Heterosexuality in Post-Closeted Culture

320 pages

2 b/w halftones and 10 b/w figures

August, 2014

ISBN: 9780814764596



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James Joseph Dean is Associate Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University. His research focuses on the sociology of sexualities, particularly the sociology of heterosexualities. Dean's work has appeared in Sexualities, The Sociological Quarterly, and Sociology Compass, among others.

All books by James Joseph Dean

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 affected the queer community—heterosexuals are also in the midst of a sea change in how their sexuality plays out in everyday life. In Straights, James Joseph Dean argues 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,’ he claims, 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. Dean provides a historical understanding of heterosexuality and how it was first established, then moves 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, Dean shows 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. 

Instructors: PowerPoint slides for each chapter are available by clicking on the files below.
 Chapter 1
 Chapter 2
 Chapter 3
 Chapter 4
 Chapter 5
 Chapter 6


  • "Straights underscores the shifting terrain of gender and sexuality in contemporary America. Through detailed, compelling analyses, Dean shows that being straight is a contested and increasingly fluid sexual and social status. This is an indispensable text for a gender and queer studies that aims to pivot beyond a minoritizing identity politics."

    —Steven Seidman, author of Beyond the Closet: The Transformation of Gay and Lesbian Life

  • "James Dean's book illuminates the cusp of lived social change in gender and sexual relations, with homophobic attitudes on the decline and public support for gay rights and families on the rise. Straights shows how, during this 'post-closet' historical moment, people of various racial-ethnic groups define, mark, and sometimes contest heterosexual identities, privilege, and heteronormative social relations."

    —Michael Messner, author of Power at Play: Sports and the Problem of Masculinity

  • "We can get terribly caught up in trying to pin down and label human behaviors, as though we were consistent and immutable creatures rather than the messy bundles of complex contradictions that most of us actually are. What James Joseph Dean does so well in Straights: Heterosexuality in Post-Closeted Culture is provide a conceptual framework for thinking about this ‘messiness’ of human sexuality and identity . . . Straights is timely and powerfully intersectional, with gender, sexuality and race established as robustly formative constellations of identity.  Dean is the first commentator to articulate quite so clearly and thoughtfully how being ‘straight’ is no longer a social given, but a political position.”

    Times Higher Education

  • "Dean has masterfully created a unique view of GLBTQ identity and its effect in heterosexuality, something heretofore seriously lacking in GBLTQ studies and highlighted with this book."


  • "[A] contemporary classic that will long serve as the key introductory text on heterosexuality."

    Teaching Sociology, Greggor Mattson

  • “The author has produced an innovative account of how the unprecedented cultural visibility of gays and lesbians compels black and white straight men and women to refashion their heterosexuality."

    American Journal of Sociology

  • Straights is a valuable contribution not only to the sociology of sexualities but also to the sociology of gender...a deeply thoughtful analysis.”

    Gender & Society

  • “This is a detailed account of an interesting empirical study.”

    Journal of Gender Studies

  • “Dean’s timely research contributes to the field of critical heterosexuality studies.”

    Men and Masculinities

  • “[…] James Joseph Dean has written a valuable research work about true America between metropolises and hillbilly country.”

    Sexuality and Culture

  • “It also provides a much needed critical lens for examining the identity at work involved in practicing heterosexual identities."

    Sociological Inquiry

  • “One of the strengths of Dean’s approach is his attention to the heterosexual identity management strategies of both men and women. This enables him to draw out gendered differences in the presentation of heterosexuality that enhances understanding of both sexes.”


  • “In his engaging book on the social construction of heterosexual identities in the US, Straights, James Joseph Dean comments that the increasing visibility and inclusivity of gays and lesbians is found ‘in everyday life and across the nation’s major social institutions’.”