I am a sociologist who is interested in sexualities, gender, race, and inequalities. My forthcoming book, Straights: Heterosexuality in Post-Closeted Culture (NYU Press, 2014), explores how straight Americans project their heterosexuality in everyday life. Since the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the politics of sexual identity in America have drastically transformed. It’s almost old news that recent generations of Americans have grown up in a culture more accepting of out lesbians and gay men, seen the proliferation of LGBTQ media representation, and witnessed the attainment of a range of legal rights for same-sex couples. But the changes wrought by a so-called “post-closeted culture” have not just impacted the queer community—heterosexuals are also in the midst of a sea change in how their sexuality plays out in everyday life. In Straights, I argue that heterosexuals can neither assume the invisibility of gays and lesbians, nor count on the assumption that their own heterosexuality will go unchallenged. The presumption that we are all heterosexual, or that there is such a thing as ‘compulsory heterosexuality,’ I claim, has vanished.
Based on 60 in-depth interviews with a diverse group of straight men and women, Straights explores how straight Americans make sense of their sexual and gendered selves in this new landscape, particularly with an understanding of how race does and does not play a role in these conceptions. I provide a historical understanding of heterosexuality and how it was first established, then move on to examine the changing nature of masculinity and femininity and, most importantly, the emergence of a new kind of heterosexuality—notably, for men, the metrosexual, and for women, the emergence of a more fluid sexuality. The book also documents the way heterosexuals interact and form relationships with their LGBTQ family members, friends, acquaintances, and coworkers. Although homophobia persists among straight individuals, I show that being gay-friendly or against homophobic expressions is also increasingly common among straight Americans. A fascinating study, Straights provides an in-depth look at the changing nature of sexual expression in America.
I have also written a number of articles and book chapters on topics, such as lesbian, gay, and queer film, intersectionality and the politics of sexual identities, and the cultural politics of lesbian and gay social movements.
My new research investigates the changing sexual identity and community dynamics among straight and gay residents of the Castro district in San Francisco. As gay identities have become increasingly viewed as normal, straight individuals and couples have started to demonstrate this normalization through their residential patterns of renting and buying homes in the gay enclave of the Castro. This project builds on my past work and looks at the identity and community politics of straight and LGBTQ sexualities through the lens a changing urban gay enclave.
If you’d like to know more or have a question, feel free to e-mail me at james (dot) dean (at) sonoma (dot) edu.
Photograph: Alexandra Hallmark