Canton Winer, UCI sociology Ph.D. ’23, is the recipient of the 2023 Social Sciences Kathy Alberti Prize. The honor recognizes a graduate student who holds truly outstanding promise as a future professor or academic. Winer, who earned his bachelor’s in sociology and American studies at Fordham University, is quickly emerging as a leading sociologist of asexuality. Below, the newly hired assistant professor of sociology and women, gender, and sexuality studies at Northern Illinois University expands on his work and time as an Anteater.
What made you decide to pursue your current field of study, and specifically at UCI? What interests you most about your work?
I’m passionate about building a world that is kinder, freer, and more knowledgeable and celebratory about the differences between us. I’m interested in people, and sociology is centrally about people. That made sociology an obvious choice. Choosing UCI was a less obvious choice. I was living in Shanghai, China, when I applied to graduate school, and I honestly didn’t know much about what doing a Ph.D. involved. I ended up choosing UCI because it offered me the best funding. And although it's definitely not the best fit for my specific research interests, I’ve felt very supported in my department. UCI was an easy place for me to thrive.
Tell us about your research. What problem will your findings help solve?
I study asexuality, a sexual identity that refers to those who experience no/low sexual attraction. I’ve been interested in the relationships between gender and sexuality for basically all of grad school. As I began thinking about my dissertation, I knew I wanted to explore those relationships. I’m very convinced by the argument put forward by Black feminist scholars that when we focus on society’s margins, we learn a great deal not only about the margins but also about the center. With that in mind, I began asking myself, who should I talk to? Asexual folks quickly stood out, since they exist at the margins of both of heteronormative and the queer worlds (even though asexuality is one of the ‘As’ in LGBTQIA+). I haven’t regretted that decision for even a second. I’ve found that asexuality is an incredibly generative topic, poised to make important interventions in the study of sexuality, gender, race, disability, inequality, power, and various other topics. It’s strange, but because asexuality is such an understudied topic, I’ve found myself quickly emerging as a leading sociologist of asexuality. Already, my research on asexuality has won awards both from the American Sociological Association and Sociologists for Women in Society—and I look forward to continuing to build on that work.
I hope that my research can help people see that asexual people’s experiences and perspectives are valuable for all of us. As a non-asexual (aka “allosexual”) person who studies asexuality, I know personally how valuable those perspectives are. We’ll all understand sexuality, gender, attraction, love, romance, desire, power, disability, race, and their intersections more deeply if we pay attention to asexual perspectives.
Where can your work be found if someone wanted to learn more about your research?
I have six peer-reviewed articles that have been published or are forthcoming in Sexualities, Men and Masculinities, Sociology Compass, Sociological Inquiry, and the Journal of Homosexuality. Details here:
Winer, C. Forthcoming. "'The Queers Hate Me Because I’m Too Butch:' Goldilocks Masculinity
Among Non-Heterosexual Men." Sexualities
Winer, C. Forthcoming. "Inequality and the 'Universal' Gay Male Experience: Developing the Concept of Gay Essentialism." Journal of Homosexuality.
Winer, C. Carroll, M., Yang, Y., Miles, B. Linder, K. Forthcoming. "'I Didn’t Know Ace Was a Thing:' Bisexuality and Pansexuality as Identity Pathways in Asexual Identity Formation." Sexualities.
Winer, C., 2022. "Solidarity, Disdain, and the Imagined Center of the Gay Imagined Community." Sociological Inquiry: 92, 710-732.
Winer, C. 2021. "Sex Roles and the Erasure of Women from Conversations About Gender Oppression: The Case of #BoysDanceToo." Men and Masculinities: 24(5), 842–861. https://doi.org/10.1177/1097184X211034549
Winer, C. and Bolzendahl, C., 2021. "Conceptualizing homonationalism:(Re‐) Formulation, application, and debates of expansion." Sociology Compass: e12853.
I’m also passionate about public and community-engaged sociology, so I share my work regularly on Twitter and my Substack. I’ve also been interviewed about my research on the Taboo Science podcast, and the Slice of Ace YouTube channel.
What activities have you been involved in while on campus?
I’m very involved on campus. I have been president of the Queer Graduate Caucus, the largest and oldest interdisciplinary group for LGBTQIA+ grad students at UCI, since 2018. I have also been involved in Associated Graduate Students, the grad student government, for the past four years, including serving on the executive board for the last three years. I also served for two years as the co-chair of the Sociology Graduate Student Association. My research, teaching, and service record has also earned me a number of awards.
