratic polity committed to full and equal citizenship’ (Weeks, 1998: 37-8).

The second concerns sexuality as a determining factor in the allocation of the rights (and to a lesser extent, responsibilities) associated with citizenship. This usage, in turn, takes two forms. One emphasizes access to the traditional triad of civil, political and social citizenship rights; the other, the articulation of new claims to ‘sexual rights,’ understood as ‘a set of rights to sexual expression and consumption’ (Richardson, 2000a: 107). At issue, in particular, is the citizenship status of ‘sexual minorities,’ namely those who do not conform to the patterns of institutionalized ‘hegemonic heterosexuality’ (Richardson, 1998: 83).

This chapter deploys ‘sexual citizenship’ as a broader umbrella term to include also a discussion of citizenship as a gendered concept. The latter has been the subject of a substantial, international, feminist citizenship literature, which is better established than the more recent literature on sexual citizenship. It should be noted, though, that gendered perspectives on citizenship are not normally discussed under the rubric of ‘sexual citizenship.’ Nevertheless, as we shall see, there are clear interconnections between the two. Moreover, people’s lives as citizens (or partial citizens) and their relationship to citizenship are not lived in neat, separate compartments labelled ‘gender,’ ‘sexuality,’ ‘race,’ ‘disability’ and so forth. Thus, many scholars would argue that, ultimately, both gendered and sexual citizenship need to be theorized as elements of a wider ‘differentiated,’ pluralist, citizenship, which embraces diversity and addresses sociostructural divisions (see, for instance, Isin and Wood, 1999; Lister, 1997; Mouffe, 1992; Yuval-Davis, 1997a, and 1997b; Yuval-Davis and Werbner, 1999; Young, 1990, 2000).

The chapter will very briefly locate sexual citizenship within this broader framework. Its starting point is the history and roots of the exclusion from and partial inclusion into citizenship of women and ‘sexual minorities,’ for this exclusion has been the catalyst for much of the literature and politics of gendered and sexual citizenship. It then analyses citizenship as a gendered and sexualized concept (including sexual rights), which leads into a discussion of strategies to achieve a more inclusive form of citizenship in gendered and sexual terms. In each case, these can be understood as strategies designed primarily to promote either ‘equality’ or ‘difference,’ although the case will also be made for moving beyond this longstanding dichotomy.

From Exclusion to Partial Citizenship

Citizenship has been described as a ‘contextualised concept’ (Siim, 2000: 1. See also Molyneux, 2000). Both women and ‘sexual minorities’ experience exclusionary citizenship practices and fight for full inclusion ‘from the vantage point of specific, differentiated cultures and practices of citizenship as they are consolidated in the countries in which they live, wish to live or are obliged to live’ (Saraceno, 1997: 32). This needs to be borne in mind when reading an account written from a Western, and in particular British, perspective. That said, the underlying dynamics of exclusion and partial inclusion are sufficiently common, even if articulated in particular ways in different national and cultural contexts, to warrant a degree of generalization.

Women’s exclusion from citizenship can be traced back to classical Greece where women, together with slaves, were non-citizens and only free men were deemed worthy to participate as citizens in the polis (Burchell, Chapter 5 in this volume). In the modern era, the triad of liberal citizenship rights identified by T.H. Marshall were typically won by women in Western societies later than men and not necessarily in the order identified by Marshall (Smith, Chapter 6 in this volume). In particular, as late as the nineteenth century, when civil rights were generally well established for men in many Western countries, married women still did not exist as independent individuals with civil rights but were subject to the will of their husbands. Full civil rights were not achieved until well after the franchise. Women also typically won the vote later than men in the West; in postcolonial societies, in contrast, they won the vote at the same time, often reflecting their involvement in liberation struggles, although this has not necessarily translated into effective equal political citizenship with men (Walby, 1994).

Today, women in some non-Western societies still do not enjoy full civil and political rights (Peters and Wolper, 1995). In Afghanistan, where citizenship has been described as ‘radically unlike its Western counterpart in almost every conceivable sense,’ they were deprived of rights under the Taliban that they previously enjoyed (Pourzand, 1999: 89). In the West, women’s admission to formal citizenship has been on male terms, which means that, in practice, they often continue to be lesser citizens. Thus, for example, although they have achieved the vote, they are grossly under-represented in most parliaments (the Nordic and Scandinavian countries, together with Scotland, being the shining exceptions to the rule) and access to social insurance benefits (a key element of social rights in most countries) is restricted where women do not comply with male employment patterns. Overall the greatest advances on both the political and social fronts have been in Scandinavia (Siim, 1999, 2000).

Women’s struggle for citizenship as women dates back to the end of the eighteenth century in countries such as England and France. The claims of ‘sexual minorities’ are more recent, reflecting their lesser visibility, their initial less explicit exclusion from citizenship rights and their more recent emergence as a social movement. Today, their citizenship is, in some ways, even more marginal than that of (heterosexual) women: ‘Often as individuals, they remain oppressed (silenced, invisible or subject to harassment in public); as a group, the political legitimacy of their constituency and their claims of citizenship rights are regularly called into question’ (Isin and Wood, 1999: 71). In some parts of the world, homosexuality is still criminalized and lesbians and gays are denied basic civil rights (New Internationalist, 2000; UNDP, 2000). Amnesty International has recorded the ‘execution, torture, imprisonment, and other forms of persecution of lesbians and gay men’ (Dorf and Perez, 1995: 332).

