The final chapter of The Mourning After provides evidence from many sources to characterize American manhood at midcentury, making the crucial point that the notion of a fixed sexual orientation had gained currency, primarily through the efforts of military psychiatrists to identify homosexuals and exclude them from service. In the postwar years, psychiatrists classified homosexuals as mentally ill and a danger to society. For the first time, Americans were warned that “perverts” were in their midst. Close male friendships were suspect, and parents were warned to watch for signs that they might have a “sissy son.” Boys were expected to imitate their fathers and avoid close physical or emotional contact with other boys. Many gay men retreated into the closet.
Daniel Burr is a frequent contributor to this magazine.