Yesterday my friend Nicola Griffith tweeted about a survey that Lambda Literary is running to see how they might improve their website. I clicked through to do my bit, and the very first question turned out to be, “What is your sexual orientation?”. One of the potential answers was “Transgender”.

Um, no.

And very emphatically NO. Let me explain why this is important. Trans people, just like all other people, exhibit the full range of human sexual choices. They can be gay, lesbian, bi, straight or asexual (and apologies if I have left any flavors out). That’s not relevant to their gender identity, which is all about their lives, not just their sex lives.

Unfortunately the idea that being trans is some sort of “perversion” is commonplace, and heavily promoted by conservatives. Firstly, of course, being L, G, B or A isn’t a perversion either, it is a perfectly natural variation. But trans people often go through surgery to be able to live in their preferred gender, and the the standard Daily Malice line is that, “these people want to have surgery to be able to indulge their unnatural lusts, and they want us to pay for it on the NHS!”

Equally the conservatives in the American Psychiatric Association use the allegation that all trans people are sexually aroused by cross-dressing as an excuse for classifying being trans as a mental illness. Because, you know, someone who wanted to undergo major surgery and a lifetime of medication just in order to satisfy their sexual desires might indeed be a bit crazy. (There are, of course, some people who are sexually aroused by cross-dressing, but those people generally don’t have any gender identity issues.)

So a question that describes “Transgender” as a sexual orientation is actually supporting a misconception that people commonly use as an excuse for discriminating against trans people.

I suspect that if you asked them the majority of people who do change their gender they would tell you that they’d happily accept a lifetime of celibacy in return for being accepted as the person they believe themselves to be. Of course they shouldn’t be forced to do so, but for many it is a reality anyway because so few people are willing to accept a trans person as a lover.

Because civil rights campaigners tend to use the LGBT acronym to define a loose community, governments and corporations trying to be sensitive often make the mistake of asking the same question that Lambda did. That’s understandable, people often need education (though I note that the current UK government makes a point of talking about “LGB & T people” to make it clear that they know there are multiple issues involved). But an LGBT organization really should know better. Thankfully I know that there are good people like Nicola involved in Lambda, so I’m not mad. But it is depressing.

4 thoughts on “Clueless

  1. (It’s not like you don’t know this, but some of your readers may not think of it…)

    Transgender as identification is a complicated thing.

    Most people just prefer to identify as the gender they’re living as and get on with their lives. Even if the form had included “transgender” (or “mtf” and “ftm”) in the “gender” blank (which I’ll qualify as “less inappropriate”) there are people who could select it but wouldn’t. It’s not part of their public identity. Mind you, that doesn’t invalidate the data being collected, it just means it has to be thought of in a different way.

    There are the people who, for whaetver personal, political or artistic reasons want to identify as being transgendered. Collecting that data can be very meaningful.

  2. Cheryl, has the survey been changed since you took it? The first question is now “How do you identify?”. Of course, being able to select only one of L G B T Q H decline-to-state is still highly problematic, as many many people fall into more than one of those categories. (Quite aside from the whole issue of trans people having a multitude of sexual orientations, I know two queer heterosexuals.)

    Andrew, I suggest following the link to the actual survey; there is no separate “gender” question.

    1. Yes. Nicola went and kicked butt for me. Unfortunately the survey had been up for some time and anything more than a change to the wording of the question would have meant throwing away the data they had collected so far, so the kludge you see is the best we could get.

      You are absolutely right, though, as is Andy. It is very complicated. I don’t expect any survey to please everyone. I just would like people to think a little bit rather than be thoughtlessly offensive.

      1. I was exposed to serious survey design a few years ago.

        If a question doesn’t offer an answer that reflects my opinion, I stop the survey and inform the people doing the survey why I can’t continue.

        I tend to drop out of a large number of surveys because bad designers don’t know there’s a difference between “neither positive nor negative” and “not applicable” and how you need to handle those answers.

        I drop out of some surveys when I detect bias and guidance in the options being given.

        And I would have dropped out of this one because the “orientation” question’s answers didn’t make sense. I still think they don’t with the new label, and they’re going to have to scrap the data from that question (which may bork up surveymonkey’s automatic analysis of the data).

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