Nagel, J. 2003. Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate Intersections, Forbidden Frontiers.

Nagel, Joane. 2003. Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate Intersections, Forbidden Frontiers. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sex Matters

“Differences of color, culture, country, ancestry, language, and religion are the materials out of which ethnic, racial, and national identities and boundaries are built” (1) – ethnicity and sexuality intertwine to reinforce boundaries of morality, desirability, and belonging. Sex underscores slurs – how we construct relations between races, ethnicities, and nationalities – used for defense of racism, segregation, etc.  (Explicitly states that the book will not cover where sex and race do not mix, ‘biological’ rooting in race or sexuality) – instead, looks for intersections where each is given power. Acknowledges interconnection between race, ethnicity, and nationalism – recognizes sexuality as represented through lens of what is considered to be the dominant/appropriate, dissociation from sexual behaviors and identities. Identifies contrast between dominant and nondominants in terms of sexual relations: “Sexual stereotypes commonly depict ‘us’ as sexually vigorous (usually our men) and pure (usually our women), and depict ‘them’ as sexually depraved (usually their men) and promiscuous (usually their women)” (10).

Ethnosexual Frontiers

“Ethnosexual frontiers are sites where ethnicity is sexualized, and sexuality is racialized, ethnicized, and nationalized” (14) – travelers, immigrants, colonists, etc. Homogamy and homophily discourages the transgression of these borders – transgressors can blend in through sexual participation – ‘passing’ as members after sexual contact – a means of cultural transmission and assimilation; benefitting some and penalizing others, as not all sexual contact is desired/valued/permitted. Prior to family and recent wave of women’s intra-international migration, most immigrants were men. During wartimes, use of inferiority, impurity, hypersexuality of ethnic Others used to defend trafficking, rape, violence, etc. Punctuation of ‘discovery’ of ethnosexual threats, periodically re-occurring, often in line with other social contexts. “American discourses of ethnosexual danger most often are articulated as threats to the purity and safety of white women by sexually menacing nonwhite men. This is especially ironic since white men have posed constant and serious threats of sexual violence against women of all colors throughout United States history” (Hartman 1997). The construction of sexuality has serious exclusion and implication for national identities – often heterosexuality is presumed about a nation-state. Racism and prejudice used as a weapon against others, homophobia is a common way to construct race, ethnic, and national belonging – directed inwards to monitor members. Rape used to signify national superiority, to distress and subordinate ethnicities, particularly in times of warfare. Connecting particular forms of ideal masculinity and femininity, in comparison with ‘deviants’, who are not only deviants of gender, but of sexuality.

Constructing Ethnicity and Sexuality

Ethnic difference, despite construction, are social, historical, and situational, as well as sexually charged. Ethnicity not as nation-state or heritage everywhere, could be determined by geography, religion – as a dialectical and interactional process that is developed constantly, and situationally drawn-upon — but also a means to classify people (though ever-shifting). Boundaries, here, can be spatial, legal, cultural, institutional, social, economic, political, ideational, (and) sexual — these can also be similarly applied to the multiplicities of sexual practices and identities. Body as a site of performance, performativity – gender and sexuality as enacted, can race and ethnicity, too? “Performativity is a powerful mechanism of social construction and social control, all the more so because it tends to go unnoticed, be invisible, operate at the level of intuition [….] The invisible and comfortable aspects of gender and sexual performatives are major reasons for the durability and pervasiveness of hegemonic gender and sexual regimes” (52). Performance as presentation of body in roles, performativity as how we re/affirm constructs and hegemonic social roles – see also Butler 1990. “Performative orders can weaken or mutate to the extent that the performances on which they depend are absent, defective, or subversive. Widespread noncompliance with, confusion about, or infiltration from outside traditional gender systems can disrupt gender performances and disturb the performative gender order” (53).

