Joane Nagel on Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate Intersections, Forbidden Frontiers

Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate Intersections, Forbidden Frontiers by Joane Nagel
Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate Intersections, Forbidden Frontiers by Joane Nagel

Joane Nagel writes about sexual citizenship in her 2003 book _Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate Intersections, Forbidden Frontiers_. _Nagel argues that** ethnonationalism** 1 has a moral economy wherein sex and gender get regulated in four ways:

  1. Provide specific roles for women and men in nation

  2. Create desirability scale among members of a nation via sexual, gender, and ethnic hierarchies/boundaries.

  3. Establish criteria for good and bad nationalist masculinity or femininity

  4. Define threats to national moral and sexual integrity.

I read Nagel’s book in relation to my dissertation on Black women’s erotic labor. I found this book compelling and will summarize its key findings here on the blog start with the first chapter.

Ethnosexual Frontiers: Cruising and Crossing Intimate Intersections

Nagel states that her argument builds on social constructionism, a perspective that guides much of sociology of sexuality in the modern era. Ethnosexual boundaries in an ethnonationalistic society get revealed as socially constructed by the human tendency to cross these boundaries via ethnosexual encounters:

The existence of individuals of mixed racial ancestry, is the direct  result of ethnosexual contact, but the meaning and classification of such individuals involve the politics of color and continuing controversies associated with sexually crossing the U.S. Color line.2

Types of Ethnosexual Boundary Crossers:

  1. Settlers/Sojourners – people who “go native” and attempt to assimilate through intermarriage or ethnic conversion/switching (i.e adopting a spouse’s religion) as a feature of migration.

  2. Adventurers and Invaders – A type of sex tourism that can also serve to reinforce dominance through slavery or rape.
    Nagel argues ethnosexual cosmologies of desire and desirability arise through popular media, interpersonal communications, demographic data, and definition of sexualities. These moral economy of nationalism means that some ethnosexual encounters get perceived as a violation of social rules – specifically for women and men of color.

As an example, Nagel notes the mishandling of the 1987 Tawana Brawley case wherein a teenaged Black girl accused White police officers of abduction and rape. While many today claim the accusations were a hoax, Brawley maintains the attack did occur:Screenshot of Tawana Brawley during a press conference - Wikipedia> Thus the Brawley case harkened back to centuries of U.S. history in which enslaved Black women were the sexual property and therefor the sexual quarry of White men.”3


  1. “Ethnic nationality, on the other hand, is rooted in biological necessity rather than individual choice. It runs in families and is believed to be an inherited characteristic. People are born into a particular nationality, which then determines their interests, sentiments, and sense of attachment to a particular nation”
    Excerpt From: John Scott. “A Dictionary of Sociology.” iBooks. 
  2. Nagel 2003:16 
  3. Nagel 2003:28