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>> 247 6 Conclusion Straights, Post-Closeted Culture, and the Continuum of Identity Practices Since the Stonewall riots of 1969, significant changes have occurred in the lives of gay and lesbian Americans—from their increasing local, state, and federal enfranchisement to their unprecedented normalization in popular culture. But, just as emphatically, patterns of normative heterosexuality have changed significantly over the last four decades. Although straight identities and practices are still normative and enforced in seemingly every institution, from the family and mass media to religion and the government, the increase in the visibility and social incorporation of gays and lesbians, no matter how uneven and unequal, underscores the decline of the centrality of the closet in American life. In post-closeted contexts, straights can neither assume the invisibility of gays and lesbians nor count on others to always assume their heterosexuality . Straights also cannot assume that other straight individuals are homophobic or intolerant of gays and lesbians. And, even if a straight person is intolerant, there is less tolerance for public displays of homophobia. In America today, in a way scarcely imaginable just two decades ago, tolerance for gay and lesbian Americans is conditioned by the formation of a straight culture that appeals to its antihomophobia to claim an enlightened status. I argue that a post-closeted dynamic, which is marked by the pervasive presence of openly gay and lesbian individuals and a pattern of cultural 248 > 249 If everyday gay existence is increasingly “beyond the closet,” then straights are faced with a new set of social identity dynamics. Gay visibility and integration mitigate the power of the discourse of compulsory heterosexuality, making straight identity practices less taken for granted and now more conscious, deliberate, and purposeful. Furthermore , straights encounter a society that increasingly disapproves of public homophobia and homosexual intolerance. Therefore, in place of overt acts of homophobic prejudice, straight men and women employ normative gender practices to indicate their heterosexuality. Gender identity practices, then, have taken on a renewed importance in sexual identity practices and politics. Since gender identity practices are the grid for a heterosexual/homosexual sign system that is overlaid on them, masculine/feminine practices have become a key site and structure for the performance of sexual identity and straight and gay identity politics. Complicating the matter, though, is that straights and gays now often look and act alike. In other words, gay integration is in part conditioned by gay men and lesbians who embody conventional, even normative, gender self-presentations. While straights attempt to use gender-normative practices to recuperate straight privilege, gender-conventional gay men and lesbians undercut this strategy. As a result, if gender-normative practices fail to project a clear heterosexual identity, then resorting to normative heterosexual boundary practices, which put social distance between oneself as straight and gay individuals, signifiers, and spaces, makes sociological sense in post-closeted contexts. Normative heterosexual boundary practices are subtle and include soft homophobic forms of informal exclusion, nonrecognition, and disrespect. On the other hand, tolerant attitudes and gay-affirmative values encourage the blurring of heterosexual/homosexual identity practices, a lessening of boundaries of social distance, efforts to not claim heterosexual privilege, and general attitudes that condemn practices of exclusion and disrespect. Polling data show that young Americans are increasingly supportive of gay and lesbian relationships at higher rates than older Americans. For example, in 2012, 65 percent of young Americans, ages eighteen to thirty-four, stated that lesbian and gay relationships were morally acceptable, while 55 percent of Americans ages thirty-five to fifty-four found them so, and for those fifty-five and older, support dropped 250 > 251 being served in bars and restaurants and were fired from federal government jobs, and Hollywood films were forbidden to portray homosexual characters or even mention their existence (Chauncey 2004, 5–22; D’Emilio 1983, 2002). Historians, legal scholars, and sociologists have documented the dismantling of the various parts of the closet and its repressive practices of oppression over the course of the thirty-year period from the 1960s to the 1990s (Adam 1995; Chauncey 2004, 2008; D’Emilio 2002; Epstein 1999; Eskridge 1999; Gamson 1998; Seidman 2002; Walters 2001; Weeks 2007; Yoshino 2006). Following their lead, I have claimed that a post-closeted culture has arisen under conditions of unprecedented popular cultural visibility and social and legal enfranchisement in the mid-1990s and the first decade of the twenty-first century. From the rise of Ellen, Will & Grace, and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to widely acclaimed...


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