The Spectra of Gender, Sexual Orientation and Biological Sex

In a previous post — the one about the Genetics Behind Sex Determination and Differentiation —  one reader left a comment that induced me to remove a sentence.

The reader took issue with my statement that human gonadal sex develops as a spectrum.  He commented that as this is in “deep dispute,” I should not represent my opinion as scientific fact.  It was based on these comments that I removed my statement about human gonads developing as a spectrum.

But I didn’t do it because I changed my mind.  I removed the statement because the comment was important and my response to it would have been more explanation than I felt I could make in the comments section.

Fortunately, the explanation fits nicely into the theme for a post that I have been wanting to write about for some time.  So this will be a “combination post,” providing a discussion about the spectra of gender, sexual orientation and biological sex and a more complete reply to the comments from the post mentioned above.

Spectrum/Continuum
For some non-trans people, the concept of the separation of gender, sexual orientation and biological sex can be hard to grasp.  When a person’s gender is aligned with their body, it can be difficult for them to imagine what it would be like otherwise, which can lead to difficulty in un-linking gender from biological sex, and sexual orientation can get muddled up in the mix as well.

So first, before we talk about the spectrum of gender or sex or anything like that, let’s take a look at what we actually mean by a ‘spectrum.’

According to Wikipedia, the most accurate source of information in the universe:

“A spectrum is a condition that is not limited to a specific set of values but can vary infinitely within a continuum.”  – and – “Continuum … models explain variation as involving a gradual quantitative transition without abrupt changes or discontinuities.”

The first example that comes to mind (mine anyway) when talking about a spectrum is the spectrum of visible light.

In this example, the spectrum of visible light runs as a continuum of wavelengths from 400 to 700 nm.  (As an FYI, ultraviolet light is off the spectrum to the left and infrared light is off to the spectrum to the right, neither of which can be seen by the human eye.)

Now that we have an example of one spectrum on a continuum, let’s take a look at some more with regard to our topic.  A tool that I have used when coming out to people to try to help them understand the separate characteristics of gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and biological sex is below.

The Diagram of Sex and Gender from the Center for Gender Sanity provides a visual aid to help folks get a better understanding of the separateness of these characteristics:

I am not sure I agree that ‘asexual’ belongs with ‘bisexual’ in the center of the sexual orientation continuum (I would think ‘asexual’ would  not be on the continuum of sexual orientation as it is shown, although others might not agree), but otherwise, this little visual aid has been very handy for a number of my coming out conversations.

Of course, there can be variations on this theme.  People have adjusted this diagram, such as the following from the LGBTQ Architect where sexual orientation and sexual behavior are separated (similar to the distinction between gender identity and gender expression):

Okay, so now that we have considered these different spectra, let’s think about how we would measure the continua for them.  It’s relatively easy to give the continuum for the spectrum of visible light — wavelength, in that case.  But how to make a continuum measurement for gender or sexual orientation?

Example:  The Spectrum of Sexual Orientation
For sexual orientation, we could consider the Kinsey Scale, which was first published by scientist Dr. Alfred Kinsey in 1948 in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, and then followed up in 1953 with Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.  Both publications collectively make up the famous Kinsey Reports.

Who was Alfred Kinsey?  In case you haven’t seen the movie starring Liam Neeson, here is a brief description I plucked out of the wealth of information on the Kinsey Institute website:

“Kinsey is widely respected today for interview methodology, documenting the wide variation in sexual behavior, studying the differences in male and female sexual response and perceptions, and launching the scientific study of sex.”

(You can read more about him and the Kinsey Institute here.)

Kinsey’s research resulted, in part, in the development of what is known as the Kinsey Scale, which Kinsey described as follows:

“Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories… The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.

While emphasizing the continuity of the gradations between exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual histories, it has seemed desirable to develop some sort of classification which could be based on the relative amounts of heterosexual and homosexual experience or response in each history […] An individual may be assigned a position on this scale, for each period in his life. […] A seven-point scale comes nearer to showing the many gradations that actually exist.”
—Kinsey, et al. (1948). pp. 639, 656

You may have noticed that Kinsey talked about a continuum, a concept he used in his work.  Through Kinsey’s research, he was able to assign a scale to represent the spectrum of human sexual orientation as follows:

We need to keep in mind that all people do not fall exactly on each of these ratings. People also fall in the gradations between them, as Kinsey stated (above) that make up the spectrum of sexual orientation.