Diane Richardson has analysed the partial citizenship of lesbians and gay men, in relation to Marshall’s triad, in the British context. With regard to civil rights, she points to the exclusion, until very recently, from the right to serve in the armed forces, the former locus of citizenship. The other most important example concerns the right to marry. Only the Netherlands has (recently) granted this right to same-sex citizens. A number of other countries, excluding Britain, now permit the civil registration of gay partnerships, which carry most of the legal rights associated with marriage. Richardson also cites as an example of a denial of the right to justice ‘the lack of protection in law from discrimination or harassment on the grounds of sexuality’ (1998: 88).

Politically, although in Britain lesbians and gay men are not formally excluded from political rights and despite an increase in the number of openly gay and lesbian MPs in recent years, it is still difficult to ‘come out’ in the formal political system. Without a legitimate public presence, full and effective citizenship cannot be said to exist. Representation of lesbian and gay concerns in the formal political process tends to be limited, marginalized and dismissed as ‘political correctness,’ a label used by dominant groups in the West to ridicule and silence the claims of oppressed groups. In terms of social rights, in both the public and private sectors, same-sex partnerships are not normally recognized, creating particular difficulties on the death of one partner (but advantages with regard to social security cohabitation rules). Richardson concludes that:

lesbians and gay men are entitled to certain rights of existence, but these are extremely circumscribed, being constructed largely on the condition that they remain in the private sphere and do not seek public recognition or membership in the political community. In this sense lesbians and gay men, though granted certain rights of citizenship, are not a legitimate social constituency. This is a model of citizenship based on a politics of tolerance and assimilation (1998: 89; see also Evans, 1993; Foley, 1994; Palmer, 1995).

Even that limited model has only shallow roots in terms of the everyday experience of citizenship. Homophobic attitudes and practices can undermine the exercise of citizenship rights and create an atmosphere that is not conducive to their enjoyment. A Stonewall survey of 4,260 lesbian and gay respondents in 1996 found that 35 per cent of the men and 24 per cent of the women had experienced homophobic violence at least once in the previous five years. Transgendered people are also vulnerable to ‘considerable victimisation, harassment and discrimination’ (Foley, 1994: 58). There is no specific legislation against hate crimes against ‘sexual minorities’ in the UK unlike in, for instance, Canada and the majority of US states (Guardian, 6 June 1999).

The Roots of Exclusion

Although the patterns of exclusion from full citizenship of heterosexual women and of lesbians and gays may vary, their exclusion shares common roots: their association with the body and sexuality. In both the liberal and republican traditions, the citizen has stood as the abstract, disembodied, individual of reason and rationality. In the masculine citizenship community ‘bodies and their appetites and desires are treated as loathsome, even inhuman, things that must be overcome if a man is to remain powerful and free… individuals must separate themselves from and conquer the feelings and desires of the body’ (Hartsock, 1985: 177-8).

Feminist scholars have exposed the masculine nature of the mould from which the rational, disembodied citizen was cast (see, for instance, Benhabib, 1992; Cavarero, 1992; Gatens, 1992; Lloyd, 1984). Only male individuals were deemed capable of transcending the body; women as sexual beings and as bearers of children were not. Moreover, because of the weakness of their bodies, women were in need of the protection of male citizens (Jones, 1990). This is not just a Western construct. Writing from a Malaysian perspective, Aihwa Ong observes that the powerful ummas (Islamic scholars) tap into

the popular Islamic belief that men tend to be ruled by reason, and women by passion… to define the political relations of gender rights and citizenship under Islam. In their view, because men are constructed as more rational, and have certain God-given rights as men over women, they represent the normative citizens of the umma… Morally [women] are second class citizens who derive their status through men (1999: 358).

The gendered dichotomy, which associates the disembodied male with reason and the embodied female with sexuality and the emotions, is a heterosexual construct. Cutting across it is a heterosexist categorization under which both female and male homosexuality are ‘defined as essentially sexual’ (Saraga, 1998: 175) and lesbians and gay men are ‘defined primarily as sexual beings,’ while heterosexuality qua heterosexuality ‘is rarely acknowledged as a sexuality’ (Richardson, 1996: 13), Interestingly, in contrast to his homosexual counterpart, ‘the category “gay man” is a more sexualised concept than “lesbian”’ (Richardson, 1996: 13), although this may be less true today. In these sexual binaries, there is simply ‘no social space for bisexual forms,’ which means no space for a bisexual citizenship identity or status (Evans, 1993: 148; Lorber, 1999; Saraga, 1998).

