Historicizing Heterosexualities in the United States

AHA Session 80
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 6
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Murray Hill East (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Rebecca L. Davis, University of Delaware
Michele Mitchell, New York University
Serena Mayeri, University of Pennsylvania
Sarah B. Rodriguez, Northwestern University
Renee Romano, Oberlin College
Marc Stein, San Francisco State University
Heather R. White, University of Puget Sound

Session Abstract

This roundtable brings together five of the contributors to the forthcoming anthology Heterosexual Histories (NYU Press, 2019), along with the book’s two editors, for a conversation about multiple, diverse, and intersectional configurations of heterosexuality in twentieth century U.S. history. Building on the groundbreaking work of public historian Jonathan Ned Katz, author of Gay American History and The Invention of Heterosexuality, the scholars on this roundtable all emphasize the importance and centrality of heterosexuality in twentieth-century U.S. history. At the same time, their work is committed to denaturalizing, destabilizing, and deconstructing heterosexuality as a biologically-determined phenomenon that has always existed, never changes, and is present in all cultures and periods. The roundtable, like the book, will also highlight the classed, gendered, and racialized dimensions of heterosexuality and the ways in which heterosexuality has been deployed in class, gender, and racial formations.

The roundtable’s moderators will be the editors of Heterosexual Histories: Rebecca Davis (University of Delaware) and Michele Mitchell (New York University). Sarah Rodriguez (Northwestern University) will introduce “Restoring ‘Virginal Condition’ and Reinstating the ‘Normal’: Episiotomy in 1920,” which examines pregnancy-related medical interventions that reflected and reinforced heterosexual norms by attempting to “restore” the capacity of a woman’s body to participate in privileged forms of sex and reproduction. Renee Romano (Oberlin College) will speak about “The Strange Career of Interracial Heterosexuality,” which considers what the experiences of interracial couples can tell us about the history of heterosexuality, what a focus on heterosexuality might reveal about the history of interracial relationships, and what the queerness of interracial heterosexuality could teach us about the history of sexuality. Serena Mayeri (University of Pennsylvania) will discuss “Race, Sexual Citizenship, and the Constitution,” which considers how unmarried African American mothers attempted to redefine sexual citizenship through constitutional litigation against family status discrimination in tort law, inheritance, welfare, and employment. Marc Stein (San Francisco State University) will introduce “Heterosexual Inversions: Satire, Parody, and Comedy in the 1950s and 1960s,” which explores a Playboy short story about a dystopian world in which homosexuals oppress heterosexuals, two gay parodies of Life magazine’s “Homosexuality in America,” and Paddy Chayefsky’s play The Latent Heterosexual. Heather White (University of Puget Sound) will speak about “How Heterosexuality Became Religious: Judeo-Christian Morality and the Remaking of Sex in Twentieth Century America,” which examines the history of linking heterosexuality with Judeo-Christian culture, which became distinctly evident in debates about federal and state “Defense of Marriage Acts” in the 1990s and 2000s.

See more of: AHA Sessions