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The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America) [Kindle Edition]

Margot Canaday
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The Straight State is the most expansive study of the federal regulation of homosexuality yet written. Unearthing startling new evidence from the National Archives, Margot Canaday shows how the state systematically came to penalize homosexuality, giving rise to a regime of second-class citizenship that sexual minorities still live under today.

Canaday looks at three key arenas of government control--immigration, the military, and welfare--and demonstrates how federal enforcement of sexual norms emerged with the rise of the modern bureaucratic state. She begins at the turn of the twentieth century when the state first stumbled upon evidence of sex and gender nonconformity, revealing how homosexuality was policed indirectly through the exclusion of sexually "degenerate" immigrants and other regulatory measures aimed at combating poverty, violence, and vice. Canaday argues that the state's gradual awareness of homosexuality intensified during the later New Deal and through the postwar period as policies were enacted that explicitly used homosexuality to define who could enter the country, serve in the military, and collect state benefits. Midcentury repression was not a sudden response to newly visible gay subcultures, Canaday demonstrates, but the culmination of a much longer and slower process of state-building during which the state came to know and to care about homosexuality across many decades.

Social, political, and legal history at their most compelling, The Straight State explores how regulation transformed the regulated: in drawing boundaries around national citizenship, the state helped to define the very meaning of homosexuality in America.



Editorial Reviews

Review

Winner of the 2012 Biennial Book Award, Order of the Coif
Winner of the 2011 John Boswell Prize, Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History
Winner of the 2010 Ellis W. Hawley Prize, Organization of American Historians
Winner of the 2010 Lambda Literary Award, LGBT Studies by the Lambda Literary Foundation
Co-Winner of the 2010 Gladys M. Kammerer Award, American Political Science Association
Winner of the 2010 Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize, American Studies Association
Winner of the 2010 Cromwell Book Prize, American Society for Legal History

"It is not really news that inhabitants of the United States are governed by what historian Margot Canaday calls, in the title of her excellent book, a 'straight state.' For some time now, scholars of sexuality (following in the footsteps of those who have studied and challenged the race and gender hierarchies embedded in state policies and actions) have professed the analytical goal of what historian Lisa Duggan, writing in 1994, called 'queering the state.' These scholars have argued that the supposed naturalness of the heterosexual couple, and the unnaturalness of alternatives, is presumed and reinforced in the ordinary workings of government. Canaday's substantial contribution is to trace, in gripping and at times horrifying detail, exactly how the United States came to operate in this fashion over the course of much of the twentieth century. The Straight State provides a compelling history of the designation of 'the homosexual as the anticitizen.' . . . The Straight State is a captivating, engagingly written work of social, political, legal and sexual history, and the fruit of an extraordinary attention to archival documents."--Steven Epstein, Nation

"[Canaday] succeeds in . . . contributing brilliantly both to understandings of the relationship between state practices and the construction of identity and to the story of the rise of the modern bureaucratic state as a sexual state. . . . [This] book . . . presents a fascinating reframing of a familiar story and opens substantial new space for related research."--Julie Novkov, Perspectives on Politics

"[The Straight State] is a pathbreaking, riveting historical study. . . . [Canaday's] brilliant book is revelatory."--David A. J. Richards, Law and History Review

"Princeton Professor Margot Canaday has presented us with a superb and groundbreaking analysis of the role of federal institutions in shaping the LGBT identity over the course of the 20th Century. . . . Professor Canaday's work satisfies in a way all too rarely encountered in contemporary historical writing. The Straight State opens our eyes to the role of evolving federal policies in immigration, welfare, and the military in defining homosexuality and the gay persona. . . . The Straight State is indispensable to the student of modern queer history."--Toby Grace, Out in Jersey

"Canaday contends that the emergence of state bureaucracy in the 20th-century US may be tracked through its developing definition and regulation of homosexuality. . . . While some scholars may debate the author's particular inferences from her evidence, this volume opens new ground in gender research."--Choice

"The Straight State makes three outstanding contributions: it delineates the state as a whole fresh category in the formation of gay identities; elite reform becomes more important than bottom up revolution; while she moves gay history, convincingly, right into the mainstream of historical inquiry. Canaday has, therefore, produced an extremely important book."--Kevin White, Journal of Social History

"Canaday offer[s] a much more complete record than has previously appeared in print of the law of gay-straight discrimination and its meaning in people's lives."--Felicia Kornbluh, Law & Social Inquiry

"[An] absorbing account of federal policies, [this study] makes an important intervention by showing why historians of sexuality need to pay more attention to questions of citizenship and the practices of the administrative state."--George Chauncey, American Historical Review

"[This] book contributes to an ongoing body of lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender theoretical, historical, and social research in fascinating new ways, revealing the extent to which normative critiques continue to inform queer theory and structure queer lives."--Jaime Cantrell, Feminist Formations

Review

It is not really news that inhabitants of the United States are governed by what historian Margot Canaday calls, in the title of her excellent book, a 'straight state.' For some time now, scholars of sexuality (following in the footsteps of those who have studied and challenged the race and gender hierarchies embedded in state policies and actions) have professed the analytical goal of what historian Lisa Duggan, writing in 1994, called 'queering the state.' These scholars have argued that the supposed naturalness of the heterosexual couple, and the unnaturalness of alternatives, is presumed and reinforced in the ordinary workings of government. Canaday's substantial contribution is to trace, in gripping and at times horrifying detail, exactly how the United States came to operate in this fashion over the course of much of the twentieth century. The Straight State provides a compelling history of the designation of 'the homosexual as the anticitizen.' . . . The Straight State is a captivating, engagingly written work of social, political, legal and sexual history, and the fruit of an extraordinary attention to archival documents. (Steven Epstein Nation )