For some of you non-trans folks out there, this scale can be a little tricky when applying it to trans people.  For us, we know that our sexual orientation, whether ‘heterosexual’ or ‘homosexual’ (or something else) is with regard to our gender and not our biological sex.  On the outside, however, a heterosexual trans person could be perceived as homosexual if they have not medically transitioned and are still living in the gender they were assigned at birth.

For example, if a heterosexual trans man who has not transitioned and who is still living in the world as female is partnered with a woman, he could be seen as being in a homosexual relationship as based on his assigned sex at birth even though, based on his gender, he is in a heterosexual relationship.

With that bit of trickiness aside, for us trans folks, this scale leaves some of us completely out of the picture.

With these comments in mind, I have taken the liberty to revise the Kinsey Scale in two steps.  First, I have changed it so as not to describe sexual orientation per se but to mention attractions instead:

Now technically, I’m cheating here.  Kinsey developed his scale after conducting years of research and interviewing thousands of people.  All I’ve done is make a few adjustments with Photoshop and have no research at all as back up.  I hope you will forgive the liberties I’ve taken, which I have done for the sake of the discussion, and not to insinuate that the scales I make about sexual orientation are actually correct or based on scientific data.

So back to the discussion — this scale still does not completely capture all the nuances of sexual orientation in and around the trans community.  For example, there are some trans people who are only attracted to other trans people, but if we focus on the gender of the people we are attracted to, then the scale could conceivably capture trans men and trans women under the labels “men” and “women.”

But what if someone is attracted to genderqueer people, or bi-gender people, or others under the transgender umbrella that do not fit into gender labels of “man” and “woman”?  What do we do with the spectrum of sexual orientation when the subjects of our attractions are also on a spectrum rather than a binary?

Maybe that would require some mathematics to describe a spectrum of sexual orientation that is not just a one-dimensional continuum, but for the sake of this discussion, I hope you will forgive this simplification that I am making as follows:

Let’s use this scale now (or you can use a scale that you have devised) and apply it to the spectrum of sexual orientation:

You’ll notice I do not include “asexual” and “non-sexual” on this continuum as I think that the lack of a romantic or erotic response does not fit so well on this particular scale, but others may find ways to include them.  One way I could think of to add them would be to make the continuum a circle, but that adds a complexity to the discussion that I’d rather leave out for now.

We could also apply scales to the spectra of gender identity and gender expression, but I think you get the idea, so I’ll move onto biological sex so I can better address the comments I mentioned at the start of this post.

Does Biological Sex Develop in a Spectrum?
To start this part of the discussion, let’s go back to the earlier post, Genetics Behind Sex Determination and Differentiation.  In that post, I discussed the genetic signals that drive the differentiation and development of the gonads.  In that discussion, I originally stated that gonadal sex develops as a spectrum and that’s when one reader disagreed. I removed the sentence under debate and here we are.

To review the comments that were posted:

“Sticking with biology, I’m addressing your characterization of gonadal sex as a spectrum. I disagree that it is a spectrum but I do acknowledge that there are birth defects and anomolys just as in most other aspects of biology. You assert that it makes no difference scientifically to refer to something that goes wrong in sex differentiation as proof of a spectrum. I think that’s misleading to what has really happened…

… Basically, you’re emphasizing the exceptions and biological mishaps over the function. The rare exception in sex that is a result of a malfunction does not a spectrum make.

I would call the two sexes male and female while also acknowledging that birth defects or anomolies or the various specific names that accompany the specific types of intersexed conditions exist. We don’t call male or female a condition because it isn’t an anomoly. We call intersexed a condition because it results from something going wrong. I would stay away from the term ‘spectrum’ to describe the rare occurance of biological mishaps regardless of a potential that no longer exists.”

First, I would say that the commenter and I actually are very close on our views.  I think the difference is what each of us would put into the spectrum of gonadal sex.  I’ll explain.

