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Homophobia: “The Straight State” Book by M. Canady Essay

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Updated: Jun 14th, 2022

The variety of intrapersonal relationships presupposes diverse forms of organizing behaviour and communication between individuals. Over the course of history, it has been customary to view heterosexuality as the primary and the only correct means of constructing sexual behavior. However, human nature is more complicated, with other patterns of romantic connections being prevalent. Homosexuality is a sexual orientation that has been scorned across the cultures, yet it constitutes an essential proportion of human relationships.

The modern age bore witness to the change of mainstream views on homosexuality, with many countries accepting it as a viable form of organizing families. However, many societies still harbor negative attitudes toward same-sex relationships. In her book “The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America”, Margot Canady raises the question of homophobia in the United States (1). Diversity is one of the core American values, yet for a country that prides itself on the synergy of different groups, behaviors, and lifestyles, Americans exhibit much disdain for homosexual relationships. Not only is it showing the lack of respect for individual expression of their sexuality, but it may also be characterized as an encroachment on human rights.

The central argument of Canaday’s writing is that homophobia is rooted in the development of the American state over the course of the 20th century. The evidence for her explanation is based on correspondence as well as governmental and court archives. She argues that the military changes and the development of policies on welfare solidified the status of homosexuals as second-class citizens. However, while providing evidence, Canaday puts too much emphasis on homosexuality overstating its impact on the formation of the legal system.

The beginning of the 20th century was the time of growing awareness of sexual nonconformity. Canaday argues that world wars made millions of men serve with each other, bringing the issue of same-sex fraternization under the commanding’s attention (57). Initially labeled as sexual perversion, homosexuality was described as an expression of psychopathic deviation. Military justice set a precedent for managing homoerotic behavior by court-martialing soldiers suspected of acts of sodomy, which carried over to the civil law.

Numerous cases of sodomy concurred with sexual violence between the comrades. Canaday posits a controversial idea that “these cases are a window less into sexual culture than into sexual regulation” (84). She proceeds to frame the prosecution of homoerotic sexual acts as officers’ exercise in state violence. This argumentation is not convincing as it implies that military command was more concerned with regulating the sexual life of military personnel rather than eliminating perversion and psychopathy. A more precise explanation would attribute violence to personal disorders of soldiers. It would also explain why officers showed such severity of judgment – they wanted to punish the homosexuals for perverting their subordinates but not because they wanted to control their sexuality.

Another evidence points to the years of the Great Depression and the extremes that people would go to trying to survive. Canaday appears to believe that severe economic conditions forced men to engage in homosexual practices for food and money (100). She argues that federal agencies reacted to same-sex offenses by adjusting the welfare system to mitigate the conditions that force people into perversion. However, it should also be noted that sodomy was just one expression of sexual crimes. It would be more appropriate to view the state’s policies as attempts to eradicate the overall use of sexual services for survival rather than homosexuality.

Gi Bill was a milestone in implementing social welfare policies for war veterans, but it excluded personnel that was discharged because of homosexual acts. Once again, Canaday explicitly views this as an expression of homophobic sentiment: “homosexual exclusion was deliberate, built into the very foundation of the welfare state” (140). Such reasoning would indicate that the government neglected to provide benefits to homosexual families via Gi Bill based on its loyalty to heterosexuality. A more plausible explanation would be that the decision to stimulate straight families was motivated by their ability to procreate, which cannot be handled by same-sex partners.

Therefore, governmental policies discouraging homosexual behavior appear to be based on rationality and calculations, which favor heterosexuality for the development of society. Canaday is right in pointing out the inferior status of gays and lesbians within the civil framework, but she oversimplifies the issue. From her perspective, homophobia was purposefully instituted in military justice, afterwards, it carried over to civil law and then became codified in the welfare system.

More likely, the obstacles that homosexual couples face today are the result of consistent steps of promoting heterosexual families as primary drivers of societal growth. Negativity to homosexuals itself is not woven into the legal system and antihomosexual sentiments are not supported by the government. Nevertheless, the lesser role of homophobia in articulating state policies does not alleviate the position of homosexual individuals. Same-sex couples experience pressure from both heterosexuals and the state that accentuates their second-class citizenship. Regardless of the origin of sexual intolerance, it should be overcome to create a just society with freedom of sexual expression.

Work Cited

Canaday, Margot. The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton University Press, 2009.

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