Academic Articles and Book Chapters
"What Happened to the Functional Family?: Defining and Defending Alternative Households Before and Beyond Same-Sex Marriage," in The Intimate State: Gender, Sexuality, and Governance in Modern U.S. History, edited by Margot Canaday, Nancy Cott, and Robert Self, forthcoming
In 1985 Roseann Baer sued the Town of Brookhaven, Long Island, after she was charged with violating a local zoning ordinance restricting the number of unrelated people who could live together in a single-family residential zone. At the time, Baer was living with her three sons, and renting out two rooms to four women with psychiatric disabilities, for whom she cooked and cared. The town ordinance was initially upheld, but, in 1989, the New York State Court of Appeals struck it down, observing that the town could not restrict the number of people in a “functionally-equivalent family,” simply because they were unrelated by blood, marriage, or adoption. The Baer case, and the language of the “functionally equivalent family,” was cited as precedent in the ACLU’s argument for another New York appellate a few months later in 1989, in the case of Braschi v. Stahl and Associates--the first time a state court recognized a gay couple as a family. But while the Braschi case has been recognized as a crucial turning point in the legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships, Baer v. Town of Brookhaven and the language of the “functional family” has largely been forgotten. This essay revisits the case of Baer v. Town of Brookhaven and related zoning cases from the 1980s in order to reconsider the social and legal history of “non-traditional” families since the 1970s, and how this history connects with and diverges from better-known battles around same-sex marriage.
Historical and literary scholarship dating back to the 1960s has demonstrated how conceptions and practices of domesticity have structured understandings of gender, race, and class, in connection to marriage, reproduction, and family as well as labor, political participation, social reform, and citizenship. Sexual practices, identities, and conceptualizations, however, have been largely overlooked. This chapter examines how domesticity has structured sexual ideals and norms and controlled sexual practices, and, at the same time, how domestic spaces have provided room for transgression of those norms and ideals, to create alternative or queer domesticities. Marital domesticity has been persistently prioritized, yet in practice, home has operated as frequently as a stage for sexual normalization as subversion.
"Clinical Activism in Community-based Practice: The Case of LGBT Affirmative Care at the Eromin Center, Philadelphia, 1973–1984," with David S. Byers and Amelia Smith, American Psychologist, 74(8) (2019), 868–881.
The Eromin Center was founded in Philadelphia in 1973, aiming to provide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) affirmative mental health treatment 6 months before the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–II; American Psychiatric Association, 1968). This study of archival records and oral histories with Eromin Center staff and volunteers reveals an iterative and improvisational approach to community-based affirmative care. Rather than waiting for national leadership or institutional change, they aimed to respond directly to otherwise unrecognized needs of LGBT people through psychotherapy and social services—what we are calling clinical activism. Without training or guidance from research, they tended to base their work on their own experiences, an approach with inherent limitations in particular because most of the staff were White, cisgender, and identified as gay and lesbian. They attempted to address these limitations until Eromin’s closing in 1984. Largely overshadowed by the broader policy changes in mental health care, Eromin’s work provides a crucial case study in community-based clinical activism and affirmative practice with continuing salience today.
AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism, presented at the Museum of the City of New York from May to October 2017, aimed to complement and complicate popular narratives about the history of HIV/AIDS, by examining how HIV/AIDS played out in the everyday lives of diverse communities in New York. The exhibition uniquely placed works of art alongside documentary photography, film, and archival materials to ask visitors to reconsider what counts as activism, and to reconsider home as a crucial political space. This article reflects on the ways the curator sought to activate the domestic archive—the everyday ephemera and affects of illness, caretaking, and family life—and how future exhibitions and collecting may build on this model.