For me, the key to the comments is the first part, “Sticking with biology…”  The thing is, biology is not perfect.  The errors, mistakes and “anomalies” that the commenter mentions are instrinsic to biology.  It’s the nature of Nature, if you will, for things to not always go according to plan.

So if we look at gonadal development within this frame, if we consider the “normative” gonads (testes and ovaries) plus the gonadal outcomes that are non-normative, i.e. the variations that occur because biology intrinsically cannot follow the gonadal blueprint 100% of the time, would we conclude that a gonadal spectrum exists?  Our commenter says No, but I say Yes.

Why?  Because we know that a certain percentage of the time and with a given incidence, things will go wrong.  There will be malfunctions, anomalies, genetic mishaps, disorders of sex development, whatever you want to call them — they will most certainly happen.  It’s a biological system and biology is not perfect.  Therefore, if these “anomalies” recur with a certain frequency, then they are part of the biological nature of things and contribute to a spectrum of known developmental outcomes.

However,  I acknowledge that some people, including perhaps the commenter mentioned above, would say that it’s the disorders of gonadal development that occur in a spectrum, not the normative development of the gonads themselves, which results in the binary of testes or ovaries.

My view, though, when considering the spectrum of disorders of gonadal development, is that the normative testes and ovaries are within the range of the variations, and so fall within the spectrum.  That’s how I see it, but you might see it differently.

Well then, what about the commenter’s other point, that if something does go wrong during sex determination or development, it’s a “rare occurrence” and does not make a spectrum of gonadal development.

What about that?  Seems logical.  So how do we consider this point of view?

To do so, we need to look at what it means to say the “rareness” of the “biological mishaps.”  How do we do that?  Well, we could quantify these “rare occurrences.” We can take the one-dimensional continua and add a second dimension through the use of distribution curves.

Two-Dimensional Spectra – Using Distribution Curves
For our discussion about adding a second dimension to the spectra, let’s put aside gender, sex and sexual orientation for a moment and use an example that many people are familiar with, that of  IQ.

The Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was developed in the early 1900’s to determine the learning potential of children.  There are actually different tests that have been developed over the years to classify intelligence, and they are usually based on the age of the person, as a 10-year-old would not be expected to have the same intelligence of a 40-year-old.  Each test has a numerical score as an end point which has its own scale.  Below is the scale and ratings for one of the Wechsler intelligence tests, as an example:

* Over 130 – Very superior
* 120 – 129 – Superior
* 110 – 119 – High average
* 90 – 109 – Average
* 80 – 89 – Low average
* 70 – 79 – Borderline
* Under 70 – Extremely low/intellectually disabled

Now what if we were to represent the Wechsler IQ scale as a spectrum and add a second dimension?  What if we were to incorporate the percentage of the population that achieved the scores on the above scale (i.e. the frequency)?  Then, the continuum (the first dimension, on the x-axis) would run from the lowest recorded test score to the highest, with the center average at 100, and the second dimension (the y-axis) would show the percentage of the population that had achieved the scores on the scale:


This type of bell-shaped curve represents a “normal distribution” in that it is symmetric on both sides of the average.  There can be other bell-shaped curves that still represent normal distributions, but the shape can be different in relationship to the range of the continuum, such as the following:

What we see in all of these cases is that the majority of the population falls around the center, which is the average, with a relatively smaller percentage of the population falling in the “tails” of the distribution at the left and right ends of each continuum.

Non-normal distributions have different shapes, but as you can guess, they are not symmetric around the mean. I’ll just give a couple examples here:

Now going back to the IQ test scores, the frequency data from the Wechsler test in our example is distributed as shown below, with the greatest proportion of the population, 68%, achieving scores in the low-to-high average range, another 28% who fall either in the “superior” or “borderline”  ranges, and with only 2% being “very superior” (i.e. a score higher than 130) and 2% being “extremely low/intellectually deficient” (i.e. a score less than 70).


And isn’t this what we would expect?  Aren’t the majority of the people we know in the average range of IQ?   This type of distribution is well-represented in nature.  We would very likely see this kind of bell-shaped frequency curve if we were to collect data on the shoe size of adults, the maximum speed of greyhounds or the birth weight of babies, as examples.