The inscription of sexuality onto male/female, heterosexual/homosexual is also inflected through other markers such as those of ‘race,’ disability and age (Saraga, 1998). Iris Young analyses the exclusion from citizenship of a number of groups ‘identified with the body and feeling’ and with sexuality (1990: 10). Such groups represent:

the Other. In everyday interactions, images, and decisions, assumptions about women, Blacks, Hispanics, gay men and lesbians, old people and other marked groups [notably disabled people] continue to justify exclusion, avoidance, paternalism, and authoritarian treatment. Continued racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, and ableist institutions and behaviour create particular circumstances for these groups, usually dis-advantaging them in their opportunity to develop their capacities. (1990: 164).

In other words, in the name of citizenship’s professed universalism, these groups, representing the ‘Other,’ have been unable to attain the impersonal, rational and disembodied practices of the modal citizen (Yeatman, 1994: 84). This process of ‘othering’ has simultaneously cast some groups as too closely associated with the ‘natural’ (women in their association with their reproductive capacity) and other groups as ‘unnatural’ (lesbians and gays). In both cases, though, the heterosexual male has represented ‘the human’ against a process of ‘dehumanisation’ of others (Held, 1993: 45; Richardson, 1998: 93).

The male heterosexual human or citizen is firmly located in the public sphere, disassociated from the female private sphere, or the realm of necessity and the body. Indeed, public space has been described as ‘male, heterosexual’ (Pettman, 1996: 186). This public-private divide represents the very foundation stone of citizenship as traditionally conceived and practised. As such, it has both privileged male heterosexual access to the public sphere of citizenship and regulated the terms on which heterosexual women and lesbians and gays have been able to enter the public sphere as citizens. Few feminist and other critical citizenship theorists favour the complete dissolution of the categories of ‘public’ and ‘private’ and most would want to claim a sphere of privacy. Nevertheless, the contestation of a fixed, gendered and sexualized, public-private dichotomy, in which the two spheres are treated as separate, is a central move in the challenge to traditional gendered and sexualized notions of citizenship. Heterosexual women’s association with the private, domestic, sphere, and the failure or refusal to acknowledge the implications for public citizenship of what happens in the private sphere, have been identified as critical to their effective citizenship status and ability to act as citizens (Pateman, 1989).

For lesbians and gays, the private sphere represents at best a grudging zone of tolerance predicated on the exclusion of overt homosexual identities and practices from the public sphere and at worst a sphere in which they are policed by the institutions of normative heterosexuality (Evans, 1993; Richardson, 1996, 1998). As Isin and Wood argue, for lesbians and gays, access to public space, which is central to the idea of citizenship, is about ‘the right to participate in public processes as a sexual person, even if that sexuality is homosexuality’ (1999: 85).

The rearticulation of the public-private divide is central to both a feminist and queer citizenship politics (Lister, 1997; Prokhovnik, 1998; Richardson, 1996). The public recognition of ‘private’ issues such as domestic violence and marital rape as concerns of public policy is a testament to their success. So is the emergence of what Ken Plummer has called ‘gay and lesbian public spheres,’ in which alternative cultures have developed, in turn ‘leaking’ into the wider public sphere (2001: 245). The progress made in Scandinavia by women as political citizens means, according to Birte Siim, that ‘the division between the public and private spheres… has lost some of its gendered effects’ (1999: 113; 2000). This acts as a reminder that what is a fluid divide operates in different ways in different societies and at different historical moments (Yuval-Davis, 1991; Einhorn, 1993). What remains constant is the gendered and sexualized nature of the divide even if its particular forms vary and its impact is attenuating in some societies.

Writing in the context of the Lebanon, Suad Joseph describes the public-private divide as ‘constitutive of the will to statehood’ and writes that ‘the centrality of gender to contestations over government/non-government/domestic boundaries suggests that gender is at the heart of state-building enterprises. Elites imagining the state and nation not only must conceptualize women as a category but must articulate the gender-specific expectations of citizenship’ (1997: 88-9). Women have been accorded a critical role in the reproduction of nations, not only in terms of physical reproduction and the transmission of culture but also as symbols of the nation, its spirit and honour, to be defended in war by male citizens (Anthias and Yuval-Davis, 1992; Walby, 1992; Yuval-Davis, 1997a). Their ‘bodies are used to mark the boundaries of belonging in colonial and nationalist power relations and in other identity conflicts’ (Pettman, 1996: 213).

Lesbians and gay men, on the other hand, ‘are normally excluded from the construction of “nation” and nationality’ and indeed have been regarded as a threat to the nation-state at times (Richardson, 1998: 90). Writing about state nationalism in Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas, M. Jacqui Alexander argues that embedded in the state’s policing of the sexual are ‘powerful signifiers about appropriate sexuality, about the kind of sexuality that presumably imperils the nation and about the kind of sexuality that promotes citizenship.’ ‘Having refused the heterosexual imperative of citizenship’ to procreate, lesbian and gay ‘bodies, according to the state, pose a profound threat to the very survival of the nation’ (1994: 6). In this way, both the nation and citizenship embody heterosexuality.

