Notes toward a Queer History of Naturalization

Studies of sexuality and U.S. citizenship have offered rich and transformative insights about the ways in which ideologies of the nation both shape and are shaped by questions of sexuality. But existing scholarship has less frequently and consistently attended to the ways that the state itself might be understood as sexualized. This article begins to trace a queer history of the formal mechanisms that the state uses to produce new citizens by focusing on the earliest federal law on naturalization, passed in 1790, as well as contemporaneous commentaries on immigration and acquired citizenship in the early national period. I argue that we should be more skeptical of the distinction typically drawn between birthright citizenship and naturalization Ð ascriptive vs. consensual. Instead, I show how the opposition between the two models actually serves to mask the ways that both birthright citizenship and naturalization have historically been embedded within (hetero)sexualized understandings of production. Rather than breaking with a model of citizenship based on bloodline, the very language of naturalization has been encumbered with assumptions about a reproductive subject, and so tends to reinforce the model of an organic, sexually reproduced citizenry. Despite its potential to make good on the liberal promise of consent, even naturalization cannot escape a logic of belonging that depends upon the transmission of citizenship through biological reproduction. This is not simply because legislation has tended to instantiate exclusionary ideologies of identity (race, gender, class, sexual orientation) that have "spoiled" the liberal promise of citizenship in the U.S., but also, and perhaps more stubbornly, because this blood logic is embedded within the very metaphors through which such a form of producing citizenship is imagined.