So now, let’s consider the “tails” of the curve, the ends, which each represent 2 percent of the population.  At the right end of the distribution are the people who have superior IQ, the geniuses.  At the left end are those who have a low IQ and are intellectually disabled.

If we think about those parts of the distribution curve in light of the commenter’s remarks above, would the people that fall in the tails of the curve be considered “anomalies”?  “Rare occurrences”?  And if so, does that mean that they should not be considered as part of the spectrum?

Perhaps 2% at each end is not rare enough.  What about if we only consider the people falling within 0.2% at each end?  Or 0.02%?  Only the people with the very highest and very lowest  IQ scores.

Now, if we consider the folks with the rarest of the rare IQ scores, would we say that because they are rare, because they are “anomalies,” that they shouldn’t be on the spectrum?  I would not.  Similarly, I would also think that no matter how uncommon a gonadal variation is, it would still be considered part of the spectrum of human gonadal development.

Whichever you happen to choose, that every outcome, normative or not, falls on the spectrum of gonadal development, or that there is a binary of normative gonad types plus a spectrum of disorders of gonadal development, there is still a spectrum involved.  And so with that in mind, and speaking of my own personal opinion on the matter (your opinion may be different), I will go beyond the gonads and discuss biological sex in general.

The Spectra of Biological Sex
If we were to make a spectrum of biological sex, we might say that the two ends of the continuum would represent “male” and “female.”

But is it as simple as that?  What makes a person male or female?

Is it XY and XX chromosomes?  We have already seen in a number of previous posts in this blog that some individuals can have an outward appearance of a sex that is not aligned with their sex chromosomes.   And the sex chromosomes do not take into account genes on non-sex chromosomes that are involved in sex determination and/or differentiation.

Is it the gonads then, the presence of testes or ovaries, that decides males and females?  We have also seen in some previous posts that the sex of the gonads do not always align with the secondary sex characteristics of the individual, such as body and facial hair growth, or the sound of the voice.  Or, there might even be a mixture of male and female gonads.

What about hormones?  Again, they are not always indicative of other aspects of biological sex.   The same can be said for internal sex organs.  Or even secondary sex characteristics — they might not even be aligned with each other in certain individuals!

How, then, can we make a spectrum if we do not have one simple definition of biological sex?  I know — let’s make more spectra!!!

Let’s start with sex chromosomes, and make a spectrum with the different somies (numbers) of X and Y chromosomes as they have been seen in humans:

What’s missing from this spectrum is the mosaicism that can occur with different cells in the body having different sex chromosome numbers.  You’ll also notice that the “OY” condition is not given.  That’s because embryos with Y-monosomy (single Y with no X chromosome) do not survive, unlike X-monosomy which is seen in Turner Syndrome (Linden et al., 1995).

Remembering that the normal human karyotype contains 46 chromosomes (23 pairs, each consisting of one from the mother and one from the father), the X and Y ends of the spectrum above would be 45-karyotype (sex chromosome monosomy cases excluding 45,OY which does not exist) and in the middle would be the 48- and 49-karyotype cases (tetrasomy and pentasomy, respectively; Linden et al., 1995).  I had to overlap a few of them toward the middle to fit them all in.  Of course, the “standard” and most prevalent cases would be 46,XY or 46,XX.

I have not included the XYY cases on the spectrum because, although it is a condition that does exist in humans, it has no phenotypic effects on development of biological sex or reproductive function. Also, I’d like to note that Klinefelter Syndrome, which is on the spectrum in multiple variations, is seen whenever a Y chromosome is accompanied by more than one X-chromosome (Visootsak & Graham, 2006).

To make up the spectrum, the places between the karyotypes given above would be filled in with sex chromosomes that have microdeletions, partial deletions or occur as fragments. For example, not all individuals with Turner Syndrome are missing the second X-chromosome, and can have one full X and one partial X-chromosome (Ross et al., 2006).

That is one example of a way to make a spectrum of one aspect of biological sex.  You might be able to think of a better way or a different continuum or design of the spectrum.

