This essay offers a genealogy of lifestyle, a category widely used in the 1960s to mark dissident kinship networks and sexual practices: single parenting, bisexuality, gender nonconformity, polyamory, cohabitation, and communal living, among many others. I argue that the concept of lifestyle emerged in a desire among white mid-twentieth-century suburbanites for the social and sexual worlds that preceded rapid suburbanization, those most visible in the immigrant industrial metropolis at its peak in the decades immediately before the United States drastically restricted immigration in 1924. Even at the apex of suburbanization in the 1960s, many people refused to comply with the demand for suburban domesticity, staying in the city, joining countercultural groups, or adopting what came to be called alternative lifestyles. But in that act of dissent, urban planners, real estate developers, and marketing experts saw an opportunity and began to sell urban lifestyle landscapes that they claimed would reproduce the sexual heterogeneity of the early twentieth-century industrial metropolis. By the 1980s, as ever more people lived outside the nuclear family, a growing lifestyle market drove up prices in central cities that amplified the class and race exclusions that the social movements of the 1960s contested. This article is therefore both a critical and a recuperative reading of lifestyle, one that uses the category to show how dissident sexualities can be both the harbinger of the niche-marketed gentrified city and an incitement to new ways of living and loving that advance the pursuit of economic justice.
Lifestyle: Contesting a Category of Dissident Sexuality in US Urban History
Ryan Patrick Murphy is an associate professor of history and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Earlham College. He is the author of Deregulating Desire: Flight Attendant Activism, Family Politics, and Workplace Justice (2016) and is currently working on a new book project, “Teamsters’ Metropolis: An Intimate Geography of the Mid-Twentieth-Century U.S. Labor Movement.” He was previously a flight attendant for United Airlines and an activist in the Association of Flight Attendants, AFL-CIO.
Ryan Patrick Murphy; Lifestyle: Contesting a Category of Dissident Sexuality in US Urban History. GLQ 1 April 2020; 26 (2): 273–301. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8141844
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