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Sebastian's Blog

A review of non-pathologizing psychology research that expands our understanding of trans identity, experience, and mental health.


New ways of measuring gender, sex, and sexuality

Sebastian Barr

I believe that people experience their genders and sexualities in complex ways. I think there are more gender and sexuality identities in the population than we could make checkboxes for, and certainly more than the routine "man," "woman," "straight," "gay," "bisexual" boxes. This is not a new line of thinking - many theorists and educators have posited that gender and sexuality exist on spectrums. And this thinking is becoming commonplace in my generation: A recent study found that 50% of 'millienials' agreed with the statement, "gender is a spectrum, and some people fall outside of conventional categories" and disagreed with the statement that "there are only two genders."1 This is pretty exciting, but it also means that our conventional methods of measuring or asking people about gender and sexuality are pretty inadequate. We've been asking the wrong questions and accordingly, our understanding of gender and sexuality diversity in the general population has been limited.

What happens when we give people permission to use spectrums to describe their gender, sex, and sexuality?

In order to address this giant gap, Drs. Jennifer Bryan and Chris Overtree of Team Finch Consultants decided to develop a study, in which participants answered questions about their gender, biological sex, and sexuality, first with checkboxes and then with spectrums. They approached me to help with data analysis and the results are thrilling!

The long and short of it is that when you let people use spectrums a surprisingly (yes - surprising even to me!) large proportion of them describe their gender identity, gender expression, and biological sex somewhere between the binary categories of "man" and "woman," "masculine" and "feminine," "male and female." And they report experiencing these aspects of themselves differently - that is, many don't view their biological sex as the same as their gender identity or gender expression, and they also view their gender identity and gender expression as different. These characteristics or identities aren't experienced as differently as they are for transgender people, for example, where someone's biological sex may be on the male end of the spectrum and their gender identity may be on the woman end of the spectrum. But the important piece is that they are still being experienced as different.

Additionally, when people were able to describe their levels of attraction and sexual behavior to and with various gender categories, far fewer people met the traditional definition of "straight" than population estimates would otherwise suggest.

In 2015, people have an emerging awareness that not everyone is in these boxes of ‘male’ and ‘female,’ ‘man’ and woman.’ However there is still a perception that [this diversity] just applies to a very small percentage of the population...

Our findings show that gender diversity is not limited to transgender people and that sexuality diversity is not limited to LGBQ people.
— Dr. Jennifer Bryan

Dr. Bryan summarizes what this means: gender and sexuality diversity are present across the population. It is relevant for all of us.

Dr. Bryan wrote a white paper explaining how this is relevant in education (available here) and we even made a video introducing the research project and some of the results (watch it below). We will be releasing a full report covering our research methods and all of our findings in the coming weeks. It's all very exciting and I'm so proud to be a part of it.


1 Rivas, J. (2015). Half of young people believe gender isn’t limited to male and female. Fusion.