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Straights: Heterosexuality in Post-Closeted Culture James Joseph Dean

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1 Straights: Heterosexuality in Post-Closeted Culture James Joseph Dean
“Chapter 1: Thinking Straight: Gender, Race, and (Anti)homophobias”

2 Research Questions and Design
Reversing the focus on how lesbian women’s and gay men’s coming-out stories affect and change straight men and women and the larger American society, Dean asks, instead, how straight men’s and women’s attitudes and actions accommodate, resist, or paradoxically support gay equality yet remain homophobic in post-closeted contexts. That is, how do straights project and establish their straight identity status in everyday life in post-closeted contexts? And how do gender (masculinities and femininities) and race (blackness and whiteness) reshape and change the meaning of straight identities?

3 Defining Heterosexualities
Heterosexual identities need to be situated within the context of the rise of an out and visible lesbian, gay, and queer culture. The concept of a heterosexual identity aims to capture both one’s sense of self and the group that one identifies with on its basis. In its simplest form, a heterosexual identity is constructed by individuals taking on the attribution heterosexual or straight themselves. Analytically, heterosexualities are configurations of practice and discourse that refer to the identity category heterosexuals and generally, but not necessarily, align with sexual behaviors and desires orientated to the other—as opposed to the same—gender.

4 Defining Heterosexualities
However, an individual may claim a heterosexual identity but engage in same-sex behaviors and experience same-sex desires. The fluidity and situational character of sexualities mean that individual factors (e.g., a person-based definition of sexual desire), social contexts (e.g., college life, a prison term, employment in the porn industry), and historical events (e.g., second-wave feminism) shape and are shaped by heterosexualities This study of heterosexualities is less about sexual behaviors and desires and more about the identity practices or the words and deeds that straights use in social interactions and situations to project themselves as straight. For example, the traditional practice of wearing a wedding band, claiming a marital status as a husband or wife, and simply expressing sexual or romantic interest in the other gender are acts meant to indicate a straight status.

5 Key Sociological and Sexualities Studies Concepts
Straight identities are established through social norms that make up our society’s social structures, such as government bureaucracies, economic systems, and legal orders. These social structures, along with our social institutions, such as marriage, the family, schools and colleges, corporations, political parties, and the armed forces, create both individual and institutional privileges (unearned advantages, resources, and rights given without any effort on an individual’s part) that favor straight persons, relations, marriages, and families over nonstraight ones. This creates what is referred to as heteronormativity (the privileging of heterosexuality as normal, natural, and right over homosexuality) in daily life and social institutional settings. Living in a heteronormative society, heterosexual individuals are accorded heterosexual privilege. This privilege is often invisible. It is enacted by the view that heterosexuality is “normal,” social-psychologically healthy, and complex, as well as through entitlements to “first-class” citizenship. The institutional legitimation of heterosexual identities is the linchpin of its hierarchical dominance over homosexualities. For example, heterosexual families are automatically viewed as better, healthier, and more “normal” than lesbian and gay families.

6 Heterosexual identities
Heterosexual identity, though, varies in strength for individuals: some individuals realize that heterosexual is merely an ascriptive category that one falls into, while others have a strong investment in the identity  in their daily interactions. Paradoxically, individuals with normative identities (e.g., heterosexuals, whites, men) often experience the sense that they lack an identity since they serve as the standard by which others (e.g., nonheterosexuals, nonwhites, women) are measured and marked by their difference (Connell 1995; Perry 2002; Richardson 1996).

7 The Social Co-construction of Sexualities and Gender
Straight identities, like sexual identities in general, are always and already constructed in part through gender norms and identities. This is because gender is a routine, methodical, and recurring accomplishment of daily life, and it is central to being viewed as an intelligible human being (West and Zimmerman 1987; Glick and Fiske 1999).

8 The Social Co-construction of Sexualities and Gender
Gender norms and conventional displays construct and reinforce straight identity statuses, and heteronormativity affirms sex and gender binary conceptions of male/female, masculine/feminine, and man/woman as opposite but complementary pairings, although lesbians and gay men are increasingly embodying traditional gender norms and presentations while straights are taking on nontraditional gender conventions, complicating the use of gender displays as clear indicators of sexual identities. While a gendered social order enforces the construction of men’s and women’s gender identities as binary and supposedly “natural,” complementary opposites, heteronormativity establishes, sustains, and bolsters a gender order where men and women are meant only for each other. This ideological construction naturalizes straight sexual relations, reproduction, and identities as outside social norms and historical time.