Heterosexual men have been constructed as defenders of the nation, naturally linked to warfare and violence (Hearn, 1997; Yuval-Davis, 1997a). The citizen-soldier has been a prominent historical figure whose imprint on the citizenship template has been marked. This acts as a reminder of the need to theorize critically the relationship to citizenship of heterosexual men as well as of heterosexual women and lesbians and gay men. Jeff Hearn (1997) has called for an interrogation of ‘the silence that has persisted on the category of men [as gendered actors] in both theory and practice around citizenship,’ but in a manner that both names and decentres men. By ‘naming men as men,’ he argues, ‘the gendering of citizenship is made explicit.’ ‘What is usually missing in both empirical studies and theoretical analyses of citizenship is explicit attention to the social construction and then deconstruction of the dominant. This is not just “men” as a general category but particular groups of men – often white, heterosexual, ablebodied men’ (see also Carver, 1996).

Citizenship as a Gendered Concept

Despite Hearn’s reminder that men stand at the heart of citizenship as a gendered concept, it is women who stand at the heart of the literature on gendered citizenship. It is essentially a feminist literature, written from the perspective of women’s interests and concerns, though increasingly acknowledging that these are not uniform, given the differences within the category ‘woman.’ It was feminist scholarship that demonstrated, contra contemporary ‘malestream’ citizenship theory, that women’s historical exclusion from citizenship was far from accidental. Feminist scholarship has also analysed the gendered nature of the various components of citizenship and has debated the value to women of the main citizenship traditions and the contemporary ‘vocabularies of citizenship’ derived from them (Bussemaker and Voet, 1998).

Until recently, the (liberal/social liberal) vocabulary of rights has dominated modern Western citizenship discourses. It is a vocabulary that women have used in their struggle for equal citizenship with men in the civil, political and social spheres. They have also deployed it, since the late twentieth century, to frame claims for reproductive and bodily autonomy. Analytically, both historical and cross-national feminist analysis has demonstrated that a gendered analysis of women’s role, as providers, users and shapers of welfare, is crucial to understanding the development and nature of social rights in different welfare regimes (see, for instance Bock and Thane, 1991; Lewis, 2000; Lister, 2000; Misra and Akins, 1998). The importance of these social rights to women, in weakening the hold of private patriarchal power and in strengthening women’s position as political citizens, has been underlined by feminist commentators such as Wendy Sarvasy (1997) and Anna Yeatman (1994).

Nevertheless, there has been a considerable debate within feminism (reflecting its different strands) as to the utility and appropriateness of a rights discourse for women (for a discussion, see Bryson, 1999; Voet, 1998). Critics of a rights discourse point to the individualism, imbued with male values, that underlies most rights approaches and the patriarchal nature of the state and the law against which rights claims are made. A less oppositional, and more common, position is that of cautious and sceptical support. There is acknowledgement of ‘the dual nature of the law—as an agent of emancipation as well as of oppression,’ which, for all its shortcomings, ‘has played a vital role in securing for women the prerequisites of citizenship’ (Vogel, 1988: 155). It also represents an important arena for feminist struggle, which can both yield tangible reforms and challenge dominant ideological constructions (Bryson, 1999).

An emphasis on rights as a site of struggle for their extension, reinterpretation and defence also underlines the limitations of a narrow conceptualization of citizenship rights as fixed and given. Some feminist citizenship theorists would go further and argue that, at best, rights should be regarded as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. According to Rian Voet, for instance, ‘instead of seeing citizenship as the means to realize rights, we should see rights as one of the means to realize equal citizenship. This implies that feminism ought to be more than a movement for women’s rights; it ought to be a movement for women’s participation’ (1998: 73). She argues that, once women have acquired citizenship rights, the exercise of those rights, especially in the political sphere, is crucial to the full development of women as citizens as part of ‘an active and sex-equal citizenship’ (1998: Ch. 11).

Mary Dietz has put forward a particularly forceful exposition of participatory citizenship in opposition to the ‘politically barren’ construction of the ‘citizen as bearer of rights’ alone. Putting a feminist case for a civic republican model of citizenship, she argues that it is only when active political participation is valued as an expression of citizenship that feminists will ‘be able to claim a truly liberatory politics of their own’ (1987: 13-15). Other feminist scholars, sympathetic to Dietz’s vision, such as Anne Phillips (1991, 1993) and Young (1990), nevertheless advise a critical engagement with civic republicanism. In particular, they point to its narrow, formalistic conception of politics and its failure to address the domestic constraints on many women’s political participation (even if these are weakening in Scandinavian countries, see Siim, 1999).

Central to these domestic constraints is the unpaid care work, both for children and for older relatives, which many women still undertake in the home. Under dominant models of citizenship, which give prominence to paid work obligations, such work tends to stand outside the realm of citizenship obligations and responsibilities, with negative implications for access to social rights. This has led some feminists, such as Gillian Pascall (1993), to be wary of duties-based citizenship claims.

