February 24, 2012

How I Became A … Sociologist Of Sexualities

Eric contributes to the "How I Became A" series in this discussion of his journey from activism to the academy, focusing on sexual identities.

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Kinsey Confidential Bloggers, February 2012

Kinsey Confidential Bloggers, February 2012

My fellow Kinsey Confidential bloggers Kristen M. and Adam have recently written about their respective journeys to developing fascinating careers in the broad field of sex and sexualities.  Though we are often asked — “how exactly did you get into that?” or “how do I get into that field?” — there is no concrete, universal answer, mainly for two reasons.

First, there is no one path to becoming a sex researcher, sex therapist, sex educator, and so forth (Dr. Alfred Kinsey started out as a zoologist!).  And second, related to the first reason, is that there is no one career in the broad field of sex and sexualities.  Just among the three of us – Kristen, Adam, and me – you see different academic training (applied health science, counseling psychology, and sociology), and different career trajectories (health researcher, therapist, and sociologist).  As teachers and researchers, one can approach sex and sexualities from any of a number of perspectives (e.g., medical, biological, historical, sociological, economic, etc.)

So, here’s my contribution to the “How I Became A…” series.

My Journey

That’s me on the far right in the picture above.  Sometimes I even ask myself, “how did I get here?”  I am now one of a few amazing, brilliant, passionate bloggers for the renowned Kinsey Institute.  I was fortunate to take part in a public service announcement for KI, as well.

I, like many sociologists, came to academia driven by a concern about social inequality.  While in college, I was heavily involved in initiatives to improve the campus climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students.  Although our work gained some recognition on campus and led to greater attention to the needs of LGBT students, I grew impatient with the slow, often bureaucratic responses to our efforts.  So I turned my attention elsewhere: research.  One way to demonstrate the prejudice and discrimination faced by LGBT students was to conduct a survey of heterosexual students’ attitudes toward lesbians and gay men.  That project served as my honors thesis, and later a publication with one of my two advisors.  I enjoyed that process and decided to pursue a career as a professor.

But, Why Sociology?

Indeed, there are a number of paths I could have pursued — a realization I had even then as a senior in college.  I majored in sociology and psychology and earned a certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies.  But, I decided to apply to PhD programs in sociology, in part, to pursue my other academic interests, as well: race and ethnicity, gender, medical sociology, and social psychology.  Many sociology departments, including my own at Indiana University, offer broad graduate training that strengthens your scholarship as a sociologist in general as well as in your specific specialized subfields.

Today, my work directly and indirectly focuses on sexual identities.  In some of my work, I compare the health, social experiences, and worldviews of heterosexuals and LGBT individuals.  In other work, I examine the effect of discrimination — including sexual orientation-based discrimination, among other forms — on individuals’ health.  What I find most appealing of a sociological approach to studying and teaching sex and sexualities is its critical attention to social forces (e.g., norms, socialization, prejudice and discrimination, law) that shape and constrain our lives as sexual beings.

Where I’m Headed

As I approach graduation and begin looking for jobs, I have been thinking about the next steps in my career a lot lately.  The passionate activist of my younger days is still within me, though I am comfortable now in attempting to make a difference in the world through my research, teaching, and service to the community (including blogging).  This means I plan to become a sociology professor, continuing to focus my work on sexualities, but also on other aspects of the social world.  And, rather than seeing this as leaving the field of sex and sexualities, I actually see my path as one that connects sexuality with other important academic fields (e.g., race and ethnicity, health, social psychology).