9 Modern and Postmodern Forms of Power
In postmodern societies, however, power is neither simply group-based (e.g., heterosexuals over homosexuals) nor only the effect of macro-social structures (e.g., economics or the state) on a population. Although this form of modern juridical power, defined by the sociologist Max Weber as “the chance of a man or of a number of men to realize their own will in a communal action, even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action,” still operates in societies today, it fails to conceptualize the more refined, slippery, and invisible techniques through which power circulates as part of the micro-processes of identity formations.

10 Postmodern Power Following the French theorist Michel Foucault (1978), micro-power politics of social identities are viewed as constructed through norms, practices, discourses, and institutions that escape the machinations of any one group of people. Micro-power processes are normalizing and coextensive with social identity formation. Historicizing Foucault, though, is important, as the macro form of juridical power that structured homosexual life existed from the 1930s to 1960s.

11 Foucault’s thesis The effect of the repressive closet was not to eliminate homosexuals but to contain and overwhelmingly stigmatize their existence. It formed a homosexual self based on anxieties of exposure, shame, and self-loathing. Ironically, this repressive power of containment and stigmatization led to the development of gay social worlds that would grow into powerful social movements that “reversed” the discourse of their stigmatization into a politics and discourse of rights, recognition, and visibility. Symbolically, the Stonewall riots of 1969 signal the historical triumph of homosexuals as they reversed the discourse of stigma.

12 Foucault’s thesis This idea is shown by Foucault in the following often-quoted passage in his book The History of Sexuality, Volume One (1978, 101), “There is no question that the appearance in nineteenth-century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series of discourses on the species and subspecies of homosexuality, inversion, pederasty, and “psychic hermaphrodism” made possible a strong advance of social controls into this area of “perversity”; but it also made possible the formation of a “reverse” discourse: homosexuality began to speak in its own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or “naturality” be acknowledged, often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified.”

13 From Foucault’s Normalizing Power to Butler’s Performative Identities
This reverse discourse that explains the normalization of homosexuality does not mean unregulated freedom Normalizing power builds on the sociohistorical conditions it inherits. In a post-Stonewall context, this means the further entrenchment of the view that sexuality is an essential, core part of one’s self-identity. Sexual desire and identity are consolidated into the master categories of a binary divide: homosexuality and heterosexuality. Sexual desire is now seen as organizing not only one’s choice of a partner but a wide range of aspects unrelated to sexual desire, ranging from one’s personality and taste in cultural products like clothing styles and grooming habits to leisure activities and occupational pursuits Following Foucault, the philosopher Judith Butler (1990, 1992, 2004) argues that the notion of identity as the container of liberation is a ruse of normalizing power.

14 Butler’s Performative Identities
In Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Butler (1990) argues that identity performances are recurring and accomplished processes of daily life but are also deeply constructed by the effects of male domination and heteronormativity. Butler’s performative theory argues for seeing identities as the “stylized repetition of acts [that constitute] sustained social performances” and that come into being through the very acts of the performance (1990, 140-1).

15 Criticisms of Butler’s Theory
Some scholars contend that Butler’s performative theory underemphasizes the contextual and relational dimensions of identity performances. In her book Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo, Rhacel Parreñas (2011) analyzes the gender performances of Filipina transgender women hostesses to show that their performances as women require recognition by their Japanese male customers or other transgender men. Similarly sociologist Jane Ward (2010) argues that queer femmes do the gender labor of being “the girl” in their relationships with female to male (FtM) transmale partners and establish his masculine performance as legible through “forgetting” his girlhood past

16 Straight Identity and Queer Theory
This book examines how straight men and women talk about acts of gender and sexuality to establish their own identity performances as well as those of lesbians and gay men. Queer theorists have brought into analytical view the importance of shifting the study of sexuality “from explaining the modern homosexual to questions of the operation of the hetero/homosexual binary, from an exclusive preoccupation with homosexuality to a focus on heterosexuality as a social and political organizing principle, and from a politics of minority interest to a politics of knowledge and difference” (Seidman 1996, 9).