[Canaday] succeeds in . . . contributing brilliantly both to understandings of the relationship between state practices and the construction of identity and to the story of the rise of the modern bureaucratic state as a sexual state. . . . [This] book . . . presents a fascinating reframing of a familiar story and opens substantial new space for related research. (Julie Novkov Perspectives on Politics )

[The Straight State] is a pathbreaking, riveting historical study. . . . [Canaday's] brilliant book is revelatory. (David A. J. Richards Law and History Review )

Princeton Professor Margot Canaday has presented us with a superb and groundbreaking analysis of the role of federal institutions in shaping the LGBT identity over the course of the 20th Century. . . . Professor Canaday's work satisfies in a way all too rarely encountered in contemporary historical writing. The Straight State opens our eyes to the role of evolving federal policies in immigration, welfare, and the military in defining homosexuality and the gay persona. . . . The Straight State is indispensable to the student of modern queer history. (Toby Grace Out in Jersey )

Canaday contends that the emergence of state bureaucracy in the 20th-century US may be tracked through its developing definition and regulation of homosexuality. . . . While some scholars may debate the author's particular inferences from her evidence, this volume opens new ground in gender research. (Choice )

The Straight State makes three outstanding contributions: it delineates the state as a whole fresh category in the formation of gay identities; elite reform becomes more important than bottom up revolution; while she moves gay history, convincingly, right into the mainstream of historical inquiry. Canaday has, therefore, produced an extremely important book. (Kevin White Journal of Social History )

Canaday offer[s] a much more complete record than has previously appeared in print of the law of gay-straight discrimination and its meaning in people's lives. (Felicia Kornbluh Law & Social Inquiry )

[An] absorbing account of federal policies, [this study] makes an important intervention by showing why historians of sexuality need to pay more attention to questions of citizenship and the practices of the administrative state. (George Chauncey American Historical Review )

[This] book contributes to an ongoing body of lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender theoretical, historical, and social research in fascinating new ways, revealing the extent to which normative critiques continue to inform queer theory and structure queer lives. (Jaime Cantrell Feminist Formations )

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Though I've never been much of an activist, I consider myself fairly well informed about the challenges faced by gay and lesbian individuals in dealing with federal laws and bureaucracies that have long chosen to ignore us, if not directly put obstacles in our path to equal rights under the law. I believed most of the latter policies were enacted since World War II, and had no idea - until I read this book - that such blatant discrimination was a part of federal policies since the beginning of the 20th Century, at least as regards homosexual males (Lesbians were not a priority, it seems, until around World War II.)

Ms Canaday, an assistant professor of history at Princeton, provides an exceptionally detailed and complete study of federal policies dealing with homosexuality, focusing on three areas: immigration, the military and social benefit programs. The information is provided in a clearly cohesive and logical order, despite the fact that the laws and policies she discusses were neither. The book contains copious footnotes, not just cites but detailed explanations of items mentioned in the main text, making the book accessible to the casual reader as well as for scholarly research. It is shocking to read about some of the longstanding policies of screening immigrants for "homosexual tendencies," and very interesting to read how early attitudes toward gays and lesbians in the military have evolved in the latter half of the century, eventually giving way to the faulted "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy we live with today. The inclusion of social programs in the analysis is important, as the entitlement to such programs was frequently used to justify the exclusion of homosexuals from the military or immigration.

An impressive, important work, valuable to anyone who wants a better understanding about where our fight for equal rights has been, in order to better plot a course from here. Five scholarly stars out of five.

- Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
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12 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Important but flawed account August 7, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Distilling an impressive amount of archival research, this book traces the gradual refinement (if that is the appropriate term) of antihomosexual policies on the part of the US federal government over the course of the twentieth century. Three areas are addressed: immigration, the military, and welfare. Not discussed are the baneful effects of state and local governments, as seen in such areas as entrapment and compulsory treatment of perceived mental disorders. In addition, the author offers only a brief discussion of the McCarthyite persecution of federal employees of the 1950s, holding that that has been covered in David K. Johnson's book.

Now in my seventies, I remember the horrendously homophobic atmosphere of mid-century America all too well. To be sure,"the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church"; that is, many of us became activists because we wanted to bring an end to these practices. That said, it is mistaken to suggest, as Canaday does, that the homophobic climate of the era was unique to the US. To be sure, some European countries, such as France and Italy, benefiting from the Code Napoleon, did better. But the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China were worse. Probably, the atmosphere that we endured was a special characteristic of the English-speaking peoples. While England and Wales decriminalized in 1967, over forty Commonwealth countries are still saddled with antisodomy legislation introduced by British colonialism. In countries like Jamaica and Uganda this heritage is accompanied by truly frightening popular outbreaks of bigotry and repression.

Another problem is the residue of the special creationism of the Social Construction trend of the 1990s. "The state . . .
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing February 10, 2012
By K_Love
Format:Paperback
This book is fascinating. With a ground-breaking argument about government control of sexuality, pristine organization, and a plethora of interesting sources, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of sexuality in America.
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