In contrast, Diemut Bubeck has seized on the increasingly hegemonic discourse of citizenship obligation (to be found in both neoliberal and communitarian approaches) in order to subvert conventional constructions from a feminist perspective. She makes the case for ‘a revised conception of citizenship in which the performance of her or his share of care has become a general citizen’s obligation’ (1995: 29). From a similar perspective, grounded in an ethic of care, feminist theorists such as Nancy J. Hirschmann (1996) and Selma Sevenhuijsen (1998, 2000) have challenged dominant discourses of obligation as rooted in an ontology of atomistic individuals. They have counterpoised:

the feminist ethic of care [which] takes the idea of self-in-relationship as a point of entry for thinking about responsibility and obligation… The moral subject in the discourse of care always already lives in a network of relationships, in which s/he has to find balances between different forms of responsibility (for the self, for others and for relationships between them (Sevenhuijsen, 2000: 10).

This position opens up a reconceptualization of citizenship, grounded in an ethic of care and the responsibilities to which it gives rise. Increasingly it is being used in policy debates in a number of countries, for instance around the position of lone mothers, to challenge dominant constructions which privilege paid work obligations (see, for instance, Duncan and Edwards, 1999; van Drenth et al., 1999). From the slightly different angle of how we value different contributions to society, Young has, likewise, made the case for a broader conception of citizenship responsibilities. This embraces not just what she calls the ‘dependency work’ of caring for others, but also unpaid ‘community organizing and service provision,’ much of which is undertaken by women (1995: 551-2).

The notion of citizenship obligations and responsibilities has also been developed by some feminist theorists in an internationalist context. Kathleen B. Jones, for instance, includes in a feminist perspective an emphasis on ‘the global parameters of the responsible citizen’s obligations’ (1994: 269; see also Lister, 1997). Globalization as both a process and an ideology means that ‘citizenship needs to be rethought as a possible tool for feminist use within a global frame’ (Pettman, 1999; see also Werbner and Yuval-Davis, 1999). Kimberly Hutchings suggests that feminism is in sympathy with cosmopolitan conceptions of citizenship (see Linklater, Chapter 20 in this volume) because of the relevance of non-state/ nation political constituencies for feminist political agendas (1999: 140).

That is not to say, as Hutchings acknowledges, that universalistic claims about humanity are ‘uncontested within feminism’ (1999:). Indeed, feminist debates about citizenship rights are paralleled by debates about the value of human rights discourses. Critics of such discourses question not just the value of a rights-based approach, but also Western hegemony in defining ‘universalized notions of what it means to be human and what rights accompany this humanity’ (Grewal, 1999: 340; for a response, see Zubaida, 1999). Werbner and Yuval-Davis, in contrast, argue that the discourses of human and citizenship rights imply each other ‘so that national and transnational citizenships constitute two coexisting and interrelated modalities of citizenship’ (1999: 3). In the same volume, Jacqueline Bhabha reminds ‘critics of the Western universalist conception of human rights’ that, notwithstanding the dangers of feminist human rights arguments being used to articulate ‘simplistic anti-Islam positions’:

in the asylum context the application of a uniform standard can provide the basis for a defence of the right to differ and a critique of persecutory practices that a relativist perspective may preclude. It can also provide the consistency in the application of basic international protection that undermines narrowly nationalistic, anti-immigrant, even racist standards for public and foreign policy… Relativist conceptions of human rights, while anti-imperialist in intent and rhetoric and sensitive to the need to contextualise social and cultural norms, in the asylum context easily become vehicles for a discriminatory hierarchisation of human rights protection and an uncritical reinforcement of exclusionary state practices (1999: 189).

Bhabha’s statement points to another important strand in the feminist citizenship literature, which focuses on migration and asylum as a gendered phenomenon, the implications of which are largely ignored in the ‘malestream’ citizenship and migration literature. Bhabha’s main focus is the difficulties faced by women whose asylum claims are based on forms of persecution, generally deemed private, concerning their ‘rights to control their own bodies, specifically their reproductive or genital organs, in opposition to prevailing norms.’ This she calls ‘intimate violence: the territory of women’s bodies’ (Bhabha, 1999: 184; see also Peters and Wolper, 1995). This is the territory where gendered and sexual citizenship meet.

Citizenship as a Sexualized Concept

Jeffrey Weeks locates the relatively novel concept of sexual citizenship in ‘the new primacy given to sexual subjectivity in the contemporary world.’ He heralds the ‘sexual citizen’ as ‘a harbinger of a new politics of intimacy and everyday life’ (1998: 35; see also Waites, 1996). Earlier, Plummer coined the term ‘intimate citizenship’ to refer to ‘a cluster of emerging concerns over the rights to choose what we do with our bodies, our feelings, our identities, our relationships, our genders, our eroticisms and our representations’ (1995: 17). He sees intimate citizenship as offering a more inclusive account of the personal life than do ideas of feminist and sexual citizenship alone (Plummer, 2001). Plummer regards the notion as extending our understanding of citizenship responsibilities as well as rights, thereby expanding traditional conceptions of citizenship. It does so by extending citizenship’s territory beyond the public sphere into the most intimate corners of the private sphere: ‘the body hence becomes a central site of concern for stories of intimate citizenship’ (1995: 157). At the same time, intimate citizenship can also be traced at the global level, through, for example, global care chains and transnational concerns over genital mutilation (Plummer, 2001).

