Bidimensional models for asexuality and gender identity

Esta entrada es una colaboración para el carnaval de blogs, que este mes trata sobre asexualidad y género no binario. Escribo en inglés porque es el idioma de este carnaval.

Disclaimer: In this post I use the word “gender” with is psychosocial meaning, not as an euphemism for “sex.”

Thinking of this month’s topic of Carnival of Aces, Non-binary People and Asexuality, I remembered that the celebrated Storms binary model of sexual orientation (Storms, 1980) is based, as he states in the article, on a previous bidimensional model of what he calls “sex role” and yields four categories: undifferentiated, masculine, feminine and androgynous. Applied to sexual orientation, the model yields the four categories well known in the asexual community: asexual, heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual. One could naively try to harmonize the terminology and rename Storms’s “sex role” categories as agender, masculine, feminine and bigender, but I think this goes astray of the established terminology. For instance, if I’m not wrong, a bigender person has two gender identities, in different regions of the bidimensional spectrum, contrary to an androgyne, who has one gender identity in the androgynous sector. Thus, gender is (a priori) more complicated than sexual orientation, since one can have a different number of gender identities, from none to a continuum, in the Storms-like spectrum.

Storms’s model of sexual orientation (on the left) and the corresponding model of gender identity (on the right).

The part of non-binary-ness that could be compared to asexuality is what Storms calls “undifferentiated.” I’m not a fan of this terminology, but I will use it for want of a better one. Another related term is “agender,” which seems to be polysemic. According to Neutrois Nonsense, “agender” may refer to the absence of gender identity and to one gender identity in the “undifferentiated” sector. Though only the latter is parallel to asexuality, there was an old opinion (now dismissed) of asexuality as lack of sexual orientation. In my opinion, the simpler model of sexual orientation leaves no room for a lack of sexual orientation, but the more complicatedness of gender allows two different concepts: genderless and gender-neutral.

Yet there is another concept which can be confused with genderless-ness and gender-neutral-ness, and it’s the strength of gender identity. Theoretically speaking, a weak gender identity is close to genderless, but in practice it’s difficult to distinguish a weakening a gender identity fixed at one point of the bidimensional spectrum from moving this point of the spectrum toward the origin. What’s the difference between weakly feeling 100% masculine and strongly feeling 50% masculine? If I’m not wrong, the latter identity is called “demiguy”, so we could rephrase this question as “What’s the difference between weakly feeling a guy and strongly feeling a demiguy?”.

References: Michael D. Storms, 1980. Theories of Sexual OrientationJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 38, no. 5, pp. 783-792.

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6 Responses to Bidimensional models for asexuality and gender identity

  1. […] Bidimensional Models for Asexuality and Gender Identity by Isaac […]

  2. […] Bidimensional Models for Asexuality and Gender Identity by Isaac […]

  3. As a sidenote, you might be interested that the bidimensional of sex roles is something that Sandra Bem created in 1971. It wasn’t about gender identity at all (although there’s no reason you can’t use it that way to theorise like you have here).

    Her 4-quadrant map of sex roles (that inspired Storms) was literally about how closely people conformed to M and F traditional gender roles (in her US context)– whether they had characteristics associated with M roles, F roles, neither or both. It was basically a scale mapping (cis) people’s various (stereotypically & culturally) “gendered” characteristics.

    This was during a time when Psychology had a major interest in the “benefits of androgyny” pushing the idea that not corresponding either to M or F stereotypes would have advantages for (cis) men and (cis) women. At that time, Psychology had M and F on two ends of a single continuum and “androgyny” was the middle zone, so there was no way to talk about having a lot of (mixed) gendered characteristics overall vs. having very few at all.

    A major purpose of Bem’s 2-dimensional model with the 4 quadrants was to be able to distinguish between people who are “undifferentiated” (who don’t have characteristics associated with either M or F role) and people who are “androgynous” (who have characteristics associated with both M and F roles).

    Here’s one of her massively cited studies testing whether people in the “undifferentiated” zone and the “androgynous” zone showed any differences. (She found that they did when she looked at how people responded to kittens and assessed their self-esteem.) Note: her participants were all (presumed to be cis) young “male and female” adults.

    Reference: Sandra Lipsitz Bem (1977). “On the utility of alternative procedures for assessing psychological androgyny.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol 45, issue 2, pp.196-205.
    http://psych.cornell.edu/sites/default/files/On%20the%20utility.pdf

  4. Isaac dice:

    Thanks, Omnes et Nihil, for explaining the context of the bidimensional models. I knew that Storms used a test called PAQ instead of Bem’s, but it seems that Bem’s is older. I didn’t know what “sex role” meant in the seventies, so maybe I took a greater step than I thought when I translated the model to gender identity.

    I didn’t know of the interest in the “benefits of androgyny,” but the story of Bem’s model is very parallel to Storms’s, who cites the parallelism and the inspiration but not her. Both start from a unidimensional model and propose a bidimensional one that distinguishes the high-high and the low-low zones, discovering the latter (undifferentiated and asexuals) to the research community.

  5. […] according to their identification as women, men, both or neither. Some examples can be seen in Bidimensional models for asexuality and gender identity by Isaac and Queering gender: studying gender identity in ‘normative’ individuals [pdf] by a […]

  6. […] según si se identifican como mujeres, hombres, ambos o ninguno. Se pueden ve ejemplos del mismo en Bidimensional models for asexuality and gender identity por Isaac y en Queering gender: studying gender identity in ‘normative’ individuals [pdf] por […]

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