27 February 2012

Book Review: Sexual Strangers

Shane Phelan was an American associate professor in Political Science at the University of New Mexico. She wrote this book after writing Getting Specific: Postmodern Lesbian Politics.

This book was published almost a year before September 11, 2001 and it is fascinating to reflect back on how significant American politics can shift so quickly. And while some of its theoretical discussions seem outdated, some of it is quite relevant for today especially for LGBTs who are not part of the white American middle class.

Recently, several activists have argued for hate crimes legislation. However, elsewhere I have argued that what must precede penalty enhancement for presently criminalized conduct is that the police and justice system impartially enforce the present criminal code when the victim is a gay lesbian or transgender.

Phelan supports this view. One of the most important benefits of citizenship, she points out, is that the state will protect a citizen from violence. Yet, when police and prosecutors fail to enforce the law against perpetrators of crime against LGBTs, LGBTs are deprived of one of the most fundamental and important benefits of citizenship. It is for this reason why adopting "hate crime" legislation, which are penalty enhancements for existing crimes committed because of "hate", does not address the underlying problem which is the practical deprivation of the rights of citizenship of LGBTs. Therefore enhancing penalties on crimes that are already not enforced is like multiplying 0 by any number. The product will still be 0.

Phelan does clearly outline the possibilities of LGBT activism and goals and does criticize the narrowing of focus of national LGBT political activity and would be a more "political science" version of Michael Warner's The Trouble with Normal. I would say that Jasbir Puar's Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times is definitely a critique on what Phelan could not anticipate a year before 9/11. That is, how Muslim men have by and large substituted in for gays and lesbians as the Other of the American body politic and how mainstream American politics would eventually come to accommodate then embrace same sex marriage and white middle-class gays and lesbians.

The version I read was a 232 page paperback published by Temple University Press (January 15, 2001), ISBN-13: 978-1566398282. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com.