Gender citizenship

Trans rally, Lisbon 2015

Gender citizenship and the struggles for sexual rights have become a central arena of debate and social change in the western context but also in other corners of the globe. As such, the TRANSRIGHTS project critically addresses a fundamental debate regarding citizenship and rights.

Indeed, the struggles between dominant and subordinate categories of individuals gained a growing pace as different subordinate groups mobilized to contest hegemonic orders of power. Across history, struggles against inequality have been frequent. However, the singularity of western modernity, with the development of the notion of an individual self entitled to the full recognition of the human condition, opened new possibilities for different kinds of claims. Not the communitarian rights of traditional societies but those of individuals who demanded acknowledgment of their full human condition and what it entails. The movements carrying out these struggles against domination, material and symbolic, were essential not only to the transformation of the social and political orders but also to the development of categories of thought in the social sciences. Workers movements against the exploitation of labour by capital, civic rights movements against ethnic and racial discrimination, liberation movements against colonial domination, feminist movements against gender inequality and female subalternity, LGBT movements against heteronormativity and sexual repression are key examples of these dynamics. Regardless of their different claims, all of these movements have in common a quest for social justice, even if some can be seen as more mobilized by the struggle for material redistribution and others by symbolic recognition. The debate between redistribution and recognition, as put forward by Fraser and Honneth (2003), is thus central for the understanding of contemporary societies. However, behind the scenes in which different modes of redistribution and recognition are put into practice, there are deeper principles of justice, which are all-pervading of each and every movement for the conquest of rights. That is to say, the debate still revolves around two main and contradictory views: the vision that ideologically opposes the liberal ideal of a free individual, such as in the Hobbesian view of society, and the ideal, operating with the Marxist legacy, that envisages the struggle between groups as the only possibility for achieving justice, and thereby equality.

With regard to gender and sexuality, the terms of this long-lasting debate were replicated in feminist scholarship and movements, with the opposition between liberal feminism and Marxist or radical forms of feminism. In short, there is not a simple way of putting aside the unsolvable divide between views that defend an emphasis on equality and those which believe justice implies considering difference (Scott 1988). On the one hand, the first view has failed to promote equality because of its individualistic character, which privileges sameness and disregards the social differences between individuals and groups, often leading to the imposition of a single model of universal citizenship − western, white, male, etc. On the other hand, the politics of difference, which have gained a degree of popularity, for instance with the political correctness strategies, have also contributed to reify otherness and, paradoxically, produced the maintenance of unequal difference. Individuals can have more rights, but they do not escape the discriminated categories in which they are enclosed in. The efforts of queer theory to disentangle this conundrum proved insufficient as the deconstructionist and post-structuralist project it entails provides no stable standing point from which citizenship might be operative with the tools presently available. In fact, all the conceptualization of rights relies still on an apparatus that demands the existence of stable and most often binary gender categories.