Regulating Sex: The Politics of Intimacy and Identity

By Elizabeth Bernstein; Laurie Schaffner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13

From Outsider to Citizen

STEVEN SEIDMAN 1

Sex laws and policies are guided by a norm of the good sexual citizen. By criminalizing and disenfranchising certain sexual acts, identities, or intimate arrangements, the state helps to create a sexual hierarchy. Some acts or identities are tolerated but barely, others are not tolerated at all, and still other sexual expressions are deemed so intolerable that those who engage in them are scandalized as “bad sexual citizens”-immoral and dangerous to society. Bad sexual citizens become the targets of social control, which may include public stereotyping, harassment, violence, criminalization, and disenfranchisement. In the early decades of the twentieth century, women who had children out of wedlock, sexually active youths, adults who sexually desired youths, and individuals who engaged in interracial sex were often labeled bad sexual citizens.

The good sexual citizen was most definitely heterosexual. However, it was only after World War II that homosexuals became perhaps the personification of the bad sexual citizen. As they took on the role of a social and moral menace, a network of controls evolved that had the effect of creating the closet. And the closet clearly marked gays as outsiders-as moral, social, and political aliens.

As the closet became the defining reality for many gay Americans, a political movement took shape that challenged this condition. This movement was and still is divided between, roughly speaking, a “liberationist” and an “assimilationist” ideology and agenda.

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