Storms square as a model for education

29 junio 2017

Esta entrada es una colaboración para el carnaval de blogs, que este mes trata sobre educación asexual. Escribo en inglés porque es el idioma de este carnaval.

Versión en español

In its very name, AVEN has two objectives: visibility and education. Though intertwined, this month we’ll focus on education. Each effort of visibility educates by teaching people that asexuality exists, but maybe not in depth, and each effort of education makes its objective visible, but maybe not in the most effective way. Of course, it’s not the same trying to educate the general population, the LGBT people or their allies. One can go more in depth with the two last populations because of the shared knowledge. Notice that there are still people who can only picture a binary straight/gay or, if they conceive a spectrum, it’s the faggish spectrum, which start with straight, follows with cis-gay and ends with trans, mixing apples with oranges.

As any reader of this blog may know, I am a big fan of Storms square, and I find it suitable both many levels of education. For the simplest level, it shows how asexuality is the missing piece in the puzzle of orientation, preventing the response “and how many orientations more?”. This way we can picture the four cardinal orientations: heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality. This picture, apart of framing asexuality as a sexual orientation, also prevents the common misconceptions like equating asexuality with being antisexual or abstinent from sex.

Advancing further than the fourfold reading of Storms square, one can introduce the grey area, including demisexuality, but with the warning that the four cardinal orientations come before and that a demisexual still has a sexual orientation for their sexual attraction. I would compare it with grammatical gender in Spanish. There are two grammatical genders in standard Spanish, masculine and feminine, together with a vestigial neuter, but then there exist some phenomena regarding gender, like common gender, ambiguous gender or epicene gender. These phenomena are not genders, and require the two cardinal genders for their explanation. For instance, a word cannot have epicene as its gender, but it would be either masculine or feminine. An epicene feminine word like “persona” is a feminine word, and being epicene means that its feminine gender has preference over the gender of its referent. In the same way, a straight demisexual is heterosexual; their demisexuality explains how their sexual attraction works, not where it is oriented.

Finally, Storms square is a scientific model, published in 1980, what makes it valid also for educating professionals. Another advantage of Storms model is that it can be reproduced for romantic attraction, making it clear that sexual and romantic orientation are essentially different, though usually aligned. I think it’s positive to introduce the split attraction model as soon as dealing with romantic attraction in order to avoid myths like equating asexuality and aromanticism or, worse, thinking that romantic attraction is universal. With the same square one can explore further, not only romantic orientation, but also platonic or social orientation.

Storms square is not the panacea, as it doesn’t deal with non-binary genders, but it’s a great model for education in many levels.

Bidimensional models for asexuality and gender identity

31 enero 2015

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.