17 Queer Theory and Heterosexualities
Queer theory makes clear the importance of focusing on the social construction of heterosexualities as not simply behaviors but as a set of identity practices in relation to nonheterosexualities. Heterosexual identities are multiple and variable, and irreducible to the social system that enforces heterosexuality across society. Through solidarity and alliance with LGBTQ persons and issues, heterosexuals can challenge homophobia, refuse heterosexual privilege, and promote respect, recognition, and rights for LGBTQ identities and lives

18 The New Sociology of Heterosexualities
In White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture, Chrys Ingraham (1999) argues that weddings and marriages show that heterosexuality is a ritualized cultural practice that creates rules for behavior, privileging heterosexuals economically and culturally Similarly, Amy Best (2000), in Prom Night, shows how the prom is a high-status event encouraging youth to practice a ritual that fashions masculine and feminine selves through scripts of romance, dating, and public recognition of the heterosexual couple as the idealized form

19 Psychoanalytic Sociology on Heterosexualities
Psychoanalytic sociologists maintain that masculinity often acts as the bridge between gender practices defined as active and aggressive, and a heterosexuality that is by definition male-dominant and active (Chodorow 1998). The sociologist and psychoanalyst Nancy Chodorow argues that heterosexual men’s homophobia partly centers on “men not being men and women not being with men” (1998, 4).

20 Psychoanalytic Sociology on Heterosexualities
Psychoanalytic theories of the formation of girls’ identities in childhood also help to explain some of the persisting patterns sociologists document among straight women. Feminine selves, they argue, are generally less defensive, are more porous in their establishment of ego boundaries, and use merging with others to connect and create relationships (Chodorow 1978, 1999; Corbett 2009; Gilligan [1982] 1993). For example, these social-psychological patterns can be seen in straight women’s more emotionally elaborate and physically tactile displays of affection with female friends (Felmlee 1999).

21 Straight Identities in Post-Closeted Culture
Examining the changing status of heterosexuality in post-closeted contexts, sociologist Steven Seidman (2002) explores how young heterosexuals, born between 1970 and 1980, are contending with the increased visibility of gays in the 1990s. He argues that gay visibility is making young heterosexuals more self-conscious of their own heterosexualities. Social interaction with gay individuals, he finds, erodes the presumption of heterosexuality for them. The entrenchment of the heterosexual/homosexual definition as a central cultural binary in America implants homosexual suspicion and some straights now purposefully flag their straight identity. Seidman’s work suggests important themes, it does not examine how race and gender shape the meanings and enactments of straight identities. By focusing on young adults, he also does not capture a range of straight identities across age groups and life course situations.

22 Gay and Lesbian Identities and the Rise of a Post-Closeted Culture
Over the last third of the twentieth century and beginning decades of the twenty-first century, Americans have seen the decline of virulent stereotypes of lesbian and gay images and the rise of their visibility and more positive depictions in popular media forms. In All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America, the sociologist Suzanna Walters (2001) argues that the new gay visibility of the 1990s must be understood as situated within the context of capitalist commercialism and mainstream straight culture’s new interest in gay life. For her, TV programming represents the most illustrative case in the shift from invisibility to unprecedented visibility in 1990s popular culture.

23 Gay and Lesbian Identities and the Rise of a Post-Closeted Culture
In Beyond the Closet: The Social Transformation of Gay and Lesbian Life, Seidman argues that by the mid-1990s, many of the gays and lesbians he interviewed were no longer “making life-shaping decisions to avoid exposure or suspicion. They may still conceal their sexuality from some people or in some situations and they may still struggle with shame and fear,” (2002, 63) but this struggle does not define their lives, force them to go back into the closet, or create the need for a double life. Others find a visible rise in LGBTQ representations by late 70s and into the 80s and 90s. Sociologist Joshua Gamson (1998), in his book Freaks Talk Back, explains that TV talk shows allowed and continue to allow LGBTQ individuals to exercise a voice and degree of agency absent from other TV genres. He shows that talk shows exhibit, exploit, but nonetheless portray the rarely seen racial (nonwhite) and class (non–middle-class) diversities of the LGBTQ community.

