The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America. Margot Canaday (2009).
Margot Canaday explores shifts in how homosexuality was viewed over time- what George Chauncey described in Gay New York as a shift from sex as an activity to an identity- in state policies within the expansion of the U.S. federal government in the postwar period (midcentury to 1980s). Canaday argues that there was a slow increase in policing of homosexuality by the federal government culminating in the postwar period as a process of state building and creation of a national identity. The creation of a national identity based in a heterosexual “traditional” family separated Americans from liberal Europeans, and from the communist bloc where gender hierarchies were destroyed- as explored in Homeward Bound by Elaine Tyler May as well as The Lavender Scare by David K Johnson.
This concept of national identity is not fully articulated by Canaday, as her focus is on the multitude of ways the United States government defined citizenship and sexuality. The Federal government during this period protected heterosexual individuals as citizens, but excluded homosexual individuals from full citizenship in a variety of ways. Identity as an American, and sexuality became integral to citizenship. Canaday breaks down the arms of government which worked to define citizenship and sexuality into three categories:
- Welfare System
Not only was citizenship determined by how one interacted with the government, but the definition of masculinity was also dependent on which facet of government being examined. The immigration system categorized individuals based on their exhibition of masculinity, and presumed ability to perform in a heteronormative way; providing for their family and contributing to society. Any failure to appear masculine enough was grounds to be denied entrance into the United States, because homosexuality would, in the mind of the government at the time, result in vice flowing into the country.
The military defined masculinity through behavior with other men, rather than an individual’s personal exhibition of masculinity. This resulted in an overall militarization of manliness that emphasized strength, power, and toughness. Indications that one was “feminine” or homosexual would bar them from serving in the military, or result in them being dishonorably discharged because the “degenerate” behavior threatened the security of the military and the nation.
Welfare (this included the GI Bill) defined masculinity through one’s status as provider and central role in the home, according to Canaday. The rhetoric of welfare mothers as a drain on society habits roots in this moment, as the state looked for ways to reify heterosexual families through emphasis on a male head of household who would provide for his family. A man who did not adhere to the nuclear family ideal could be denied benefits under the GI Bill. Performative masculinity was considered crucial to combating poverty during this period.
Canaday demonstrates the multi-layered and fluid definitions of citizenship. Federal regulation of homosexuality and the homo & heterosexual binary in policy formation created a category of “second-class” citizenship for homosexuals or anyone who did not fit into the ideal of the period. The concept of second-class citizenship was not new in American society, but was redefined to ensure that “new” threats to national identity were contained. Homosexuality was policed indirectly through the exclusion of sexually “degenerate” immigrants and other regulatory measures aimed at combating poverty, violence, and vice.