The Goands and the Spectrum of Gonadal Sex
Regarding gonadal sex, the “normative” development would be testes or ovaries, with their germ cells, supporting cells, epithelial cells, steroid-producing cells, blood vessels and nerves that make up each gonad.  That’s a lot of components, and with anything that has many parts, there are relatively more chances for things to go awry.

And so, if we consider a continuum with all outcomes — normative and non-normative — at the edges of the continuum I would place the cases of testicular or ovarian dysgenesis that occur when sex determining genes are non-normative, whether they be mutated, duplicated, truncated, or other genetic “mishaps.”  (See this post for information regarding this subject.)  A point on the continuum between, say, “testes” and “testicular dysgenesis,” would be something like one of the forms of Sertoli-cell-only-syndrome (SCOS), also known as germ cell aplasia, where the testes form but lack germ cells.

In the middle of the gonadal continuum I have placed ovotestes or presence of both testis and ovary, of which both conditions have been documented as disorders of sex development, among others.  True, they are not commonly seen, but they do occur, and so I included them on the continuum.

For the sake of time and space (as this post is already much longer than I anticipated it would be), I have made simplified spectra for other aspects of biological sex and present them all together, here.  To make these spectra, I have put on the continua the biological variations that have been documented in human cases.

Now for sure these are definitely simplified.  Each of them could be split into additional spectra, or could be configured in a different way.  And when I mention sex determining genes, those are just the genes known to be involved, but as we learned in the previous posts on this topic, we don’t know all of the responsible genes yet.

Regarding the spectra I just presented, they would not be all lined up similar to the spectra on the Diagram of Sex and Gender (above).  The two top spectra for biological sex that represent genetics are on different types of continua than the others.

Putting Them All Together
Now that we have all of these spectra, what shall we do with them?  How about we align them for different types of people?

First, how about a person who is “normative” with regard to all aspects of biological sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation (reminding ourselves that “normative” would fall in a range)?  Let’s consider a biological female with an aligned gender identity. Her spectral alignment might look something like this:


And now, let’s consider a person with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome.  A person such as this would have an outwardly female appearance with female external genitalia, but would have XY male chromosomes, a mutated androgen receptor gene, normal-to-high levels of testosterone and internal testes with no secondary sex organs.  If this person had a feminine gender identity, which the majority do, and was attracted to men , her spectral alignment might look like this:

Lastly, a non-transitioned pansexual trans man with a 46,XX chromosomal compliment, just to get an example on the trans spectrum, might have an alignment like this:

And with that, I’ll end here before I get the urge to draw yet another spectrum.

I encourage discussion in the comments section regarding the things we’ve considered here, especially if you think there’s something I’ve missed, could have explained better or have stated incorrectly.

One objective for this post was to provide a more complete explanation as to why I removed one sentence from a previous post and what I meant when I originally wrote it.

And I hope that this discussion gives folks something to think about, a way to separate different aspects of human sex (biological, gender, and orientation).  The original Diagram of Sex and Gender is already outstanding and I give many thanks to the people at Center for Gender Sanity for such a useful and fantastic tool.  What I’ve done here is taken their great resource and added to it, with the main goal of expanding a bit on the spectrum of biological sex, which I hope readers find useful in some way.

–ATM

References

Kinsey AC, Pomeroy WB, Martin CE, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, (Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders, 1948)

Kinsey AC, Pomeroy WB, Martin CE, Gebhard PH, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, (Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders, 1953)

Linden MG, Bender BG, Robinson A, 1995. Sex chromosome tetrasomy and pentasomy. Pediatrics 96(4 Pt 1):672-682.

Ross J, Roeltgen D, Zinn A, 2006. Cognition and the sex chromosomes: studies in Turner syndrome. Horm Res 65:47-56

Visootsak J & Graham JM, 2006. Klinefelter syndrome and other sex chromosomal aneuploidies. Orphanet J Rare Dis 1:42.

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29 Responses to The Spectra of Gender, Sexual Orientation and Biological Sex

  1. j says:

    Helpful post. hummm…. It is very difficult for us non-transfolks to get the whole sexual orientation thing. Its sometimes a bit upsetting for us too. Especially if we’re romantically involved with a transperson. Somehow whom they are attracted to changes sometimes on hormones. And that can be really traumatic for the non trans partner. I’m going off tangent… I know… but I’m sure this post will help a lot of us understand what’s really going on. This is a post that badly needed to get written. So thanks.

