Twentieth-century U.S. history
Political and legal history
History of the carceral state
History of sexuality, LGBTQ studies, and queer theory
Modern transatlantic history
Project 1: Bad Queers: LGBT People and the Carceral State in Modern America
My first book project examines the history of what I call the war on sex offenders—an American campaign against sex crime that began in the 1930s—and the changing ways in which that war has produced and criminalized LGBT legal subjects. While historians have examined the policing of queer sexual and gender practices earlier in the twentieth century, it has been more difficult to do so the closer their narratives get to the present. This has been the case at least in part due to the fact that historians have been under the same pressure as LGBT activists to represent LGBT identity as “good” and distance it from any association with sexual “deviance.” Yet “bad” queers were central to LGBT history during this period as well as the history of the carceral state.
Particularly during the pivotal decade of the long 1970s, a groundswell of social movement activity transformed the war on sex offenders into a new and even more expansive phase by legalizing a category of “good” LGBT subjects while doubling down on many other “bad” ones. Even as LGBT activists managed to legalize a category of “good” gay sex between consenting adults in private, the architects of the war on sex offenders shifted gears by ramping up the criminalization of underage sex, sex involving HIV, trans people, and much else besides.
Whereas LGBT historians such as Margot Canaday have characterized the late twentieth century in terms of the consolidation of a legal hierarchy between homo- and heterosexuality, I reframe that period as a time of multiplication and proliferation of queer legal personages. I also re-conceptualize the period as one in which LGBT rights were following not only a path of progress but a redistribution of legal stigma; and in which state interest in LGBT people was getting more, not less, intense. And while queer theorists such as Michael Warner have blamed the conservatism of mainstream LGBT movement leaders, I highlight how a sex panic about minor-attracted people in the late 1970s made it necessary for the movement to stop defending “bad” queers.
“The Invention of Bad Gay Sex: Texas and the Creation of a Criminal Underclass of Gay People,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 26, no. 1 (2017): 53–87.
Click here to view
“The Creation of the Modern Sex Offender,” in The War on Sex, ed. David Halperin and Trevor Hoppe (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 247–267.
Click here to view