This chapter explores how consumerism has shaped LGBT life and politics from the early twentieth century to the present. It traces how acts, objects, and spaces of queer consumption played a central role in consolidating LGBT identities and communities, and provoked many of the earliest legal battles for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights. At the same time, it argues, consumerism has frequently functioned to reify gender, racial, and class divides among LGBT people, posing particular challenges for political activism and collective struggle for free expression and acceptance. The chapter is organized around five central themes in the historiography on LGBT consumerism: (1) identification; (2) performance; (3) space-making; (4) contestation; and (5) mainstreaming. These thematic sections draw together a wide range of historical research, as well as diverse actors, objects, and spaces, to point to common social and political meanings of consumerism over time, as well as changes in practices and opportunities for consumption among LGBT people and communities.
Gay men and lesbians of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s routinely used the word “marriage” to describe long-term same-sex relationships. Such relationships were not unprecedented, but they took on particular visibility in the postwar “homophile” movement, a network of organizations and activists dedicated to improving the status of gay men and lesbians. This essay explores debates around homosexual marriage among homophile activists, to better understand the meanings of marriage for gay men and lesbians and for Americans more broadly in the postwar period. What was at stake was not merely the possibility of long-term homosexual relationships, but the capacity of gay men and lesbians to achieve happiness, emotional stability, and social integration—grouped at the time under the broad, often ambiguous psychological concept of “adjustment.” Within this context, homophile writers and their readers increasingly privileged the capacity for romantic commitment—what this article terms “romantic adjustment”—as a sign of mental health in its own right. Yet gay men and lesbian writers diverged in the degree to which they prioritized homosexual marriage as a path to social integration. Homosexual marriage ultimately proved more appealing to gay male than female activists because gay men could more easily imagine the constraints of marriage as a form of social privilege.
“’Nobody’s Goddamn Business But My Own’: Leonard Frey and the Politics of Jewish and Gay Visibility in the 1970s,” in The Boys in the Band: Flashpoints of Cinema, History, and Queer Politics, edited by Matt Bell (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2016), 190-215.
This essay examines the performances of Leonard Frey—in his roles as Harold in Boys in the Band and Motel the tailor in Fiddler on the Roof, as well as his practiced persona in newspaper and television interviews—to examine the intersecting politics of queer and Jewish visibility in the 1970s . Throughout the 1950s and 60s, gay activists frequently pointed to American Jews as an analogous minority. Frey’s performances suggest how Jewish Americans and gay activists negotiated calls for cultural assimilation—through embodied performances of opacity. As Nicholas de Villiers has recently argued in Opacity and the Closet, queer artists and writers of the 20th century have frequently turned to opacity—a set of discursive tactics that resist the imperative to confession or silence—as a means of self-performance. Looking at Leonard Frey moves us away from binaries of visible/invisible, identified/disidentified, acceptance/rejection to think about performances of affiliation and identity as ongoing negotiations between the performer and the spectactor—to think about the ways “identity” manifests in everyday life, not as a “self” to which to be true, but a surface to be managed and manipulated.
Though largely neglected in histories of gay male culture and politics in the 1970s, gay communes or living collectives were created and understood as a central strategy of gay liberation. Between 1970 and 1975, gay liberation groups formed male communes in major cities and rural areas across the United States. Gay men were hardly alone in their impulse to create communes. Nonetheless, among gay liberation activists, communal living took on unique meaning as a strategy for remaking forms and feelings of gay male belonging. This paper draws on manifestos and memoirs from members of gay communes formed in the 1970s to examine the motivations that led gay men to join communes, the challenges they encountered, and the debates around sexuality, gender, and race their activities inspired. Though generally short-lived, gay communes inspired both their members and observers to interrogate sexual and gender roles, and rethink domestic space as a stage for social and political change.
