One Great Idea by Amin Ghaziani - Episode Six - Sexuality

One Great Idea by Amin Ghaziani

About the series

In this series, UBC faculty write about one great idea that significantly influenced their specific discipline and in turn, transformed how they approach their work.

About the author

Amin Ghaziani is associate professor of Sociology and Canada Research Chair in Sexuality and Urban Studies.

In the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman mused on the mysteries of passionate attraction and touch. Inspired by phrenology, he named these elemental facets of the human experience “amativeness” (sexual ardor) and “adhesiveness” (attachment and friendship). By placing the two on equal moral footing, Whitman found a way to share how love looked through his eyes — and especially his feelings for other men, “the manly love of comrades.“

Fast forward to postwar America when the zoologist-turned-sexologist Alfred Kinsey wondered, much like Whitman, about the vastness of sexuality: “If every single living thing is different from every other living thing, then diversity becomes life’s one irreducible fact. Only variations are real.”

At the end of the 20th century, literary critic Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick found three words to explain this nearly one-hundred-year restlessness: “People are different.” The words leap off the pages of her 1990 landmark book, Epistemology of the Closet. “It’s astonishing how few respectable conceptual tools we have for dealing with this self-evident fact.”

Poets like Whitman, social scientists like Kinsey, and humanists like Sedgwick have all asked important questions about sexuality and its diversity. I find myself in conversation with these great thinkers as I examine the process through which human sexuality becomes a phenomenon not just of biology and bodies but also of cultures and societies.


That one word — “sexuality” — uniquely expresses the meanings that we assign to our body, the symbols we use to represent it, how the state attempts to govern what we can or cannot do with it, and entire disciplines of study and professional pursuits that our bodies inspire in domains that range from politics to art and city planning.

Sexuality is my intellectual mate, and like any good partner, it has taught me so much. My findings show how attitudes about sexuality affect our collective identities, including “post-gay” sensibilities and what it means to be “straight ally”; how to organize national protest events like a March on Washington for LGBTQ rights; what motivates us when we decide where we wish to live; and the changing cultural character of the places, like urban gay districts or “gaybourhoods,” that I have called my home.