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

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  247 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews

"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
Hardcover, 296 pages
Published June 1st 2009 by Princeton University Press (first published 2009)
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May 28, 2013 Sophia rated it it was amazing
This is a cleverly written book about the history of sexuality in America. I really enjoyed the author's tone and the was she handled many of the difficult issues that are still present today.
I get that it's part of the argument, but there are hardly any human beings with agency in this book. Bleh.
Nov 01, 2011 Ashley rated it liked it
In The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America Margot Canaday elegantly demonstrates the ways in which an expanding federal bureaucracy both shaped and reacted to the emergence of a homosexual-heterosexual binary. The emergence of this binary came to function as an important method of inclusion and exclusion from the benefits of citizenship. By creating the category of the homosexual, government policies also created the closet. Canaday examines both what the gover ...more
The Straight State is an immediately readable and interesting attempt to define the federal state throughout the twentieth century by looking at the intersection between citizenship and sexuality. Canaday lucidly and engagingly explores the ways in which the federal government attempted to define, shape, and restrict American citizenship on the basis of sexuality by examining three facets of citizenship--immigration, the military, and welfare--in a clever structure. The state, argues Canaday, wa ...more
Gaetano Venezia
Feb 25, 2017 Gaetano Venezia rated it it was amazing
An expert study of the federal regulation of homosexuality through immigration, military, and welfare policy. Charting the various strategies the state used to regulate citizenship from the turn of the century to midcentury, Canaday convincingly argues that the state "did not merely implicate but also *constituted* homosexuality in the construction of a stratified citizenry" (4). Thus, this study is not "a history of federal interest in what homosexuality is at any given moment, but rather a his ...more
Dec 31, 2016 Hanna rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, college
Don't pick this up unless you have a highlighter in hand and a lot of time. Be warned.
Mar 03, 2014 Katie rated it it was ok
Canaday's main argument here is that the development of the massive bureaucracy that we now know as the U.S. nation-state developed at the same time the idea of "the homosexual" developed and that these entities were mutually reinforcing. In other words, as the idea of homosexuality came to be seen as a fixed identity, the state developed more and more explicit ways of policing it. In turn, this bureaucratic/legal regulation of sexuality cemented the idea of the homo/hetero binary, an idea we're ...more
Sep 06, 2013 Kristi rated it it was ok
Canaday argues that changing definitions of homosexuality emerged with the systematic bureaucracy of the federal government. According to Canaday, late nineteenth century understanding of homosexuality as the possession of opposite gender qualities shifted toward the 20th century identification with sexual acts. The author looks closely at federal enforcement of sexual "normalcy" in the realms of welfare, the military, and immigration, with particular attention to how men and women were penalize ...more
Nov 17, 2013 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: school
Uniquely organized around two time periods (1900-1940 and 1940-1960) and three areas (immigration, the military, and welfare), Courtenay's first and award winning book draws from court-martials, records from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and congressional and court records to demonstrate how the state defined and attempted to control homosexuality in twentieth century America. While it is commonly argued that homosexuality became more "visible" during and following WWII and targete ...more
Jun 22, 2014 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Interesting book about the ways that the development of the American state and the defining of citizenship and homosexuality are linked in the twentieth-century. Canaday uses immigration policy, the military, and welfare to illustrate her point. Interesting conclusion that some states have been much more inclusive with homosexuals than the federal government, unlike during the Civil Rights Movement (race).
Andrew Shaffer
Jul 27, 2015 Andrew Shaffer rated it it was amazing
Hands down one of the most compelling and moving queer history books I've ever read. The premise may sound rather dull (the ways federal bureaucracies shaped homosexuality and citizenship in opposition to each other throughout the 20th century) but Canaday's treatment really brings these subjects to life.

Resist the temptation to skip to the conclusion. It works so much better when it's read in the proper order, and you can fully appreciate the gravity of Canaday's closing words.
Sarah Jeanne Lombardo
Oct 15, 2011 Sarah Jeanne Lombardo rated it really liked it
Shelves: for-school
Remarkably engaging, considering the topic is the consolidation of bureaucratic forces to constrict rights and agency for queer people in, and trying to get in, the US. Some chapters could carry a trigger warning, and much of it is infuriating--but in a highly motivating kinda way. A fine history book, and great for folks interested in how privilege is as institutionalized as oppression.
May 27, 2013 Hunter rated it liked it
Shelves: cerebral, history, sex
Quite good, and her point is well taken on the need to attend to the welfare and other nonmilitary state in histories, especially histories of social groups. I appreciated that she gave snapshot pictures of the personalities of the (mostly men) who she wrote about. Meticulously cited. A bit dry for a popular book but very well-written for an academic one.
Sep 28, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Who would have thought that it was the entity of the state that created and has defined the concept of a homosexual identity?
Dense reading revealing ineffable, discriminatory acts of the U.S. government trying to exclude everyone who is "different" after having created its own catgories ...
Todd Stansbury
May 08, 2014 Todd Stansbury rated it liked it
Not a bad book, but a little dry.
Nov 07, 2015 Sue rated it really liked it
Will assign for class.
Jan 22, 2011 Laura rated it really liked it
Very interesting read, especially the later chapter on the extensive lesbian witch-hunts in the Cold War-era military.
- Mary Anne Case
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