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Not in This Family

Gays and the Meaning of Kinship in Postwar North America

Heather Murray

Publication Year: 2012

Many Americans hold fast to the notion that gay men and women, more often than not, have been ostracized from disapproving families. Not in This Family challenges this myth and shows how kinship ties have been an animating force in gay culture, politics, and consciousness throughout the latter half of the twentieth century.

Historian Heather Murray gives voice to gays and their parents through an extensive use of introspective writings, particularly personal correspondence and diaries, as well as through published memoirs, fiction, poetry, song lyrics, movies, and visual and print media. Starting in the late 1940s and 1950s, Not in This Family covers the entire postwar period, including the gay liberation and lesbian feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the establishment of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. Ending her story with an examination of contemporary coming-out rituals, Murray shows how the personal that was once private became political and, finally, public.

In exploring the intimate, reciprocal relationship of gay children and their parents, Not in This Family also chronicles larger cultural shifts in privacy, discretion and public revelation, and the very purpose of family relations. Murray shows that private bedrooms and consumer culture, social movements and psychological fashions, all had a part to play in transforming the modern family.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Politics and Culture in Modern America

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-xvii

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, poet Elsa Gidlow, then an elderly woman, met a number of younger lesbians who considered her a lesbian icon. Gidlow had grown up in Quebec but had settled in San Francisco in the 1920s, and she extolled the gay community she came upon there throughout the early part of the century. ‘‘Before every...

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1. Daughters and Sons for the Rest of Their Lives

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pp. 1-40

In the fall of 1945, after finishing his tour of duty in Hawaii, a twentyone- year-old William Billings wrote a long and momentous letter to his parents, in Arkansas City, Kansas, where he had grown up. Billings was contemplating coming home and going to college with funds from the G.I. Bill of Rights. But he needed to tell his parents something first. He began...

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2. Better Blatant Than Latent

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pp. 41-77

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, writer and peace activist Barbara Deming never explicitly told her mother, Katherine Deming, that she was gay. For a period of more than twenty years, they wrote each other loving and supportive letters, Katherine Deming from the family home in New York City, and her daughter from various places while living...

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3. What’s Wrong with the Boys Nowadays?

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pp. 78-107

The gay liberation movement marked a moment of hope that gay individuals would no longer just be faintly—or even pruriently— imagined figures in North American life. Insisting upon the recognition of a knowable gay self, liberation thinkers and writers sought to demystify gay sexuality and in turn urge a rethinking of ideas of personal...

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4. Out of the Closets, Out of the Kitchens

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pp. 108-135

Lesbian counselor Julie Lee was quite confident that most parents would not reject their gay children. To a teenager fretting about her parents’ response to her lesbianism in 1974, Lee wrote, ‘‘If your family rejects you because of something like that, all I can say is that THEY need psychotherapy, not you!’’ And, she noted, this therapy was...

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5. ‘‘Every Generation Has Its War’’

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pp. 136-178

When the AIDS activist group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) staged street-theater-oriented protests in the later 1980s, one of their iconographic Ronald Reagan posters asked the question, ‘‘What If Your Son Gets Sick?’’1 The question was deliberately provocative, of course, part of the ongoing needling about the president’s...

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Epilogue: Mom, Dad, I’m Gay

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pp. 179-195

By the 1980s and early 1990s, gays were starting to envision themselves as enduring, if contested, family members. Images proliferated of gays revealing their sexuality to their parents, bringing their partners home to meet their parents, and participating in family events. The desire for family integration appeared throughout gay advice literature and...


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pp. 197-266

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 267-279


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pp. 281-289

E-ISBN-13: 9780812207408
E-ISBN-10: 0812207408
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812222241
Print-ISBN-10: 0812222245

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Politics and Culture in Modern America