However, as Plummer (1999) himself has acknowledged, intimate citizenship is not to be confused with intimacy itself: it concerns public talk and action about the intimate. This supports my argument that ‘intimate citizenship only constitutes a sphere of citizenship practice when its claims are made in the public sphere’ (Lister, 1997: 128). In other words, ‘the intimate’ represents a proper object of citizenship struggles, but it is not the site of those struggles, which is not to deny the potential political nature of conflict within the intimate sphere.

Citizenship claims, made in the name of the intimate, are being theorized through the notion of ‘sexual rights.’ Such rights can be claimed by men as well as women, heterosexuals as well as homosexuals, but, among heterosexuals, it is primarily women rather than men who have had cause to lay claim to them and it is ‘sexual minorities’ for whom they hold a particular significance under conditions of heteronormalcy. Richardson (2000a) has outlined an analytic schema around three kinds of sexual rights claims, based on conduct or practice, identity and relationships, each of which is further subdivided into three categories.

Practice-based sexual rights claims, which often involve claims to civil rights, refer to the right to participate in sexual activity, to sexual pleasure and to sexual and reproductive autonomy. The right to sexual activity is a particular issue for ‘sexual minorities’ who may face legislation that permits consensual homosexual sexual contact of any form in private only (as in Britain for men) or that criminalizes all homosexual sexual intercourse (as in some US states and other parts of the world).

The right to sexual activity and sexual pleasure is also an issue for disabled people, who are often ‘seen as asexual,’ without ‘sexual needs’ (Begum, 1992: 78; see also Shakespeare et al., 1996). Issues of sexual autonomy are likewise of particular importance for disabled women, whose bodies are ‘policed’ and reproductive rights denied (Meekosha and Dowse, 1997: 57). The denial of their sexuality has not ‘exempted’ them ‘from the threat or actuality of male sexual violence’; indeed disabled women ‘can be much more vulnerable to sexual abuse and victimization’ (Begum, 1992: 81). Disabled women’s reproductive rights are often in question, in particular in the case of women with learning difficulties, who may be sterilized without their direct consent (Williams, 1992). The unrestricted fertility of poor and/or black women, too, has in some instances been treated as problematic.

More generally, issues of sexual and reproductive autonomy and health have been identified as critical to women’s citizenship, for bodily integrity and reproductive choice are a precondition of women’s autonomy and full and free access to the public sphere (Doyal, 2000: see also Williams, 1999). At issue here are not just civil rights, for instance the right not to be raped by a marital partner, but also social rights, such as access to contraceptive and abortion facilities, necessary to ensure genuine reproductive choice and health (Shaver, 1993/94). Similarly, Aids has generated demands both for information about safer sex as integral to sex and health education on the one hand and for the curtailment of the civil rights of those who are HIV-positive, on the other (Watney, 1991).

(Explicitly) identity-based claims emerged in the late twentieth century, with the emergence of gay liberation movements. These are claims to public recognition as lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgendered groups, as opposed to private tolerance of particular sexual acts. They involve the right to self-definition, to self-expression and to self-realization. Jan Pakulski cites such claims as ‘the most interesting illustrative case’ of the struggle for ‘cultural citizenship’ (see Miller, Chapter 14 in this volume). They involve among other things ‘the right to a presence in the mainstream media, the right to be represented in a dignifying way, and the right to propagate gay identity and lifestyle’ (Pakulski 1997: 81). For transgendered people, the right to self-definition is crucial, with implications for a range of other sexual rights. In the minority of countries under the Council of Europe which prohibit the alteration of a transgendered person’s birth certificate (James, 2000):

the lack of legal recognition of the fact that someone’s true gender may not be that which is physically apparent at birth, means that a transgendered person’s legal status will always be determined by the sex entered on the birth certificate. This has very wide-ranging effects on the lives of transgendered people, including denial of their right to marry (Foley, 1994: 58; see also Evans, 1993).

Relationship-based rights concern: rights of consent, such as age of consent legislation (which in some countries such as the UK is set at different ages for young men and women and for heterosexuals and gay men); the right to choose sexual partners (which in some parts of the world such as South Africa and parts of the USA has, in the past, been a racialized right); and the right to publicly recognized sexual relationships.

Relationship-based rights provide a reminder that sexual citizenship is not just about individual rights but is about rights as exercised in relationships, involving responsibilities also. Their importance is underlined by Richardson, who points out that ‘the assertion of rights does not guarantee protection from the harmful effects of various forms of sexual practices’ (Richardson, 2000b: 155). Weeks writes that ‘the emergence of “the paedophile”, especially, indicates the limit case for any claim to sexual citizenship’ (1998: 41; for a discussion, see Evans, 1993). While few would want to challenge the denial of sexual citizenship in this instance given the violation of children’s rights at stake, more troubling is the disregard of paedophiles’ civil rights by vigilante groups intent on their expulsion from their neighbourhoods. In such cases, paedophiles are being treated as having forfeited all claims to be a citizen.

