David John Frank Responds to James Hathaway & Jason Pobjoy

by NYU Journal of International Law and Politics

Panel 1 of the NYU JILP Vol. 44:2 Online Symposium

David John Frank is Professor of Sociology and, by courtesy, Education at the University of California, Irvine. He is interested in the cultural infrastructure of world society, especially as it changes over time and varies across national contexts.

It makes some sense to justify LGBT asylum claims in terms of the traumatic consequences of self-repression.  A surfeit of evidence demonstrates the extent to which such consequences exist.  They may culminate in suicide.

Still, it is important to recognize that LGBT asylum claims and self-repression are different phases of a joint system.  The system designates individuals as the base units of reality.  And it renders particular forms of desire as lasting sexual identities.

Notice the peculiarity of both system features.  In comparative and historical perspective, it is unusual to carve persons out from their natural and social embeddings and to prop them up as stand-alone entities.  More typical are systems arranged around corporate entities, such as families and races.  The legal apparatus of asylum claims and the psychological apparatus of self-repression both assume the natural reality and social priority of individuated persons.

Likewise in comparative and historical perspective, it is unusual to treat sexual desires as sexual identities – enduring and defining feature of individuals.  More typical are systems that regard sexual desires as evanescent tastes (something one likes in a particular moment), or as situational role performance (something one does in a particular context).  Asylum claims and self-repression both assume a permanent and essential stamp of LGBT identity.

Of course, to say they are two phases of a joint system is not to disregard the obvious differences between LGBT asylum claims and self-repression.  Asylum rights are enabling.  Self-repression is disabling.  Asylum rights are public matters.  Self-repression is a private matter.  And so on.

All of this is important to spell out because it describes the world as we know it and the world as we believe it should be.  In articulating the assumptions that allow us to justify LGBT asylum claims in terms of the traumatic consequences of self-repression, we specify the conditions under which such a justification makes sense and thereby strengthens its persuasive punch.


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