Sexual citizenship : an analysis of gay men as sexual citizens in nonmetropolitan England and Ireland

McKearney, Aidan (2018) Sexual citizenship : an analysis of gay men as sexual citizens in nonmetropolitan England and Ireland. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This study explores the concept of sexual citizenship as it applies to the lives of gay men living in nonmetropolitan areas of Britain, and Ireland. Both countries have undergone dramatic social, legal and cultural changes over recent decades, and have witnessed profound and progressive shifts in public attitudes towards lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Given historical tendencies towards a metrocentric bias in researching gay lives, this study takes place outside the large metropolitan centres of population. It travels to a world of smaller towns, villages and farms. In making this journey, the research aims to understand the life world and experiences of gay men living within these locales. It seeks to explore the dynamics created by the intersection of sexuality and the space of the rural. Crucially it strives to develop an understanding of the nature, depth, and scope, of the men’s sexual citizenship, as it applies within their geographic context.

Forty-four men were interviewed: twenty-two in England and twenty-two in Ireland. The study finds that rural men in both countries share similar experiences, concerns and worries. All of the men recall an awakening in childhood and adolescence that they were different from other male age mates, followed by a slow realisation (often resisted) that they could be gay. The study finds that profound social, and cultural changes have been of critical importance to the men, in encouraging many of them (though not all) to begin, the uneven, and continuous, process of coming out, embracing a sexual minority identity, and in doing so, becoming sexual citizens.

The study finds clear consensus that the nonmetropolitan context is relevant to the men, especially in how they negotiate their sexual identity. While life outside the cities can bring a number of distinct advantages, such as tranquillity, and a more relaxed pace of life, the men also report numerous challenges which include social isolation, powerful hegemonic narratives around rural masculinity, and a pervasive heteronormative culture. As such, the rural space can be an alienating environment. Nonetheless, these men continue to live in the rural, and by their presence and increasing disclosure, they are changing the cultural narrative of what it means to be gay in the space of the rural, creating rural gay (male) identities, which can appear different from metropolitan gay (male) identities. In many ways, their rural environment creates similar identity characteristics, and limitations, despite their residency in different countries.

In assessing the men as sexual citizens, the study takes the opportunity to interrogate the model of sexual citizenship. To this end, it finds the citizenship model of rights and obligations to be seductive and appealing to many of the gay men. However, the study also highlights its exclusionary tendencies, and as its propensity to promote a de-sexualised, de-politicised, and de-radicalised gay identity; tendencies which are exacerbated by the context of the nonmetropolitan, small town, and rural spaces. This research concludes that, while the men may be considered, constitutional sexual citizens, which is an enormous advance from the dark times of the past, there remains a legacy of stigmatization, which helps ensure compromised citizenship on a number of levels. As such, the journey has not yet ended.

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