Particularly controversial among rights to publicly recognized relationships is the civil right to marry. Morris B. Kaplan underlines its wider, symbolic importance: ‘ultimately at stake is acceptance of the moral legitimacy and ethical validity of the shared ways of life of lesbian and gay citizens’ (1997: 209). The illegitimacy of those ways of life was underscored in Britain by first the passing of and then the resistance to the abolition of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. This prohibited local authorities from ‘the promotion’ in schools of ‘the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’ As Kath O’Donnell observes, this denial of ‘any modicum of equal respect or legal recognition for lesbian and gay families epitomises the privileged nature of the heterosexual family unit’ (1999: 79).

The Politics of Gendered and Sexual Citizenship

Section 28 has been a touchstone issue in British gay and lesbian politics at the turn of the twenty-first century. Some lesbian and gay activists deploy the language of citizenship, civil and human rights. Indeed, Stonewall, a UK lobby group that works to advance the rights of lesbian and gay men, has announced a major new project called Citizenship 21 ‘to challenge prejudice and homophobia, build links with other communities facing discrimination, and empower lesbians and gay men within the wider community’ (Stonewall, 2000). Likewise, feminists in a number of countries ‘have found the notion of “citizenship” to be the most appropriate political mobilization tool in the post-Beijing era’ (Yuval-Davis, 1997b: 22), for it ‘provides women with a valuable weapon in the fight for human, democratic, civil and social rights’ (Werbner and Yuval-Davis, 1999: 28). This has been particularly true of women in Latin America, where women’s movements have been ‘at the center’ of citizenship struggles (Blacklock and Jensen, 1998: 129; Social Politics, 1998; Vargas and Olea, 1999. Molyneux 2000).

In both women’s movements and lesbian and gay movements different stances have been taken in the politics of citizenship. In both cases, it is possible, very crudely, to divide these into ‘equality,’ ‘difference’ and ‘pluralist’ stances. In the context of women’s citizenship, we can identify a process of ‘re-gendering’ citizenship around the three normative images of the ‘gender-neutral,’ the ‘gender-differentiated’ and the ‘gender-pluralist’ citizen (Lister, 2000; for alternative formulations see Hutchings, 1999; Prokhovnik, 1998; Voet, 1998). The first two of these find a parallel in lesbian and gay politics in Weeks’ formulation of ‘the moment of citizenship,’ in the name of equality, and of ‘the moment of transgression,’ in the name of difference (Weeks, 1996, 1998). Hints at the third can be found in queer politics’ ‘disruption of [dichotomous] sex and gender identity boundaries’ in the name of a plurality of sexualities (Gamson, 1995: 390; Storr, 1999). Less radically, they also emerge in calls for ‘choice and flexibility’ and the recognition of ‘a plurality of voluntary “intimate associations”’ (Donovan et al., 1999: 706; Kaplan, 1997: 3).

In lesbian and gay politics, the ‘equality’ route, signposted at ‘the moment of citizenship’ is about inclusion and equal rights: ‘the claim to equal protection of the law, to equal rights in employment, parenting, social status, access to welfare provision, and partnership rights, or even marriage, for same-sex couples’ (Weeks, 1998: 37). One of its principal exponents has been Andrew Sullivan, albeit writing from a narrow conservative perspective (Kaplan, 1997). He sums it up in terms of ‘a simple and limited principle: that all public (as opposed to private) discrimination against homosexuals be ended and that every right and responsibility that heterosexuals enjoy as public citizens be extended to those who grow up and find themselves emotionally different’ (Sullivan, 1995: 6).

From the perspective of re-gendering citizenship, the ‘gender-neutral’ citizen is rooted in a belief in equal rights and obligations; gender should be irrelevant to their allocation. The priority is to enable women to compete on equal terms with men in the public sphere of the polity and the labour market. The latter, in turn, opens up access to the social rights of citizenship linked to labour market status through social insurance schemes. Although the main focus tends to be changes in the public sphere, contemporary champions of the ‘gender-neutral’ citizen, such as Susan Moller Okin (1989) and Phillips (1991, 1997) acknowledge the importance for citizenship of changes in the private sphere, notably in the sexual division of labour.

Phillips also concedes that until genuine gender-neutrality is achieved, gender-differentiated strategies are necessary in order ‘to redress the imbalance that centuries of oppression have wrought’ (Phillips, 1991: 7). Some feminists, nevertheless, remain sceptical. Ursula Vogel, for example, regards any attempts to insert women into the illusionary ‘ready-made, gender-neutral spaces of traditional conceptions of citizenship’ as ‘futile’ (1994: 86).

In contrast, the gender-differentiated citizen, personified in the mother, appeals to ‘difference’ in promoting women’s claims as social and political citizens. Such a maternalist construction of citizenship has, though, attracted criticism for constructing what Kathleen B. Jones (1988: 18) has termed ‘sexually segregated norms of citizenship’ in which difference spells unequal and inferior. In response, a number of feminists, sympathetic to some of the values underlying the gender-differentiated model, are arguing for a non-maternalist conceptualization of difference around the broader notion of care and an ethic of care, which is, explicitly, not confined to women. The case for care as a resource for political citizenship has been put by Bubeck (1995) on the grounds that the private concerns, values, skills and understandings associated with the practice of caring can all enhance public practices of citizenship (see also Sevenhuijsen 1998, 2000).

