Behind Closet Doors: The Construction of a Homosexual Identity in 1950s United States
Mentor:Lynn Dumenil, Robert Glass Cleland Professor of American History, Occidental College
The nostalgic images of suburbia, the nuclear family, and patriotism define the American 1950’s “era of consensus.” This term describes the complacency and avoidance of class, race, gender, and sexuality struggles following World War II. The Red Scare initially targeted alleged Communists but broadened to include anyone who diverged from the status quo. Homosexuals were especially vulnerable. Even amidst this hostile environment, the decade saw the creation of some of the United States’ first homosexual publications: One in 1953 and The Mattachine Review in 1955. Most of the literature differentiates the two journals, identifying One as radical and The Mattachine Review as conservative. This study, one of the few content analyses on these publications, contests this claim by examining the construction of homosexuality in articles that depict homosexual persecution through legal or official means. Instead of the contrasting socio-political affiliations, I argue the publications work cooperatively to construct homosexuality as an identity rather than solely as a sexual act. I demonstrate the construction of a homosexual identity in the 1950s, a decade earlier than previous literature suggests. Both One and The Mattachine Review discussed the imperative to embrace ones’ homosexual identity in response to both queer-baiting and sex laws. Queer-baiting, where law officials actively targeted suspected homosexuals and charged them with uncommitted crimes, was a major factor in distinguishing one’s legal homosexual identity from their alleged homosexual acts. This radical notion of identity, articulated in these 1950s homosexual journals, became vital for the American gay rights movement that would explode on the scene after the 1969 Stonewall Riots.