    • Hi J. Thanks for your comment.

      I have been considering a post on sexual orientation of trans people as well- there is published literature on that subject. Although it might seem that some trans people’s attractions or sexual orientation changes after they’ve started a hormonal transition, sometimes it’s more about that person finally being comfortable enough in their body that they can act on their attractions. For example, a trans man might have never acted on his attractions to men, might not have even allowed himself to feel those attractions, because the thought of being with a man as a female was too unpalatable. But after a hormonal transition of female to male, he might be comfortable to be with men AS a man, and so might act on those attractions.

      Having said all that, I don’t mean to diminish the significant effects this kind of situation might have on a partner that was there before transition. This is an example of why frank and open communication is very important between partners when one (or both) is transitioning.

  2. Denise says:

    Holy Smoke!

    What a great post! I loved how you dovetailed the possible spectra’s making it easy for me to see all the possibilities.

    Cool!
    Denise

    • Why, thank you Miss Denise. When I was about 75% of the way through writing it, I wasn’t sure it would be helpful to anyone, but since I was so far along, I decided to continue. If I had only been at the 50% mark, I might not have finished it! So I’m glad it was of some benefit to even one person.

  3. maddox says:

    Very exhaustive and informative post. Thanks for putting it together.

    However I would argue a counterpoint that would basically destroy most of the spectra diagrams – at least this is how I make sense of everything.

    Consider a spectrum not composed of a bi-polar division with man on one end and woman on the other, as this is more of a qualitative distinction. Rather consider two unipolar spectra, one for man, one for woman, each with a quantitative distinction from 0 to 100 (or none to all, or whatever scale you use). This allows for much more flexibility in every aspect (sex, gender, orientation, expression, etc). For instance, take gender – someone wholly masculine is 0 on woman, 100 on man, bigender is 100 on each, agender is 0 on each, etc. Same for sexual orientation / attraction – heterosexuals are 0 and 100 on each, homosexuals are 0 and 100 on the reversed ones, pansexuals are 100 on both, and asexuals are 0 on both. And of course this is a simplification, as there are many more shades in the middle.

    Hopefully this makes some sense!

    • Hey, thanks Maddox. What you are saying absolutely makes sense. I actually considered breaking it down like that, but didn’t want to go even more crazy than I already had with all the spectra diagrams.

      I think I mentioned in the post that the spectra I drew could be broken down into additional spectra, which is what you have mentioned here. So I don’t think your spectra would destroy most of the spectra diagrams I made, but instead takes them apart and give them more detail, depth and information.

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  5. Ettina says:

    “I am not sure I agree that ‘asexual’ belongs with ‘bisexual’ in the center of the sexual orientation continuum (I would think ‘asexual’ would not be on the continuum of sexual orientation as it is shown, although others might not agree), but otherwise, this little visual aid has been very handy for a number of my coming out conversations.”

    I’d make it an inverted triangle with asexual at the bottom. And there’d be a spectrum up and down as well.

  6. Nathan says:

    To include asexuality into this, I think it would be best to include a separate spectrum concerning sexual interest (which can include a high or low level in both sexual drive and sexual attraction)

    • Yes, good point. Actually, this is a simplified representation in a number of ways. For sexuality alone, one can break it down into multiple aspects, such as the sex or gender of the type of person(s) one is:
      – attracted to emotionally (falls in love with)
      – attracted to erotically (is sexually aroused by)
      – fantasizes having sex with
      – has physical sexual contact with

      These can be different. For example, for someone who says they’re asexual, does that mean that they have absolutely no sexual contact with others and also is not attracted to others and also does not sexually fantasize with others? I wonder whether different answers would come from different people.

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  8. AI says:

    To the extent that the spectrum of biological sex includes gonads, hormones, sex determining genes, etc, does a post-op or HRT-receiving trans person changes his/her overall position on the male — intersex — female sex continuum when they undergo those treatments/surgeries?

