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Sissy!, Sissy!, 0817319638, 0-8173-1963-8, 978-0-8173-1963-2, 9780817319632, , , Sissy!, 0817391487, 0-8173-9148-7, 978-0-8173-9148-5, 9780817391485, , , Sissy!, 0817359729, 0-8173-5972-9, 978-0-8173-5972-0, 9780817359720,

The Effeminate Paradox in Postwar US Literature and Culture
Harry Thomas Jr.

E Book
2017. 264 pp.
Price:  $29.95 d
Quality Paper
2019. 258 pp.
Price:  $29.95 s

Winner of the Elizabeth Agee Prize in American Literature

An innovative exploration of postwar representations of effeminate men and boys

Sissy!The Effeminate Paradox in Postwar US Literature and Culture expands on recent cultural criticism that focuses on the ways men and boys deemed to be feminine have been—and continue to be—condemned for their personalities and behavior. Critic Harry Thomas Jr. does not dismiss this approach, but rather identifies it as merely one side of a coin. On the other side, he asserts, the opposite exists: an American artistic tradition that celebrates and affirms effeminate masculinity.
The author argues that effeminate men and boys are generally portrayed using the grotesque, an artistic mode concerned with the depictions of hybrid bodies. Thomas argues that the often grotesque imagery used to depict effeminate men evokes a complicated array of emotions, a mix of revulsion and fascination that cannot be completely separated from one another.
Thomas looks to the sissies in the 1940s novels of Truman Capote and Carson McCullers; the truth-telling flaming princesses of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room; the superstardom of pop culture icon Liberace; the prophetic queens of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America; and many others to demonstrate how effeminate men have often been adored because they are seen as the promise of a different world, one free from the bounds of heteronormativity.

Sissy! offers an unprecedented and counterintuitive overview of cultural and artistic attitudes toward male effeminacy in post–World War II America and provides a unique and contemporary reinterpretation of the “sissy” figure in modern art and literature.

Harry Thomas Jr. teaches high school English and sponsors the Gender and Sexuality Alliance at Durham Academy in Durham, North Carolina. His work has been published in Twentieth Century Literature, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Rolling Stone.

“Complicating Michael Kimmel’s “specter of the sissy” motif in American manhood, Thomas illuminates the flip side of masculinity through his discussion of “fascinating effeminacy.” Thomas begins with the dilemma of a culture that murders men for effeminacy but also promotes drag figures such as RuPaul on television. Moving from this contradiction, Thomas reads a variety of texts from James Baldwin's Giovanni’s Room (1956) to Twilight and Angels in America to point up the paradox surrounding effeminate men in post–WW II American culture and to illuminate the contexts in which they sparkle or shine. Thomas argues that stereotypically, effeminate men are shunned but in fact they are treated as both objects of fascination and threats to the dominant order. He articulates the grotesque as the means by which effeminacy is most often portrayed, tying it to notions of hybridity that further the effeminate paradox in American culture. Thomas’s work provides a valuable corrective and adds to masculinity studies, reminding readers of the fluidity of gender categories and the importance of refusing to reify rigid gender binaries or to accept heteronormative visions of the world. Highly recommended.”

“In an era of increasing gender tumult, Sissy! The Effeminate Paradox in Postwar US Literature and Culture represents a rumination on the nature and consequences of effeminacy that is both relevant and timely.”
—Peter Hennen, author of Faeries, Bears, and Leathermen: Men in Community Queering the Masculine

“A much-needed intervention in the exploration of male femininity in US literature and culture from World War II to the present. Importantly, it helps to explain the ways that both mainstream American culture and gay culture continue to blur the lines between gender and sexuality in constructions of nonnormative and, as Thomas usefully calls them, ‘hegemonic’ masculinities.”
—Michael P. Bibler, author of Cotton’s Queer Relations: Same-Sex Intimacy and the Literature of the Southern Plantation, 1936–1968

Winner of the Elizabeth Agee Prize in American Literature