Cover image for The straight state : sexuality and citizenship in twentieth-century America
The straight state : sexuality and citizenship in twentieth-century America
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2009.
Physical Description:
xiv, 277 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
Politics and society in twentieth-century America
Immigration. "A new species of undesirable immigrant" : perverse aliens and the limits of the law, 1900-1924 -- Military. "We are merely concerned with the fact of sodomy" : managing sexual stigma in the World War I-era military, 1917-1933 -- Welfare. "Most fags are floaters" : the problem of "unattached persons" during the early New Deal, 1933-1935 -- Welfare. "With the ugly word written across it" : homo-hetero binarism, federal welfare policy, and the 1944 GI Bill -- Military. "Finding a home in the Army" : women's integration, homosexual tendencies, and the Cold War military, 1947-1959 -- Immigration. "Who is a homosexual?" : the consolidation of sexual identities in mid-twentieth-century immigration law, 1952-1983.


Material Type
Shelf Number
Book HQ75.16.U6 C36 2009 1

On Order



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.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Canaday (Princeton) contends that the emergence of state bureaucracy in the 20th-century US may be tracked through its developing definition and regulation of homosexuality. She selects three key areas to study: immigration, the military, and welfare. Within each, women and men identified as not conforming to emerging definitions of sexual activities and roles were used to identify the boundaries of citizenship. In fact, as the author found in her search through many archival and legal records, state power organized itself by classifying and excluding those who did not share in an ideal heterosexual model. Although she gives some attention to the first and last thirds of the century, the key years from the Great Depression and New Deal through the early Cold War prove crucial for Canaday's argument. While some scholars may debate the author's particular inferences from her evidence, this volume opens new ground in gender research. Extremely useful for research collections relating to gender and women's history, immigration, welfare, or the military, as well as broader US social and political history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students, faculty. C. K. Piehl Minnesota State University, Mankato