Identity is constructed by powerful actors in many ways, through hegemonic processes including heteronormativity. Heteronormativity encompasses the perceived interdependence of gender and sexuality, presenting a definition of gender as binary – enforcing a view of attraction as a strict one way heterosexual norm. Non heterosexual ideas are rejected as counter to this norm while also being regulated by it – there is always reference to the ‘norm’ of heterosexuality when discussing sexual identity and gender. The hegemonic foundation of this norm ensures thinking about gender in a rigid dualism extended from biological sex. The view is that the two distinct sex/gender categories exist which everyone belongs to and that these exist to serve complementary roles, which the opposite can’t fulfil, in intimate relationships consisting only in a coupling of opposites (Queen, Farrell and Gupta, 2004; Schilt and Westbrook, 2009). The concept is upheld through a variety of pervasive norms and institutions of enforcing and constructing what is perceived as typical behaviours for either gender.
The issue of sexuality, especially in relation to nationality is an undertheoried issue. Due to the nation state being the focal point of discussion, other – linked – issues are ignored or marginalised. Binnie (2004) shows that states are the forces which enforce attitudes and controls towards sexuality, giving the example of the staggered times of legalising same sex acts in Britain and the fact that same sex acts remain legal in many countries. A recent Advocate article (Bocci, 2014) examines research to explore the impact of the recent rise of anti-homosexual legislation across the world on different areas of life, concluding the impact of stunting and punishing homosexual identity though legislation is harmful not only from a human rights basis, but also undermines economic growth. A conservative estimate of the impact of homophobia on India estimates a cost to India of a considerable 1.7% of the country’s gross GDP (Bocci, 2014). Considering events to celebrate a “global gay identity” such as the Gay Games in 2002, do identities including homosexuality hold any weight, especially when considered next to more engrained concepts like nationality?
Cultural differences lead to difficulty applying universal norms of identity to different societies. These problems are evident within debates surrounding the non-western countries and the attempt to reconcile identity in the traditional sense with more rooted concepts and the histories of colonialism. Malaysia, India and Zimbabwe have for instance used the defence of the legacy of colonialism as justification for their maintaining of anti-homosexual laws – though these clashes can be softened by the emergence of gay pride movements in those countries, showing the existence of a duality of identity (Altman, 2004). The current debate regarding the real meaning of the Commonwealth can shed some light on these issues – looking at what Britain truly has in common with other Commonwealth countries, for example, the incredibly harsh stance some take towards homosexuality, making it punishable by death. De Vos (2000) shows African attitudes consider homosexuality as “un-African”, an attitude stemming from colonial imposition. Are these developments the result of globalisation? Altman emphasises that globalisation certainly does impact the formation of a sexual identity. This influence is clear in developments of media exposure and the impact these developments can have upon the individual’s construction of identity. People are being exposed to new possibilities of thinking about sexuality and identity through the internet or television which differs from what would traditionally be available to them. These different perspectives create conflict. Altman (2004) explains this conflict, through conflicting imagery for example, young men are being taught the Koran, but at the same time are exposed to images and ideas they are told are wrong. These opportunities to reconceptualise identity are possible laregly due to economic freedoms allowing young people to move to the cities, where ideas unimaginable in their more isolated villages become possible. Bronwell and Wasswestrom (2002) discuss this with reference to China. As a result of these shifts, imported identities in conjunction with the more traditional views meld to form a ‘global gay identity’, linking an evolving sexual identity with a desire for modernity (Altman, 2004).
