First panel – Sexuality, States and Political Processes
Morning—August 24 , 2009
The panel that followed was coordinated by Sérgio Carrara, co-director of the Latin American Center on Sexuality and Human Rights (CLAM) and counted with Franklin Gil, associate researchers of the Escuela de Estudios de Género de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Elsa Muniz, from the Universidade Autônoma Metropolitana in México City, and Gabriel Gallego, director of the Gender and Sexuality Observatory from the Universidad de Caldas also in Colombia. Adriana Vianna, professor at the Museu Nacional (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro) and Rosa María Posa Guinea, from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission made the comments.
Franklin Gil shared his reflections about intersectionality in relation to gender, sexuality, class and ethnicity. He remarked that in Colombia, sexism and racism are structured around few common devices: naturalization, racialization or sexualization of the “other,” a constant resource to the dyadic nature – culture. He recaptured ideas developed by black feminists such as Angela Davis, bel hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Kimberley Crenshaw and Mara Viveros, about double discrimination or the cumulative effects of gender, race, class and sexual orientation, to underline that these effects are not to be seen as a static piling-up, but rather as an unstable and complex combination.
He also examined the challenge to translate intersectionality to politics, both within the movements for sexual diversity and in regard to the demands these movements make to the state. He reminded us that regions conceive and govern “differences” using a classical minority lens that is both essentialist and fragmented: women, children, indigenous people, Afro descendent groups, and LGBT persons. While an old anthropologically informed and ethnically based matrix has influenced this approach, it converges with the strong identity imprint of new social movements. This creates a sort of vicious circle. On the one hand, the identity appeal of social movements at large and sexual politics, in particular, reifies the demographic logic (minorities) of public policies. On the other hand, the “government of differences” constantly refuels the essentialist identity demands of these movements.
Elsa Muniz, in her intervention, recaptured the investigation performed by the General Attorney Office of the State of Guanajuato in Mexico against a 20-year-old woman accused of having performed an abortion by using Misoprostol. She considers this case to be paradigmatic of the many paradoxes that can be identified in the intersections between sexual politics and state policies, because it reveals that the Catholic Church and other conservative sectors constantly create many obstacles to legal abortion. But in her view, the tensions and deadlocks observed in the relation with the state do not exclusively derive from the influence of dogmatic religious forces, but can also be attributed to the effects of neoliberal policies and globalization, which have resulted in “schizophrenic states”:
“It is undeniable that as a result of democratization rights language has become a sort of ‘língua franca,’ used by both states and societies. However, daily life experiences show that the use of a hyper-democratic discourse does ensure this language to be reflected in law or its application.”
Gabriel Gallego was the last speaker. He examined the theme of state regulation, recalling that sexuality regimes always ensure the internal coherence of what a society defines as ‘normal’. They also impose a logic aimed at making sure that bodies, genders, desires, identities and practices coincide. Recent processes of democratization in Latin America have intensified both the politicization and regulation of sexual diversity.
This does not mean that before “sex” was not included in the macro logic of power. It was but with democratization it became more evident that sexuality, as a socially constructed domain of life, is both affected by political change and triggers the destabilization of well established orders. Sexual regulation ranges from micro politics (children, kinship structures but also appropriation of public spaces of sociability) to the macro level of public policies and laws (equality, freedom, privacy but also crime and public morality).
In Gallego’s assessment, Colombia is an interesting case to examine novel processes of sexual regulation. In the last few years the feminist movement has achieved key gains with respect to partial decriminalization of abortion in 2006. The Constitutional Court has also issued important decisions in respect to non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and same sex unions. However, these gains have been achieved by the strategic action of middle class intellectual groups advocating at the Constitutional Court level–not as an effect of wide social and political mobilization, as it has occurred in other countries.
Advocacy at the Constitutional Court level has come about after many failed efforts to change existing sexual norms through legislative reforms. This indicates a quite peculiar scenario to critically examine the dynamics of political hegemony and domination in the domain of struggles around non-heterosexual sexualities. In addition, while analyzing the Colombian scenario it is crucial to take into account the impact of armed conflict that has left vast sectors of the population easily prone to the social and sexual regulation imposed by uncontrolled non-state actors. These forces systematically operate on the basis of ‘social cleansing’ ideologies aimed at eliminating all that is “out of order” that mainly affects sex workers and travestites.
:: COMMENTS ::
The first commentator, Rosa María Posa Guinea, started highlighting few issues in relation to Franklin Gil’s presentation. She underlined that contrary to the image of intersecting ensembles we learn in math classes, in which the centers are what intersect, the overlaps of social movements usually takes place at the margins. She recaptured how some initiatives aimed at approximating fringe causes and agendas have had good results in Latin American and the Caribbean, in particular with respect to trans issues and sex work.
In commenting on the paper by Elsa Muniz, Posa reminded that if we understand the state as the regulator of the public spheres we should be aware that the relationship between social movements and states is a perennial contradiction. She illustrated this with debates underway within the LGBT movement in Paraguay, which advocates for civil unions among same sex persons to be recognized and interrogates if in fact the state should or not regulate these relations.
In respect to Gabriel Gallego’s presentation, Posa appraised his emphasis on sexuality disciplining devices and logics that extrapolate the classical state regulation and also thanked a comment made by the author with respect to the negative effects of international cooperation, in both the feminist and LGBT fields, which is particularly evident in what concerns the so-called ‘dictatorship pf projects.’
Adriana Vianna started by saying that she was a bit troubled by the reading of the papers. First, she considers it problematic to think if public policies in intersectional terms, which was the suggestion by the overview paper. She explained that public policies are crafted in two contemporary idioms that are perennially in tension: one idiom that is more universal and another that is definitely more based on identities. In her view:
“If we recognize that no movement can by itself cover all situations of discrimination and domination, is it too excessive to demand these movements to craft maximalist and detailed political and public policies agendas? What would be an agenda considered to be minimal but broad enough to aggregate political subjects that speak from such a variety of places?”
In respect to the panel presentations, Vianna interrogated what she perceived as a certain bias towards privileging the “state” as the core center of analysis. She underlined that in line with what is observed, by and large, among academics and activists, the “state” is often addressed as a monumental moral entity, which sometimes is opposed to us and sometimes appears as the sphere in which our problems and rights will be completely solved.
Inspired by Gabriel Gallegos’ analysis about the many actors at play in the regulation of sexuality in Colombia, she called attention to one aspect or dimension that is rarely spoken about–the ‘state’ as experience in the daily life of the subjects of sexual politics. In other words, the concrete state institutions that are or are not present in the daily life of people intervene in the life world, and leaves their imprints on individual experiences, which more that often are experienced through their bodies.
Lastly, Vianna correlated state and rights recalling that rights are more than state norms, as they constitute a moral category and a political tool that is critical for the articulation of subjectivities and demands. Rights, therefore, have multiple meanings. In the same manner, the state is both discourse and practice. It is a complex assemblage of rules, institutions and very diversified experiences. The recognition of this multiplicity of meanings may contribute to more fully clarify our understandings about both the insufficiency of politics and the complex intertwining of sexuality, state and rights.