24 Gay and Lesbian Identities and the Rise of a Post-Closeted Culture
Wayne Brekhus (2003), in Peacocks, Chameleons, Centaurs: Gay Suburbia and the Grammar of Social Identity, finds that many suburban gay men reject a core, primary gay identity, and instead view being gay as one of many identities. The phenomenon of gay suburbanites speaks to the larger trends of gays’ integration and normalization. In Straights, Dean asks: how do straight individuals respond to and negotiate these new post-closeted cultural dynamics and contexts? He documents a continuum to map a range of social identity practices through which straights enact their straight masculine and feminine identities. The continuum captures the multiplicity of practices and stances that straights use, from homophobic defensive ones to nonhomophobic and antihomophobic ones and documents the role race plays in one’s establishment of sexual-gender identity.

25 Bring in Gender: Straight Masculinities
Scholars argue that heterosexuality is central to the construction of dominant masculinities and the ability to claim power, status, and authority over others (Connell 1987; Kimmel 2005; Pascoe 2007). Raewyn Connell developed the concept of hegemonic masculinity to theorize the superordinate form of masculinity that all men must negotiate in enacting their gender practices (1987, 1995). In theorizing hegemonic masculinity, masculinity scholars (Carrigan, Connell, and Lee 2002; Whitehead and Barrett 2001) conceptualize masculinity as multiple and hierarchical. For instance, the masculine practices of straight men of color as well as straight working-class men are marginalized for their less valued racial and class statuses, respectively, but valued for their performances of gender and sexual normativity. Further, the subordination of women and the repudiation of practices associated with femininity continue to be central to conceptions of hegemonic masculinity (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005; Schippers 2007). Straight men similarly invoke homophobic practices to subordinate gay masculinities as effeminate (Hennen 2008).

26 Bringing in Gender: Straight Masculinities
The concept of hegemonic masculinity captures the structural relationship between heterosexuality as dominant and the accompanying homophobic practices that subordinate homosexuality. Debate persists on the relational links between practices of heterosexual masculinities and homophobia. The sociologist Michael Kimmel (2005, 2008) argues that the projection of masculine identity in general is based on homophobia: “homophobia, men’s fear of other men, is the animating condition of the dominant definition of [heterosexual] masculinity in America, [and] the reigning definition of masculinity is a defensive effort to prevent being emasculated” (2005, 39).

27 Straight Masculinities, Homophobias, and Hegemonic Masculinity
A problem with this conception of homophobia is that it connects masculinity to the social construction of heterosexuality so tightly that the two concepts collapse into one another, with masculinity serving as a proxy for heterosexuality. This theoretical conflation is understandable: in practice, many heterosexual men invoke this exact strategy in performing heterosexual masculinities. That is, straight men often aim to be conventionally, even exaggeratedly, masculine in their identity performances as a way to project a straight status. In their reformulation of hegemonic masculinity, Connell and Messerschmidt (2005) state that “the conceptualization of hegemonic masculinity should explicitly acknowledge the possibility of democratizing gender relations, of abolishing power differentials, not just of reproducing hierarchy.”14 Nonetheless, the concept has been used to study the structural relations of dominant and subordinate masculinities, not democratizing or inclusive ones (Schrock and Schwalbe 2009).

28 Bringing in (Anti)homophobias
Recent scholarship has started to explore the antihomophobic practices of high school boys (McCormack 2011; McCormack and Anderson 2010) and college men. For example, Eric Anderson (2005) finds that white college heterosexual male cheerleaders often become less homophobic when they befriend gay men on their teams. Straight masculinities, then, do not necessarily rely on homophobia for their establishment. That is, one can identify as straight without being homophobic. In following Arlene Stein’s (2005) argument for understanding homophobias as plural, where she documents that homophobias are culturally malleable and may target gender-normative gays, as opposed to gender-nonconforming ones, Dean suggests that we approach understanding antihomophobic practices as plural and constitutive in the establishment of some straight masculinities (and femininities). By antihomophobia, he means practices that aim to counter prejudice and discrimination against gays and lesbians as well as practices that may expose, and sometimes renounce, straight status and privilege.