Smith (1994) analyses the control of attitudes towards sexuality by looking at British parliamentary debates on section 28 of the local government act in 1987-88. Gender in this context was deployed in the form of a construction of the “good” and the “bad” homosexual. Gay men represented the “bad” of the equation, as a sexual threat whereas lesbians were portrayed as “good”, embodying sexual restraint. This portrayal in turn influenced homophobia in the eighties representing these stereotypes. There is, however, no simple relation between sexuality and nationalism. As discussed by Binnie (2004, p14), the relationship between the nation and the individual’s sense of identity can be viewed with different degrees of importance for example, gay people who join the army as a means of escaping economic constraints, or constraints of the local community. Nationalism is an intensely gendered rhetoric, a masculine discourse which naturally excludes non-confirmative elements in the process. Conrad (2001) highlights the threat which non-standard identities, homosexuality in particular, pose to the ordering and narrative of the nation state especially the fluid nature of the identity which also calls into question other identities the nation state would seek to uphold. This was enforced through the process of colonisation and its promotion of ‘hyper-masculinity’ as a means of maintaining the discourse of bourgeois nationalism in the heterosexual centric nature of the family.
Binnie (2004) references the work of Tomlinson and Scholte to underline how the declining significance of territorial borders allows new forms of communities to emerge, such as the gay movement. Transnational activism exemplifies this solidarity, the example of the gay community of the Netherlands mobilising against the section 28 campaign in Britain shows this ability for solidarity in identity binding even across borders. A “commonality of identity” forms an “objective basis for solidarity” (Drucker, 2000). This bond, and those of other identities, is important in understanding power relations within global politics. Is the increasing sentiment of assimilationist gay politics, of world politics, a force laying siege to the ‘gay identity’, or does it threaten the ability to identify with national identity? Indeed, does this ‘global gay identity’ even exist? Bell and Binnie (2000, p116) challenge this universal conception of identity by showing globalisation as a force exporting typically Western notions of sexuality and identity to the world. This point is emphasised through demonstration of the ‘pink economy’ and tourism. The perception of gay people as more affluent is reflected in the economic success of gay events, such as the Sydney Mardi Gras 1998 raising around au$99milion (Binnie, 2000, p60). The perceived inclusivity of these events comes with an underside however. The cost of these events, such as the Sydney Mardi Gras charging around au$100 a ticket excludes many – with backlashes from the gay communities as seeing these events as purely exploitative, as was certainly the case with the Amsterdam Gay Games. The globalisation of gay culture therefore creates both more inclusion –modernising attitudes rapidly spreading – but also exclusion by further marginalising already marginalised GLBT people for example, the ability to rely on Western countries for asylum to flee persecution on the basis of sexuality is dependent upon the means of an individual to pay the required costs of entering the country and the process is highly fickle (Binnie, 2002).
Altman, D. (2004). Sexuality and Globalisation. Agenda. 62 (2, 1), 22-28.
Bell, D & Binnie, J (2000) The Sexual Citizen. Blackwell: Oxford p.p 108-123
Binnie, J (2004). The globalisation of Sexuality. London: SAGE Publications. p.
Bocci, D. (2014). Quantifying the Effects of Homophobia. Available: http://www.advocate.com/politics/2014/05/05/quantifying-effects-homophobia. Last accessed 11/11/2013.
Brownell, S and Wasserstrom, J. N (eds) (2002) Chinese Femininities, Chinese Masculinities Berkeley : University of California Press, 2002
De Vos, P. (2000). The Constitution made us Queer: The Sexual Orientation Clause in the South African Constitution and the Emergence of Gay and Lesbian Identity. In: Stychin, C and Herman, D (eds.) Sexuality in the Legal Arena. London: Athlone Press. p.p 194-207.
Drucker, P (2000) Remapping Sexualities, in: Drucker, P (ed.) Different Rainbows. London: Gay Men’s Press, p.p 9-41
Conrad, K. (2001). Queer Treasons: Homosexuality and Irish National Identity . Cultural Studies. 15 (1), p.p 124-137
Queen, M, Farrell, K, and Gupta, N. (2004). Introduction: Interrupting Expectations . In: Farrell, K (ed) Interrupting Heteronormativity. Syracuse University: Syracuse University. 1-13. [online] Available:http://www.syr.edu/gradschool/pdf/resourcebooksvideos/Heteronormativity.pdf
Schilt, K and Westbrook, L. (2009). Doing Gender, Doing Heteronormativity: ”Gender Normals,” Transgender People, and the Social Maintenance of Heterosexuality. Gender & Society . 23 (4), 440-464.