Amin Ghaziani is an associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia. His areas of study include sexualities, culture, urban life, and social movements. He is the author of The Dividends of Dissent: How Conflict and Culture Work in Lesbian and Gay Marches on Washington, which was a 2009 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award’s Best Book in LGBT Studies in 2009. In 2010, he was awarded the Sage Prize for Innovation and Excellence by the British Sociological Association.
Dr. Ghaziani received his B.A. from the University of Michigan and his M.S. and Ph.D. at Northwestern University. His new book, There Goes the Gayborhood? examines the future of gay neighborhoods in major American cities. Gayborhoods, from New York City’s Greenwich Village to Chicago’s Boystown, have provided gay and lesbians with safe places to live for decades, but could they become a thing of the past in today’s “post-gay” world of shifting cultural attitudes and civil rights milestones? Dr. Ghaziani takes up the question in large measure, drawing on census data, newspaper articles, opinion polls, and over a hundred interviews conducted with Chicago residents and argues that these urban communities will survive, even in the wake of radical social change.
Now, on to the questions!
What inspired you to become a sociologist?
The summer after my junior year in college, I signed up for a “San Francisco Field Studies” program at Northwestern. This was an internship-based practicum that taught undergraduate students how to conduct ethnographic research of an organization, and then connect their findings with a theoretically informed policy directive. I was placed at Positive Resource Center (PRC), which, at the time, was the first organization in the country dedicated to helping people living with HIV/AIDS return to work after having left on AIDS disability. Although many people once were getting sick, leaving work, and preparing themselves to die, medical advances in highly active antiretroviral therapies in the mid- to late-1990s gave them a chance to renew their lease on life. Many of these people wanted to go back to work, but they encountered numerous challenges along the way.
That summer changed my life. I was rabble rouser during my undergraduate days, deeply committed to issues of social justice. I learned that sociological research offered unique opportunities to create change. I often cite that course, that summer, and those poignant experiences in San Francisco as the reasons why I found my way to graduate school.
What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
For those who are finishing grad school: “The best dissertation is a done dissertation.” I have benefitted from so much sage advice over the years that I simply cannot offer just one piece. And besides, why limit what we can learn? Here we go:
For those who fear submitting their manuscripts for peer review: “It’s not the best draft, it’s the last draft.”
For those who venture into the precarious realm of public sociology: “Don’t read the comments!”
If you decide to risk it anyway, then let me console you with some words from Winston Churchill: “Criticism is easy; achievement is difficult.” Keep your chin up!
And finally, for those who choose to pursue a life of scholarship: Love what you do. The world appears and feels so much more effervescent when passion and pleasure accompany the pursuit of your craft.
Why did you write this book?
Sociologists have for a long time been captivated by questions of residential choice (where we choose to live) and urban forms (why neighborhoods look and feel the way they do). Although we know much about these matters in general, we still know surprisingly little about the everyday lives, social interactions, and spaces in which LGBTQ people live. This oversight, as far as I’m concerned, is part of a heterosexist project—one that sees the city through a myopic lens that erases the experiences of gender and sexual minorities. This book represents one of the ways in which I am trying to correct this scholarly bias.
“There are now more places in cities, suburbs, and rural areas that have distinct associations with same-sex sexuality than ever before.”
I also think that queer spatial patterns are worthy of study in their own right, rather than for what they can teach us about other groups and enclaves, such racial/ethnic areas or class-based stratification in the city. Sexuality scholars are accustomed to translating their findings for “broader” audiences as a way to convince them that they, too, should in fact care. I try hard in this book to invert the power dynamics. Let us think about gayborhoods on their own terms—and unapologetically—rather than see them as supporting characters, districts whose intellectual value lies principally in what they can teach us about other kinds of urban spaces.
What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing this book?
There are two sets of surprising findings. Each is startling on its own—but even more so when we position one next to the other.
First, demographers express the extent to which groups of people like gays and straights are segregated in the city through what they call an “index of dissimilarity.” This is a statistic that represents the proportion of a minority group within a census tract that would need to be replaced by a member of the majority in order to reflect the composition of the city overall in terms of sexual orientation.
When we run the numbers, we see that zip codes associated with traditional gay neighborhoods are “de-concentrating.” When we compare the one hundred most populous places in the US during the 2000 census with how those same places looked in the 2010 collection, we realize that average segregation scores for male same-sex partner households decreased by 8.1 percent and a whopping 13.6 percent for female same-sex partners. If we zoom out even further, we see that same-sex partner households in general reside in 93 percent of all counties in the country.
If we just look at the most visible gayborhoods, places like the Castro in San Francisco or West Hollywood or Boystown in Chicago, then we might be tempted to conclude that these areas are diluting and de-gaying. But I also found evidence that new settlements are emerging. To see them, we have to ask follow-up questions: where are they going next and why?
“…it’s a mistake to see the urban landscape as a binary between gayborhoods and all other, undifferentiated straight spaces.”
The answers point to something quite counter-intuitive. Gayborhoods are not passé and thus disappearing—on the contrary, queer spaces are becoming more diverse and thus plural. There are now more places in cities, suburbs, and rural areas that have distinct associations with same-sex sexuality than ever before.
For me, the bottom line is that it’s a mistake to see the urban landscape as a binary between gayborhoods and all other, undifferentiated straight spaces. Or to reduce the spatial expressions of sexuality to those most visible gay districts that capture our popular imagination.
How did you come up with the book jacket?
I had a vision for the cover that, unfortunately, did not materialize. Some years ago, the RedEye, a free daily paper in Chicago, ran a cover story about changes in the local gayborhood. The image on the cover of the paper haunts me to this day: it was an artistic rendering of one of the rainbow-colored pylons that adorn North Halsted Street and mark it as the city’s main queer artery. The colors, however, were bleeding off the pylon. I thought it was the perfect visual representation for a book about the de-gaying of gayborhoods.
Although I was not able to obtain copyright clearance to reproduce the image, what the design team at Princeton came up with is no less brilliant. I love the concept. Notice two aspects of it. First, the title resembles spray paint, and the colors of the paint are bleeding. This design aesthetic, with its gorgeous urban motif, is consistent with what drew me to the RedEye. You might also notice that there are no images or photographs. The cover of my book plays off negative space. From an artistic perspective, we can imagine that the title and my name embody the generative potential of negative space. This is unexpected—and that surprise itself animates the themes of the book. Fears about the negating of queer space interact in subtle and sometimes surprising ways with new areas that are emerging.
What is your next project?
I began this book at Princeton University during my days as a postdoctoral fellow in the Society of Fellows, and I completed it during my assistant professor years at the University of British Columbia. This major move in my life inspired new types of questions. How do gay neighborhoods in the United States compare with those in Canada? More generally, how does national context affect the spatial expressions of sexuality? I would like to move my work to a cross-national, comparative perspective.
In the meantime, however, I am writing my first textbook. This short volume (200 printed and bound pages) will review research on sexualities from a uniquely cultural perspective.
Never a dull moment!
Amin Ghaziani is the author of:
|There Goes the Gayborhood? by Amin Ghaziani
Hardcover | August 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691158792
360 pp. | 6 x 9 | 2 line illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400850174 | Reviews Table of Contents Introduction (PDF)