The Birth of the Clone: The Emergence of Gay Masculinity in the United States, 1900-1980
Haverford College. Department of Sociology
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At the beginning of the twentieth century, the dominant paradigm of gay identity in the United States was the fairy, whose primary distinguishing feature was the adoption of culturally feminine characteristics and mannerisms. By the seventies, the fairy was a small minority in the gay community, which was dominated by “clones,” who expressed their sexuality through a butch masculinity. In this thesis, I characterize the mechanism of this transition, focusing on the impact of social control. To instill fairy identity among its members, the subculture needed to overcome the masculine socialization that gay individuals experienced in the family and the larger society. This required a stable set of institutions in which gays could act in an effeminate manner and new entrants could be educated to conform to a feminine gender identity and presentation. Beginning in the thirties, law enforcement agencies increased their repression of gay life, using effeminacy as a signifier of homosexuality. This undermined gay institutions’ capacity to instill and reinforce the subculture’s norms, so that entrants into the community after the thirties were more likely to retain the masculine gender categories into which they were socialized. These new entrants formed subgroups within the community that redefined sexual interest in men as consistent with masculinity. These groups expanded until masculinity became the dominant expression of gay sexuality.