This also points to different arenas and forms of politics, in particular informal community politics (often played out in poorer communities), in which women are often more active, bringing into the public sphere concerns derived from their caring responsibilities. This acts as a bridge to the social sphere, where some formulations deploy the concerns of the gender-differentiated model in order to move beyond it. Knijn and Kremer, for instance, make the case for the incorporation of ‘care in the definition of citizenship, so the rights to time to care and to receive care are protected.’ This they see as critical to an ‘inclusive, degendered’ approach to citizenship (1997: 357).

The case against a simple equality model for lesbians and gays has been put by Angelia R. Wilson:

Surely we desire more than to be equal with heterosexuals.… Our struggle for liberation has not been a struggle for conforming equality. It has been a struggle in which we as a community, and as individuals, have grappled with difference.… The protesting cry for revolution, for change, cannot be one of equality alone. It must be accompanied by a politics of respect (1993: 188).

Weeks describes the ‘moment of transgression’ as ‘the moment of challenge to the traditional or received order of sexual life: the assertion of different identities, different lifestyles, and the building of oppositional communities’ (1996: 82). Instead of integration and inclusion, it is above all about claiming a public gay identity. ‘The rigid identity politics’ of the ‘moment of transgression’ is, however, now being overtaken by those queer theorists who, in so far as they ‘still speak the language of identity,… reconceive it as multiple, overlapping and, in process’ (Dean, 1996: 57). In doing so, they move beyond the ‘hetero/homo binary’ to reconceptualize ‘sexual categories, spaces and boundaries’ (Isin and Wood, 1999: 89) through ‘a politic of boundary disruption and category deconstruction’ (Gamson, 1995: 392). Here the deconstructed ‘sexual-pluralist’ citizen meets the deconstructed ‘gender-pluralist’ citizen who emerges from Chantal Mouffe’s ‘radical democratic conception of citizenship’ (1992: 377). This is based on an understanding of the subject as ‘constructed through different discourses and subject positions’ as opposed to one whose identity is reduced ‘to one single position – be it class, race or gender’ (1992: 382).

Mouffe explicitly distinguishes her own radical pluralist position from that of Young, who proposes a ‘group differentiated citizenship’ (1990). A key criticism made of Young’s position by Mouffe and others is that it runs the danger of freezing group identities, suppressing differences within groups and impeding wider solidarities (Mouffe, 1992; Phillips, 1993). More fluid pluralist approaches, which attempt to guard against these dangers, have been articulated around the notions of a ‘politics of difference’ (Yeatman, 1993); a ‘transversal politics’ (Yuval-Davis, 1997a); a ‘politics of solidarity in difference’ (Lister, 1997) and a ‘reflective solidarity’ (Dean, 1996).

It is also possible to identify in lesbian and gay politics less deconstructionist pluralist citizenship models. One is that proposed by Donovan et al., who, as part of their research into ‘families of choice’ call for ‘a concept of citizenship that is based on the creation of a package of social practices that facilitates inclusion, accommodates individual differences, is without a hierarchy of advantages attached to different living arrangements and allows people to adapt it to their own family of choice’ (1999: 708; see also Kaplan, 1997).

Another model attempts to place the demands of lesbians and gay men into ‘a wider ethical context’ of citizenship which ensures ‘constitutionally, that no other social constituencies will ever have to endure what gay men have been through’ (Watney, 1991: 177). A similar stance has been adopted by the British radical gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, who now makes the case for the integration of gay rights demands into a broader human rights agenda. ‘The key to queer freedom,’ he argues, ‘is a new, comprehensive, transformative politics for the emancipation of everyone’ (Tatchell, 1999).


Approaches such as these acknowledge that neither gender nor sexuality can be understood as simple binaries and that they do not stand alone in shaping the contours of citizenship. Cross-cutting structural divisions of social class (and associated power and riches), ‘race,’ ethnicity, disability and age mediate their relationship to citizenship. Such approaches also point to the need for a critical synthesis of ‘equality,’ ‘difference’ and ‘pluralist’ approaches, in the interests of more inclusive and expansive forms of citizenship.

This chapter has discussed the contribution made by feminist and lesbian and gay theorists and activists to the development of more inclusive gendered and sexual perspectives on citizenship. It has therefore tended to focus mainly on the position of women and ‘sexual minorities,’ particularly lesbians and gay men, and on the ways in which these groups have been excluded from and marginalized within hegemonic forms of citizenship. However, gendered citizenship is about men as well as women and heterosexuals as well as homo-, bi- and transsexuals are sexual beings with claims to sexual citizenship. In other words, citizenship is a profoundly gendered and sexualized construct. The issues raised here are critical to both the theorization and the practice of citizenship.