Psychologists have developed a new way of visualizing gender and gender diversity


When it comes to gender and / or sex (gender / sex), the story is much richer than just “woman or man”. All over the world, people use an array of terms to describe their identity, with Facebook offering up to 71 gender options. These various gender / sex terms help people understand themselves and communicate their gender / sex to others. Researchers may find them useful as well, but scientists sometimes want to be able to think about all of these genders / sexes together, which can be difficult with so many terms. Scientists also sometimes want to know if different people mean the same thing when they use a term; Do all people mean the same thing when they say they are “non-binary” or a “woman”?

In our study, we used specially designed diagrams that people were inspired by, and we put their answers together to create “heat maps”. These heat maps provide a visual representation of the wide range of gender / sex diversity. We took inspiration from the natural sciences, where complex phenomena like brain activity or global climate models can be communicated through a single image.

To make our heat maps, we used diagrams from the “theory of sexual configurations”, which one of us (van Anders) created in 2015. Participants marked their “location” on these diagrams, including including aspects of gender (socio-cultural aspects of femininity, masculinity, and gender diversity), sex (biological / physical aspects of sexual diversity, masculinity and femininity) and “gender / sex” (entire identities or related phenomena men, women and people of various genders). This included how strongly they identified with their gender / sex, whether binary or non-binary, whether they felt their gender / sex challenged norms, and their degree of femininity and masculinity.

Participants could use the diagrams as they liked, which created fascinating shapes in the individual responses. We used computer programming to put the individual drawings together, resulting in heat maps that showed the location of many individuals on the same diagram.

Here we describe the heat map for the ‘gender / sex’ of cisgender women, or their relationship to their entire identity. There is a hot spot – red – in women, which means that a lot of cisgender women considered themselves squarely as women. But some women felt a bit like women and a bit like men, which may be surprising for people who haven’t met someone with this existence (or who don’t know they have. ). Some have marked themselves in the non-binary area. And, many women have said that they don’t really feel their femininity.

This is a heat map for our non-binary participants focusing on gender, which describes relationships with femininity, masculinity, and other genders. Non-binary people have shown a wide range of locations. Unsurprisingly, this included a good chunk of the non-binary area of ​​the diagram and almost all of the “challenge area,” where genders that go against the norm of what society considers “feminine” or “feminine” can go. “male”.

Many non-binary people feel that their gender is outside the norm and / or that they are intentionally challenging society’s expectations for their gender, so it makes sense that they made heavy use of the challenge zone. And, non-binary participants reported a wide range of the importance of their gender to them, from not at all to a lot.

These heatmaps reveal a complexity we might not otherwise have seen, such as identifying some cisgender women as more than just women. And, they help us portray something very complex in an image, like the various relationships of non-binary people to gender, so that we can reflect on the rich diversity of gender / sex.

Our hope is that these heatmaps can encourage even more creative thinking about gender beyond a male / female binary and help scientists and academics conduct research that reflects the amazing gender / sex diversity in the world. world.

The study, “Visualizing Gender / Sex Diversity Via Sexual Configuration Theory,” was published in Psychology of sexual orientation and gender diversity.

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