To be honest, Module Six, in my opinion, focuses too much on prostitution and homosexuality as forms of deviance; and too little on sex trafficking, sexual abuse, homophobia, the emerging normality of LGBTQI+ lifestyles (I don’t even like that term attached to one’s sexual orientation… what the heck is a heterosexual lifestyle?) and the discrimination/prejudice/violence we see in our society against this community.

Take for example the recent Supreme Court decision that supports the Denver baker and his refusal to bake a gay couple a ‘wedding’ cake.  It’s not that he wouldn’t bake them a cake, he would, just not a cake that celebrated their bond to one and other.  Now I realize that there are valid arguments on both sides of this issue: religious freedom, free speech, personal autonomy, homophobia, prejudice, civil rights violations…putting all that aside, and hoping our Discussion doesn’t border on the culture wars so popular in mainstream media…is it possible to interpret this through the lens of sociology?

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Quick answer—sure.

Less quick answer—how much time do you want to take?

Erving Goffman (1958) probably initiated the first systematic investigation into non-normative sexual behavior/identities in his seminal work Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Even the title gives you a hint at how non-normative sexuality was perceived by 20th century sociology.  What is a ‘spoiled’ identity?  To Goffman, this meant an identity that was devalued across social settings.  Other examples of ‘spoiled’ identities included: the disabled, the mentally ill, prisoners, criminals, prostitutes, drug/alcohol addicts.

But here’s the thing, Goffman was quick to point out that the identity that was perceived to be ‘spoiled’ was in fact just that—a perception.  Goffman noted the gap between one’s virtual social identity (how others see you) and one’s actual social identity (how you see yourself).  For ‘unspoiled’ (Goffman never used this term) identities there is no gap.  Meaning, how others see me is how I see myself.  Those in possession of a ‘spoiled’ identity lack the verisimilitude/integrity/fidelity between the two perspectives.  (For those of you who are Westworld fans Goffman would have loved the season 2 episodes and their search for ‘fidelity’ between the hosts and their human doppelgangers.)

In essence then, the difference between ‘unspoiled’ and ‘spoiled’ lies in society’s willingness to accept people as they see themselves.  If we see non-normative sexual behavior as normal, then we can drop the ‘non-‘ prefix and get on with finding other things to argue about.

Over the final three weeks of the term Goffman’s ideas will take center stage.  Surprisingly, the Wikipedia cite identified as “Social Stigma” provides a fairly accurate overview of Goffman’s theory, as well as a relatively complete list of theorists who have followed his lead.

Check it out:


Goffman, Irving. (1958). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. New York: Simon and Schuster.