Domesticity has been underexamined in historical accounts of gay male culture in the United States. This essay analyzes The Gay Cookbook, by Chef Lou Rand Hogan, in order to reconsider the role of domestic space in shaping gay male identity, community, and politics in the post–World War II period. Published in 1965 and promoted in mainstream and gay media, Hogan’s cookbook presented a style of camp humor that challenged popular representations of gay life as lonely and “seedy,” as well as early gay rights activists’ emphasis on gender-normative self-presentation. The cookbook was also emblematic of an expanding gay print and consumer culture, which increasingly located the home as a site of consumption and social and sexual connection. The Gay Cookbook, I argue, reveals how domesticity blurred divides between “public” and “private” gay life, and provided a space to negotiate Cold War class, race, sexual, and gender conventions. (Featured in Atlas Obscura)
“Sanford Versus Steinberg: Black Sitcoms, Jewish Writers, and the 1970s Ethnic Revival,” Transition 105 (2011): 21-29
In the fall of 1975, the lead characters of NBC’s sitcom Sanford and Son found themselves on the other side of the camera—as members of a TV studio audience. The show had been a hit with viewers since its premiere in 1972, thanks in large part to the gravel-voiced performance of its star, Redd Foxx, a veteran of the African-American stand-up scene. Foxx played Fred Sanford, a widower who runs a junk-shop with his son Lamont (played by Demond Wilson) in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. But in the meta-theatrical episode aired October 10, 1975, Fred and Lamont head to NBC studios to see a taping of a new TV series that appears to have been based on their lives. There was just one crucial difference: it was called Steinberg and Son, replete with references to bar mitzvahs, bagels, Passover, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Fred and Lamont quickly meet with the studio executives, with plans to sue for one million dollars, until they discover that the show’s creator is himself African-American. “What are you doing black!?” Fred protests. The episode voiced ironically what remained unspoken in nearly all critical assessments of the show: the writers and producers of Sanford and Son, like many black sitcoms of the 70s, were not only white. They were also Jewish.
(based on undergraduate research project)
According to self-categorization theory (SCT), incidents of crowd violence can be understood as discrete forms of social action, limited by the crowd’s social identity. Through an analysis of the riot at Woodstock 1999, this paper explores the uses and limitations of SCT in order to reach a more complex psychology of crowd behavior, particularly those instances that appear unmotivated, irrational, and destructive. Psychological and sociological literature are synthesized to explore the role of communication in establishing social norms within the crowd. Several modifications to current crowd psychology are proposed, including a false consensus effect of motivation and the mediation of personal and social identities.
Selected Popular Writing
"Surrender Donald! A Queer Call to Action Since 1989," Slate, December 1, 2016
Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York, co-authored with Donald Albrecht, Skira Rizzoli, 2016, in conjunction with exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York
"Queer Homeless Youth, Queer Activism in Transition," co-authored with David S. Byers, Slate, December 10, 2015
“Picturing a Lesbian Feminist Household,” interview with photographer Cathy Cade, Outhistory.org, August 2015
“The Makings of Home,” essay in exhibition catalog for On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY, curated by James Saslow, August – October 2015
"Watching a Little TV for a Change" on television in the Back to the Future trilogy, Avidly: a Los Angeles Review of Books channel, part of a six-part series, edited with Wendy Lee (Reprinted on Smithsonian.com), July 2015
"A Half-Century of Conflict Over Attempts to ‘Cure’ Gay People," co-authored with David S. Byers, Time, February 12, 2015
"The Fosters Explores the Fear and Possibility of Queer Childhood," co-authored with David S. Byers, Slate, February 18, 2015
"Deviant Domesticities: Reflections on the Queerness of Home,"Notches: (re)marks on the history of sexuality, November 6, 2014
"Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?": Frank Simon's The Queen and Transgender History, Slate, October 24, 2014
"Nobody Steps on a Church in My Town!" Ghostbusters and New York, 30 years later, Avidly: a Los Angeles Review of Books channel, September 3, 2014
"You, Too, Can Make It Work: Teaching Tips from Tim Gunn, Mentor on Project Runway," New York Times, Education Life, February 1, 2013
For additional popular writing before 2013, click here.
Some favorite posts: