Introduction: Queer 1950s: Rethinking Sexuality in the Postwar Years

  • Heike Bauer
  • Matt Cook
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


This collection has two main aims. Firstly, it seeks to excavate and rethink some of the specific cultural, political and experiential contingencies that shaped sexual lives and thought during the 1950s. Secondly, it aims to expand the boundaries of modern sexuality debates and their transnational dimensions. It does this by presenting alongside each other chapters which scrutinise familiar and less familiar material, and which are orientated around but also depart from the well-established Anglo-American axis of analysis in gender and sexuality studies. Our investigation speaks to recent work in queer theory and historiography on the potential for queer modes of life, which, as Judith Halberstam argues, emerge through ‘subcultural practices, alternative modes of alliance, forms of transgender embodiment, and those forms of representation dedicated to capturing … willfully eccentric modes of being’.1 Where Halberstam especially scrutinised the temporal shapes of queer lives, this collection explores what it may mean to think of the 1950s as a queer time, both for our understanding of the history of that decade and for queer studies more broadly.


Queer Theory Sexual Politics Male Homosexuality Modern Sexuality Queer Woman 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 1.
    Judith Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: New York University Press, 2005), 1.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See, for example, John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1988)Google Scholar
  3. and Patrick Higgins, Heterosexual Dictatorship: Male Homosexuality in Postwar Britain (London: Fourth Estate, 1996);Google Scholar
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  5. 3.
    Carolyn Steedman’s Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives (London: Virago, 1986) was groundbreaking in terms of this nuanced approach to the past. Since then, and especially in the last ten years, cultural, literary, social and sexuality histories of the 1950s have become increasingly sensitive to the multiple intersections between sexual, subjective and social worlds.Google Scholar
  6. See, for example, John Howard, Men Like That: A Southern Queer History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999);Google Scholar
  7. Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis, Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community (New York: Penguin Books, 1993);Google Scholar
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    Ruth Amossy, ‘The Cliché in the Reading Process’, Substance, 11.2 (1982), 34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 5.
    Carolyn Dean, The Fragility of Empathy after the Holocaust (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004). See also Herzog, Sex After Fascism. Google Scholar
  23. 6.
    Annamarie Jagose, Queer Theory: An Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 1996),Google Scholar
  24. and William B. Turner, A Genealogy of Queer Theory (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000), amongst others, have charted the emergence of queer theory and its impact on gay, lesbian and feminist studies. For an account of the impact of the queer and cultural is ‘turn’ on social research,Google Scholar
  25. see Sasha Roseneil and Stephen Frosh, Social Research After the Cultural Turn (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).Google Scholar
  26. 7.
    Heather Love, Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
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    Patricia Juliana Smith, ‘Introduction’ to The Queer Sixties, ed., Smith (New York: Routledge, 1999), xii.Google Scholar
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    Noreen Gillney Michelle Sauer and Diane Watt (eds), The Lesbian Premodern (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 7.Google Scholar
  29. 11.
    Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010), xvii.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 12.
    On this, see Charles. I. Nero, ‘Why Are Gay Ghettoes White?’ and other essays in E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson, eds, Black Queer Studies (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005); and the debates provoked by Jasbir Puar’s work on ‘homonationalism’ Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  31. 14.
    For some of the problems (and possibilities) associated with the use of ‘the evidence of experience’ see Joan W. Scott, ‘The Evidence of Experience’, Critical Inquiry, 17.4 (1991), 773–797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Heike Bauer and Matt Cook 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heike Bauer
  • Matt Cook

There are no affiliations available

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