Hot off the presses, the Summer 2015 issue of Contexts! In the Trends section of this issue, we have two stories — one qualitative, one quantitative — that both revolve around issues of identities, social acceptance, and a changing culture in 21st century America. A few words on each here.
James Joseph Dean‘s piece, “being straight in a post-closeted culture,” builds on his qualitative research interviewing straight men and women about their relationships with LGBTQ people and culture. I think there are two really exciting ideas in this short piece. First, Dean introduces the concept of our “post-closeted culture,” by which he means, “a society
with visible and openly gay and lesbian people and an array of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) representations across a range of cultural institutions.” To be honest, it scared me a little bit to publish that phrase. It seems like the kind of thing that could be seized upon by conservative groups looking to deny ongoing homophobia and argue that anti-same-sex marriage Christians are the real persecuted groups. And, to be 100% clear, neither Dean nor I nor anyone associated with Contexts magazine is claiming that. Instead, the phrase is meant to note that, even though we’re a society with homophobia where many gay people still do feel forced to be in the closet, we’re also a society where LGBTQ people are visible and often accepted in important places in our culture. It’s a society where Modern Family is a popular show. One where Caitlyn Jenner receives a courage award from ESPN. One where prominent and respected journalists are “out.” “Post-closeted culture” is a phrase that recognizes an important shift in our society’s relationship with LGBTQ people.
But even more interesting to me is that the article calls into question a long-term talking point of the Left. When conservatives have argued that same-sex marriage undermines “traditional marriage,” many (heterosexual) liberals have asked how someone else’s marriage could possibly affect my own marriage? Often this point is extended into mockery with jokes about the forced gay marriages that would occur should same-sex marriage ever become legal. As always, The Onion‘s version was the best. But it turns out that the talking point isn’t quite right. Post-closeted culture has changed straight people. As Dean writes, “In gay-friendly contexts, anti-homophobic straight men and women earn a kind of honor or prestige by being gay-friendly
and supporting LGBTQ rights.” Straight men have been liberated to behave in less conventionally masculine ways. Straight women have developed greater “sexual fluidity.” Of course, these are probably positive changes, but the Lefty talking point that same-sex acceptance won’t change straight people is just wrong. For more on Dean’s work, check out his new NYU Press book, Straights: Heterosexuality in Post-Closeted Culture.
In “too cool for school?” by Phil Veliz, we learn that being a nerd doesn’t lead to high school ostracization quite the way it used to. In the age of Google and Facebook, it ain’t so bad to be a Mark Zuckerberg. That’s not to say that it’s the jocks who are now looked down upon. In fact, being a good athlete has never been more important for one’s popularity in high school. But today’s jocks are different, with student athletes getting better grades than their peers on average. Today’s teens seem to value well-rounded people and reject materialism, all of which is downright confusing to those of us who went to high school in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s a great story and I love the Monitoring the Future (MTF) data used in this piece, which give us a glimpse into the lives of America’s teens over time. It’s like watching “Dazed and Confused,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Mean Girls,” and “21 Jump Street” all in one spreadsheet!
Thanks for both James Joseph Dean and Phil Veliz for their great contributions. And, especially, thanks to Contexts‘ incredible editorial team, Co-Editors Syed Ali and Philip Cohen and Managing Editor Letta Page, who sit at the cool kids table of sociology.