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The Center for Sex and Gender Research

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John Wayne Plasek

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Born in 1937 and reared in small town Texas I soon felt the sting of homophobia. While serving as president of the high school freshman class I was "outed" by a classmate and shunned in varying degrees by classmates for more than a year. After attending Rice University for a year, and failing physics, chemistry, and calculus, I changed my major from engineering to liberal arts and transferred to the University of Texas in Austin. There I entered a distinguished liberal arts program, Plan 2, and specialized in geology. In my 20th summer I drove a garbage truck in Yellowstone Park and was again "outed." Co-workers deemed I should leave and even though they recanted once I had made plans to return home I left, licking my wounds for the rest of the summer.

In my second year at Texas I cultivated gay friends and took my first tentative steps into a new gay world. Two friends had moved to Los Angeles the previous summer and, extolling the freedom and tolerance of life here, I joined them at the age of 21 with $35 in my pocket. To live a life of relatively little shame in 1958 was liberating. I transferred to UCLA and took a Bachelor's degree in sociology in 1960. In 1962 I was advanced to candidacy for the doctorate and took a leave of absence to study in the International Graduate School at the University of Stockholm, at the invitation of one of the friends who had invited me to Los Angeles.

Sweden in 1962 was again a major step toward self as well as other-acceptance. After returning to UCLA in 1964 I wrote my dissertation, on adult socialization, a topic I later explored among gay persons, and took my first job as a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Leicester in England. Here I cautiously took a baby step out of the closet, sharing my sexual orientation with my heterosexual friends once I had gained their trust.

In 1968 I took a job with the Sociology Department of CSUN, then San Fernando Valley State College. Over the years I served as associate chair of the department, head of the College Academic Planning Committee, Coordinator of the Graduate Program, and director of the, then, Center for Center for Sex Research. I taught courses in social theory, the sociology of work, organizations, counseling and interviewing. Here I found a supportive academic home, taking my partner to departmental parties before receiving tenure. I am grateful for James and Veronica Elias' leadership in establishing such a climate. Still the University at large was a potential trap. I was advised by a chair of sociology not to list in my vita a paper on "Misconceptions of Homophobia," published in 1984 in the Journal of Homosexuality, and to disguise the titles of other papers.

In 2003 I retired and continue to be active in the Center for Sex and Gender Research. I have great pleasure in CSUN’s having founded the Queer Studies minor.


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