Straights: Heterosexuality in Post-Closeted Culture

Straights: Heterosexuality in Post-Closeted Culture

Straights: Heterosexuality in Post-Closeted Culture

Straights: Heterosexuality in Post-Closeted Culture


Since the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the politics of sexual identity in America have drastically transformed. It's almost old news that recent generations of Americans have grown up in a culture more accepting of out lesbians and gay men, seen the proliferation of LGBTQ media representation, and witnessed the attainment of a range of legal rights for same-sex couples. But the changes wrought by a so-called "post-closeted culture" have not just affected the queer community--heterosexuals are also in the midst of a sea change in how their sexuality plays out in everyday life. In Straights, James Joseph Dean argues that heterosexuals can neither assume the invisibility of gays and lesbians, nor count on the assumption that their own heterosexuality will go unchallenged. The presumption that we are all heterosexual, or that there is such a thing as 'compulsory heterosexuality,' he claims, has vanished.

Based on 60 in-depth interviews with a diverse group of straight men and women, Straights explores how straight Americans make sense of their sexual and gendered selves in this new landscape, particularly with an understanding of how race does and does not play a role in these conceptions. Dean provides a historical understanding of heterosexuality and how it was first established, then moves on to examine the changing nature of masculinity and femininity and, most importantly, the emergence of a new kind of heterosexuality--notably, for men, the metrosexual, and for women, the emergence of a more fluid sexuality. The book also documents the way heterosexuals interact and form relationships with their LGBTQ family members, friends, acquaintances, and coworkers. Although homophobia persists among straight individuals, Dean shows that being gay-friendly or against homophobic expressions is also increasingly common among straight Americans. A fascinating study, Straights provides an in-depth look at the changing nature of sexual expression in America.


My white straight younger brother, Gene, graduated from college and started living with a black gay male friend after graduation. His friend was dark-skinned with dreadlocks, and had a jovial but conventionally masculine demeanor that most people, including my mother, took to be indicative of a straight identity. However, one day when I was on the phone with my mother, she expressed her surprise after Gene informed her that his roommate was gay. She had never before questioned his roommate’s sexuality and assumed he was straight upon meeting him. I think the discovery that my straight brother was living with a gay roommate also made her worry—was her only other son “turning” gay? I think that my mother, like a lot of people, was surprised to learn that a masculine black male was gay; equally surprising was that he was living with a straight male.

This book is about straight individuals like my brother and mother. It is about how straight individuals like my brother let others know they’re straight even though they might have close gay friends. And it is about how race and gender shape and change the meaning of being straight (and nonstraight) for black and white men and women today.

Of course, not every straight guy would be willing to live with an openly gay male. And many straight men and women are still homophobic. America today, however, is not the America of 1980 (the year my brother was born). Between then and now, significant changes have occurred in the status of gay and lesbian lives, from the increasing enfranchisement of gay and lesbian legal rights on local, state . . .

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