Sex and Conquest: sexualization of indigenes as lusty, virile, threats; women as masculine and unlike the dainty and domicile white wife. Assimilation was termed in sexual, but not necessarily marital types – however, better cast when increasingly ‘white’. “The large-scale appropriation of Indianness, in particular the consumption of Indian virility and potency by mainly white men, began at the term of the twentieth century when two social trends converged in the United States: the defeat of native nations followed by their internment on reservations and a crisis of confidence in American masculinity as the country moved from an agricultural, rural economy to an urban, industrial society” (79) – challenged masculinities and feminization of Southern men post-Civil War renewed interest in renewal of manhood – ‘tall, dark, and handsomes,’ or indianized white men (like Rambo) – rugged individualism, freedom – signifying both conquest and indomitability.

Sex and Race

McClintock : eroticization of unknown Asia, America, Africa – casting monstrosity to sexual organs, practices – ‘porno-tropics’: “a fantastic magic lantern of the mind onto which Europe projected its forbidden sexual desires and fears” (1995, here 93), despite challenges by African Europeans. Utilized to justify slavery, rape, and denigration of men and women, Jim Crow laws, execution of black men at startling frequencies (when the prosecution of white serial rapists was seldom followed through), delegitimizing interracial relationships and marriages. During Civil Rights era, critique of black masculinity when participating in interracial relationships, denigration of white femininity. Association of nationality and reproduction – homosexuality perceived as an outcome of domination and ‘racial suicide’ – creating sexuality’s intimate tie with nationalism, race-nationalism, gender.

Sex and Nationalism: Regards men’s ability to sexually fraternize without consequence, or with swift execution; women had to deal not with execution, but lifelong social stigma and harassment. Patriotic duties of women to be sexually available to men in the service – national orders become gender orders, or nationalistic participation is framed by gender, and gender role abidance. Feminization of enemies (through excessive or insufficient lust) – “The Nazis used sexualized racism, homophobia, and misogyny as foils against which to contrast their claims to superior morality and virile, but proper sexuality” (143) – in white supremacist literature, pandering to Madonna-whore of women, but each is catering to the desires of the heterosexual man. ‘Moral economies’ –then, “provide specific places for women and men in the nation, identify desirable and undesirable memberships by creating gender, sexual, and ethnic boundaries and hierarchies within nations, establish criteria for judging good and bad performances of nationalist masculinity and femininity, and define threats to national moral and sexual integrity” (146).  Fears mongered by children of colonizers with natives would grow to promote increased ‘miscegenation’, or grow to be enemies of the colonial state. However, even within states, sexualization of minority ethnicities practiced. Nation-building as not necessarily egalitarian; instead, reinforcement of hegemonic masculinity, casting women as helpmates and mothers of future citizens – pairs with heterosexist masculinity, works as a breeding ground for patriarchy – oversight of women’s work and legal statuses. Despite women’s equal participation within liberation and military movements, often after the conflict is resolved, they are expected/forced to return to unequal positions. In gay culture, ethnicity defined who was supposed to take on what role in sex act, how to display gender, etc.

Sex and War: Sexuality, marriage, and intteracial relationships by servicepeople, feeding into immigration, narratives of exoticized femininity/sexuality. “The western image of the Asian female, the Asian body, and Asian sexuality has been reproduced, yet scarcely updated for centuries. As a late twentieth-century representative body of cultural feudalism and exoticism, the Asian/Asian-American woman has no parallel in the fantasies of the West. […] These women thus become metaphors for adventure, cultural difference, and sexual subservience” (Thiesmeyer 1999, here 179) – the use of male political privilege to access racial, ethnic, and national Others. Men at war typically do not use rape against “own” women, unless accused of disloyalty; however, rape is frequently used against ‘others’ – “gaining territory and psychological advantage” (181). Establishment by militaries (formally and informally) the use of comfort women – often assigned or grouped by race or ethnicity, based on status in military. Fear of sexually transmitted diseases (even in peacetimes) promoted the sexual abuse of younger and younger girls. Sex tourism emerging out of infrastructure built in 1960s – and Cold War mobilization – particularly in Southeast Asia.