I’m also passionate about bridging the gaps between academia and the public. In 2021, I received the Social Science Communication Fellowship in Public Writing in recognition of my contributions to public scholarship. I regularly write about my research for public settings, and my writing is engaged with by people both inside and outside academia around the world. I’ve been a contributing writer for the Huffington Post, a collegiate correspondent for USA Today, and a writer for “The Loh Down on Science,” a radio show available on various platforms (including NPR). I’ve been asked to present on my research across the U.S., but I’m also starting to see international interest in my work. I recently presented about asexuality and aromanticism at Uppsala University in Sweden and also recently had some of my public-facing work translated into Chinese.
Any unique life experiences that have guided your educational journey? Give us some background.
I’ve been fortunate to have lived in various parts of the country and the world. I grew up in South Florida before moving to the Bronx for my undergraduate education at Fordham University. I was extremely lucky to attend Fordham on a full academic scholarship as a National Merit Scholar. That scholarship also covered Fordham’s study abroad programs. There were three options: London, UK; Grenada, Spain; and Pretoria, South Africa. I chose South Africa. Living in South Africa for almost half a year exposed me to very different experiences and perspectives. A year later, when I was panicking about what to do after I graduated from Fordham, I decided I wanted to live somewhere different again, challenging myself to see the world from a different point of view. I applied for jobs around Asia, and eventually ended up accepting a job in Shanghai, China. It was scary moving somewhere new where I didn’t even speak the language. But I ended up loving it so much that I extended my contract to stay for two full years. I never left East Asia during those two years, using my vacation time to visit South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other parts of China. I didn’t even leave Asia for any campus visits, so I accepted UCI’s offer without ever stepping foot on campus… or even in Orange County! I think these experiences living outside of my comfort zone helped me see how much the human experience varies from place to place and how the culture we’re immersed in shape our perceptions of the world. They also made me more deeply appreciate the value in acknowledging and seeking to learn more about the differences between us.
My lived experiences as a queer person have also played an important role in my educational journey. I have seen how academia has—and continues to—both harm and empower queer people. Academia has helped to produce so much liberatory knowledge, but it’s also a space that has historically harmed various historically marginalized groups, including queer people, indigenous people, people of color, women, disabled people, poor people, etc. Unfortunately, much of that harm is ongoing—even as many amazing people within academia are working to change it. Being a queer person and having a knowledge of queer history has given me a willingness to break some of the rules, both spoken and unspoken, in academia. I think that openness to queering the way I approach the academy has helped me stay invigorated and energized about my work. It has also helped me stand out in an extremely competitive field, since my willingness to do things differently has landed me at the cutting edge of the sociology of gender and sexuality. I honestly didn’t plan it that way, but it’s had some unexpected benefits, along with its own unique challenges.
Who have been your faculty mentors while here, and what impact have they had on your graduate career?
I am incredibly grateful to my advisor, David Frank. David has always made me feel supported, even when I chose to study asexuality, an almost completely uncharted topic in sociology, for my dissertation. I leave every meeting with him feeling energized, intellectually challenged, and seen as a full person, not just a scholar. I am also grateful to Sabrina Strings, whose Feminist Theory seminar shifted the way I view academia and encouraged me to think more critically about the type of work I want to do. Francesca Polletta was also instrumental in pushing my work forward—and she’s simply one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I also have to thank Catherine Bolzendahl, who continued to be a support for me even after she left UCI for Oregon State University, and helped me to get excited about the sociology of gender. Last, but certainly not least, I am immensely grateful to have had Tristan Bridges as a member of my dissertation committee. There are few people who I feel understand my work and ambitions more fully than Tristan, and I’m so thankful that UCI allowed me to have him on my committee even though he’s a professor at UC Santa Barbara.
When will you complete your Ph.D.? What are your plans thereafter? How has UCI prepared you well for this role?
I defended my dissertation and accepted a job at Northern Illinois University in May. I’ll be an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at NIU starting in August. I was also recently offered a position as Stephen O. Murray Scholar in Residence at Michigan State University’s James Madison College, so I’ll be visiting the MSU campus to give lectures and connect with the academic community there over the next year.