The Limits of Sexual Citizenship: The Politics of Sexual Containment
Social and Psychological Sciences Edge Hill University Ormskirk, UK
Jeffrey Weeks recent 'The World We have Won' is a paradigm example of how recent attempts to survey of the range of legislation and political changes in European countries that leads many authors to believe that the project of sexual citizenship has been achieved - there are substantial equalities for sexual minorities in contemporary European societies, particularly in the West, and this model is effective is achieving the same where it is absent. In this paper I want to balance the optimism of liberal and humanist models with some critical discourse, along three lines. First, the application of law and public policy to enable non-heterosexuals is uneven and within a politics of containment where the notion of power and autonomy for different sexual 'communities' is mediated by a normative notion typified by the 'virtually normal' against sexual dissidence discourses describing the place of sexual minorities in contemporary societies. Particularly in respect of bdsmers, but not exclusively so, 'sexual minorities' are contained with prevailing and damaging heterosexual confines and discourses that limit their citizenship. Allied to that, there is a flawed assumption that formal legal change has a corresponding normative and cultural impact - that is to say because law says a thing, people accept and embrace it. Here the difference between a tolerance and an appreciation of difference is critical, and the maintenance of heteronormative values and their absorption of 'legitimate' sexual discourse and conduct from legally recognised sexualities is misconceived in respect of progress and citizenship. Finally, there are substantial questions of sexual ethics and politics that are not resolved by this process of recognition and containment that form an agenda for a next generation of political struggle, thought the means of that struggle and its articulation as a discourse of equality and justice is impeded by the legal and organisational forms that represent progress thus far. The paper will thus provide a general terrain through which it is possible to map more effectively 'the world we have won' and the opportunity costs involved that set the terrain for the world we have still to win.