Sex and Tourism

Ethnosex lures with prospects of sexual encounters with ethnic exotic Others – in times of war and peace, for similar reasons. Casting of women (mostly) as native, untouched beauty – virginal, nude, yet hedonistic and sexually trained. Migrant labor used in host countries as tourist attractions, taking place of jobs not held for ‘proper’ women. Third world debt sometimes addressed by commerce made in sex tourism. Ethnic difference helps to maintain oppressive relations between sex owners, industry executives and workers; ethnic difference also cast as appeal for both sex workers and the consumer – rescue as a central narrative around relationships developed in sex trade. Ethnic similarity can also play into intra-network stratification – those with light skin are often preferred or go to wealthier clientele. Often, male sex workers are not paid, but often do so for same-sex encounters in areas where such activities are taboo. Definitions and sexual self-identification is critical here – MSM’s garner more privilege than homosexuals. However, women involved in sex consumerism as well – in pursuit of ethnosexual fantasies of ‘island lovers’ – in romance tourism. This seems to garner some esteem – affirmation of masculinity rather than denigration. Women’s entry into masculinist expeditions may complicate ethnosexual frontiers. Legal and labor issues fraught the sex trafficking industry – including the issue of child sex labor.

Sex and Globalization

“Nations are imagined as much by outsiders as by insiders. Like ethnic identity, nationality emerges out of an interactive process in which the individual and others negotiate the symbolic boundaries and content of the nation” (225). Symbols, institutions legitimate claims to territory, also framed by discourse, actors, popular culture, participation in global symbolic space (media, politics, economic forums, etc.) Sexuality, particularly women’s sexuality as co-constructed with the conception of gender, race, and nationality.    Globalization promotes international internet communications, and vice versa.  Sexual trysts from globalized labor complicate nationalities, often oiled by capitalist pursuits. Women are often hired on as workers, but seldom managers, particularly in tariff-free and economic-autonomous zones. Women (and men) participating in transnational parenthood, sending remissions to children and families; however, work is often gender segregated, promoting men’s exclusion (or relief) from domestic duties.  White womanhood “sells” – is often seen as a desired or consumable object, bourgeois and fashionable. Dance as a way to access globalized capital, cosmopolitan spaces; however, also a way to construct hybridized or hearken back to homelands. Dance, disco, rave can exist as a borderland of class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender. “These bonds not only create internal solidarities, but they can build bridges between local scenes and geographically distant related scenes, thereby creating glocal movements and milieux” (242).

“Western marketing around the world communicates not only information about products, but coveys implicit messages about the kinds of people who consume these products, messages about modernity and their desirability. As is well documented, sex sells. Thus, the marketing of Western products not only puts sexuality in the service of selling goods, it peddles a specific vision of Western sexuality, lifestyle, and culture to global consumers. The globalization of Western consumer culture is not just the sale of consumer goods in non-Western markets, nor is it simply the generation of demand for Western consumer goods. It promotes the sexualization of consumption and the consumption of sexuality. It markets a libidinal consciousness, an erotic self- and other-imagining, and a particular type of (Western) sexualized world view” (245).

Sex-Baiting and Race-Baiting

“Sexual images and stereotypes are imbedded in ethnic images and stereotypes. Sexual fears and loathing are endemic to racial terror and hatred. Sexual rules and protocols are inherent in imaginings of the nation. Sexual identities, desires, and practices are defined and constructed by sexualized expectations attributed to one’s own and one’s partners’ racial, ethnic, and national membership” (255). Cross-over of military, imperialism, rape, and gender. Fears of increasing/declining birth rates for races/nationalities, in contrast to immigration. Assimilation on ethnosexual contact is one of the last issues to be confronted – intermarriage, reproduction.  Asserts that having sex with an Other is a type of rebellion, can be a way to subvert issues of superiority/inferiority ^however, is this always cognizant?  What sort of assumptions does this make about power relations between the couple?


Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Hartman, Saidiya. 1997. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth Century America. New York: Oxford University Press.

McClintock, Anne. 1995. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge.

Thiesmeyer, Lynn. 1999. “The West’s ‘Comfort Women’ and the Discourses of Seduction,” in Transnational Asia Pacific: Gender, Culture, and the Public Sphere. Edited by Shirley G. Lim, Larry E. Smith, and Wimal Dissanayake. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.


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