In the years after the Second World War, economic and social factors combined to produce an intense concern over the sexual development and behaviour of young people. In a context where heterosexuality and 'normality' were understood to be synonymous and assumed to be necessary for social and national stability, teenagers were the target of a range of materials and practices meant to turn young people into proper heterosexuals. In this study, Mary Louise Adams explores discourses about youth and their place in the production and reproduction of heterosexual norms. She examines debates over juvenile delinquency, indecent literature, and sex education to show not why heterosexuality became a peculiar obsession in English Canada following the Second World War as much as how it came to hold such sway. Drawing on feminist theory, cultural studies, and lesbian/gay studies, The Trouble with Normal is the first Canadian study of 'youth' as a sexual and moral category. Adams looks not only at sexual material aimed at teenagers but also at sexual discourses generally, for what they had to say about young people and for the ways in which 'youth,' as a concept, made those discourses work.
She argues that postwar insecurities about young people narrowed the sexual possibilities of both young people and adults. While much of the recent history of sexuality examines sexuality 'from the margins,' The Trouble with Normal is firmly committed to examining the 'centre,' to unpacking normality itself. As the first book-length study of the history of sexuality in postwar Canada, it will make an important contribution to the growing international literature on sexual regulation.
Mary Louise Adams is an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies and the Department of Sociology at Queen's University.