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The Straight State: Sexuality And Citizenship In Twentieth Century America

1495 words - 6 pages

In the United States of America, three campaigns for civil rights dominated the twentieth century. Firstly, women fought for the right to vote during the suffrage years, claiming victory with the ratification of the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution in 1920. Secondly, Native Americans – or “Indians” to some – finally attained citizenship rights in 1924, when President Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act. Thirdly, African Americans fought against segregation and miscegenation, winning both of those battles in landmark Supreme Court cases. However, these victories were not the be-all-end-all; each of the aforementioned groups continues to battle for equality and social ...view middle of the document...

She believes that these three areas set the stage for the homosexual garnering the label of “anti-citizen,” and argues that this continues to be the case, well into the twenty-first century.
Canaday divides the book into two parts. She calls the first “Nascent Policing,” and the second “Explicit Regulation.” Each part implicitly links to the other, as Canaday makes use of this two-part structure to show the interconnectedness of the bureaucratic elements she wishes to expose. She specifically argues that the development of the modern state ran parallel to the regulation of sexuality. She argues, “Homosexuality went from a total nonentity to a commonly understood category in the same years that the Federal government went from a fledgling to a full-service bureaucracy” (p. 258). During this time, the state had consistently attempted to control and punish homosexuals. She believes that by doing so, the state constructed an inherently homophobic society.
At its core, Canaday’s study aims to bring together the social, cultural, political, and legal aspects of American life in order to change the way people think about the past issues of the homosexual population. In her book, she claims her research will do just that. She believes that the fears brought about by McCarthyism skewed the way Americans viewed the issue, and that the emphasis on the “nuclear family” led to the continued demonization of the homosexual as an affront to the American dream.
According to Canaday, the United States fashioned a social tie between citizenship and homosexuality, which is evident through its policy history. These policies “established individuals who exhibited gender inversion or engaged in homoerotic behavior as either outside of or degraded within citizenship” (p. 13). Although there was surely homophobia in the years prior to World War 1, Canaday uses this time as a focal point for when systematic oppression of homosexuals began. The military was the first branch of Canaday’s “bureaucracy” that systematically began oppressing and weeding out homosexuals. Psychiatric examinations of potential soldiers during the war looked for “abnormalities,” which Canaday claims was a euphemism for homosexuality (p. 14). The most overt and intriguing policies occurred during World War 2, when the state denied soldiers suspected of homosexuality the advantages promised to them by the G.I. bill. So engrained were these policies into the daily operations of the military that during the early fifties, military policing of homosexuality began to heavily influence outside federal policies (like immigration).
Canaday is an obvious feminist, as her politics are clear from the very introduction to the book. Because of this, she focuses much on the systematic distinctions made between male homosexuals and female homosexuals. With regard to the military, she notes the different policies and emphasis placed on lesbians, arguing that these distinctions were sexist...

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