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Not in this family: Gays and the family of origin in North America, 1945–1990s

Heather Murray, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation explores the relationship between gays and the family of origin in North America from 1945 to the early 1990s. Using personal correspondences, diaries, published and visual sources, I argue that the family has been a central preoccupation and animating force of gay culture, gay politics, and gay consciousness, and that gays in turn have shaped their parents' sensibilities and ideas of family intimacy. Beginning in the immediate postwar period, as companionate family styles became entrenched, gays and their parents revealed a mutual curiosity and intrigue between family members inherent in postwar family life. As the gay liberation and lesbian feminist movements developed, gays embraced a broad repeal of discretion about the personal and the sexual in their family lives, as well as in their own political and cultural articulations. During the AIDS crisis, however, gays began to esteem a closeness with their families based less on their recognition of sexuality and more on their material acts of care. Throughout, I also trace parents' early activist, advice, and memoir literature of the 1950s and 60s, and the turn to more formal organizations of the 1970s and 80s, most prominently, PFLAG (Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays). The writings of both parents and children chart a unique history of family communication, as it moved from metaphor, code and discretion in the immediate postwar years, to direct revelations and even obligatory "coming outs" by the end of the century. In the process, I show how gay personal lives went from being intensely private, to political, and finally to public. Examining the relationship of family members who considered one another quite consciously over this time period, and who often straddled an uneasy balance between longings and estrangement, I reveal some of the most urgent concerns and tensions within postwar companionate families, including shifting meanings of family care and nurturance, and concepts of intergenerational obligation.

Subject Area

American history|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Murray, Heather, "Not in this family: Gays and the family of origin in North America, 1945–1990s" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3215904.