29 Bringing in Gender: Straight Femininities
The concept of straight femininities has not been explicitly theorized, but in mapping the multiplicity of femininities, gender theorists have developed concepts to understand the sexual-gender practices of (straight) women. Emphasized femininity is Connell’s concept for practices of normative femininity that are compliant with hegemonic masculinity (1987). According to Connell, emphasized femininity entails “the display of sociability rather than technical competence, fragility in mating scenes, compliance with men’s desire for titillation and ego-stroking in office relationships, acceptance of marriage and childcare as a response to labor-market discrimination against women” (1987, 187). Emphasized feminine practices, however, do not exercise dominance over other femininities as much as they try to marginalize them (Schippers 2007).

30 Bringing in Race: Theorizing Blackness and Whiteness
Straight identity practices are always already constructed through race and a society’s historical racial formations (Omi and Winant 1994; Ferguson 2004; Moore 2011). Scholars who focus on black sexualities (Clatterburgh 1997; Collins [1990] 2000, 2004; hooks 2004; West 1993) argue that racial and racist discourses tend to construct blackness as exaggeratedly sexual while leaving whiteness unmarked and associated with sexual normativity (Ward 2008c). In other words, these discourses construct black heterosexualities as hypersexual, whereas white heterosexualities are marked as neither hypersexual nor abnormally asexual but rather as normal, ideal, and neutral.

31 Bringing in Gender: Straight Femininities
At the other end of the spectrum of non-normative femininity is what the cultural studies scholar Judith Halberstam (1998) calls female masculinity. Female masculinity is her term for the masculine practices of female bodies, sometimes lesbian, sometimes heterosexual, but always a masculinity practice without men and male bodies. Women often draw on masculine practices such as masculine body aesthetics, particularly in sports, or educational capital in school and work to gain social status, respect and recognition, illustrating the complicated relationship women have to the variety of masculinity practices in society.

32 Bringing in Religion Regarding the link between homophobic practices and black identities, blacks have been documented to be on average more disapproving of homosexuality than whites (Braumbaugh, Nock, and White 2008; Lewis 2003; Moore 2010a). Religion plays a role in this, as 85 percent of blacks define religion as very important in their lives, compared to 58 percent of whites (Pew 2008). However, blacks are more supportive than whites of civil rights for gays, (Lewis 2003; Yang 1999 ). This book’s findings simultaneously build upon and challenge these accounts; it analyzes the way race subtly and complexly shapes straight men’s and women’s reported homophobic and antihomophobic practices. Sociologist Bernadette Barton shows that white evangelical heterosexuals in Bible Belt states enact strong homophobic practices; here, whiteness, religion, and region become the key categories for understanding the salience of a closeted pattern of existence.

33 Discussion Questions Explain in your own words how modern forms of power work through groups or persons of authority. How do these groups or persons impose their will over you, whether at work, in school or in encounters with state agents such as police officers, DMV personnel, or IRS staff? Similarly, explain in your own words how normalizing postmodern power works through identity categories such as straight, lesbian, and gay. Do identities come packaged with a set of norms that an individual is supposed to meet? Who polices these norms on individuals? Judith Butler thinks of identities as the “stylized repetition of acts [that constitute] sustained social performances” and that come into being through the very acts of the performance (1990, ). That is, she views identity as performative or produced through a series of effects on human bodies, not as roles we perform. How does society (parents, peers, etc.) impose gender and sexual identities on us in daily life? Still, sexual-gender identities are situated in social contexts and social relations. How do other individuals confirm or not confirm one’s enactment of a straight masculinity or femininity? How do gay men and lesbian women as well as transmen and transwomen enact sexual-gender identities that are confirmed or not confirmed by other individuals and groups? What is the role of sexual and gender norms of power in the social construction of sexual-gender identities across the straight/LGBTQ social order? Define the role of hegemonic masculinity and its key aspects in your own words. Define the role of emphasized femininity and female masculinity and their key aspects in your own words. Explain the role of race (blackness and whiteness) in shaping and changing the meaning of straight masculinities and femininities, according to Dean. How do you agree, disagree or both agree and disagree with his assessment of racial categories as affecting straight identity performances? Finally, religion is often thought to be a barrier to tolerating and accepting homosexuality and gay and lesbian identities and rights. Explain the role of religion in attitudes of those who are anti-gay as well as those who are gay-friendly and supportive.


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