This article analyzes gender anxieties in the post-World War II McCarthy-era gay rights movement known as the "homophile movement" in the United States. Using survey data gathered by these pioneering gay rights organizations as well as letters written to ONE magazine (the first gay magazine in the U.S., 1953-1967), "Unacceptable Mannerisms" demonstrates that homophile movement leaders worried about the negative social impact of stereotypical iconic representations of effeminate male homosexuals while rank-and-file homophiles worried about specific threats to their livelihoods caused by the visibility of effeminate male homosexuals. The homophile movement thus boldly challenged prevailing conceptualizations about sexuality during the 1950s yet simultaneously reinforced the hegemonic masculinity characteristic of broader postwar American gender patterns.
Homophile anxieties regarding "swishy" behavior underscore a paradox about homosexual visibility in the 1950s. The homophile movement sought to create a positive collective homosexual image modeled on an idealized middle-class white-collar worker. At the same time, the movement discouraged individual visible markers of homosexual identity such as effeminacy. This paradox is partly explained by the increasingly middle-class character of gay identity after World War II; this trend reflects a broader shift toward middle-class identity in American society during these years.