  9. Nancy Palmer Jones says:

    Dear ATM,

    Thanks so much for this fabulous post. I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister writing a sermon for tomorrow’s PRIDE Sunday, and I found your post after reading through a particular resource from the OWL (Our Whole Lives) Sexuality Curriculum for Adults. This resource, by Bobbi Keppel and Alan Hamilton, offers the Sexual and Affectional Orientation and Identity Scale; it draws on the Kinsey Scale and the Klein Grid and goes further to help us complexify our understanding of our sexual identity. These authors add in spectra for sexual behavior, fantasies, attractions, emotional preference, physical affection preference, social preference, community affiliation, self identity, and political identity. I list them because some of these categories (the right word??) might apply to gender identity too?? But the OWL curriculum (2000) predates UUs’ more focused exploration and inclusion of gender identity and expression, so I am DEEPLY grateful for your own ways of helping us to see the wide range of human experience.

    Warmly,

    Rev. NPJ

    • Dear Rev. NPJ,
      Thank you very much for your very interesting and thoughtful comments. I am glad you found my blog post to be helpful.

      I am also glad that you mentioned the Klein Grid – I became aware of it after I made the post about spectra and have been meaning to go back and update my post with the Klein Grid included. Perhaps your comment will help to move me closer to getting that accomplished and in the process, answering your question as to whether some of the categories from the Klein Grid could adapted for gender identity – I believe some of them could.

      Regarding the OWL Sexuality Curriculum for Adults, I can understand why gender identity and expression are not included in the Sexual and Affectional Orientation and Identity Scale. Keppel and Hamilton focus on sexual orientation only (indeed, so does the OWL Sexuality Curriculum), whereas my post has to do with not only sexual orientation but also with two additional characteristics that are separate from sexual orientation, those being gender identity and biological sex. Adding gender identity to the OWL Sexuality Curriculum would necessitate a name change to “OWL Sexuality and Gender Identity Curriculum.”

      I am happy to see that the UUA web site contains quite a bit of information and resources about and for transgender people (http://www.uua.org/lgbtq/identity/25348.shtml) and I thank you for including a discussion about gender identity and expression in your Pride Sunday sermon.

      Best,
      ATM

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  11. Anonymous says:

    I love how this is broken down. Great work! I would have also found it useful for asexuality to have been given more attention. In my opinon (not disrespecting yours) it should be on the spectrum because some asexuals still have a sex drive and still have sex. Asexuality has a spectrum of its own(ex. gray-asexual). Also what about people who are sexual attracted to themselves. I would just love to see a very vast exploration of all human sexual behavior and attraction. I would even like to see more about the less moral kinds of sexuality(ex. beasilty). I think it could really give everone a better understanding of the world around them.

  12. jipkin says:

    I think it’s a bit misleading to use unimodal normal distributions in this sense. If we look at the range (or spectrum) on attraction and asked 1,000 people where they lay on it, I don’t think we’d end up with a normal distribution centered on bisexuality. There would be two strong peaks on the edges (the normatives) and a little peak in the middle making a trimodal distribution. Has anyone actually conducted this research? I’m still looking for the graph of what reality is. My bet is something like 40-45% of the population are attracted to what they consider men, another 40-45% are attracted to what they consider women, and the remaining 10-20% is somewhere in between.

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  15. seeboeck says:

    Wow, I really liked reading your post! This is the most informative piece of information about the sex (and gender, etc) continuum I found so far.

    Yet, I think there is a conceptual problem with the term ‘continuum’:
    To my understanding, a continuum is a gradual distribution without any ‘steps’ in between (like temperature, for example: due to the physics behind it, temperature does not consist of ‘steps’ (like degree Fahrenheit would suggest), but is actually ranging from a natural zero to infinity). Instead, biological sex is multi-facetted, but not truly continuous, as far as I understand. Take for example the chromosomes: No matter how many combinations of X and Y (and O) exist, it is never really continuous, because this is somewhat a ‘nominally scaled variable’, if I may use some statistics lingo…

    Besides that, I absolutely share your position and enjoyed reading your explanations. Thanks! 🙂

  16. Rgray says:

    Ugh, so yet again, I encounter an extremely well thought out resource that leaves me even more confused about not being in the definitions given. Sigh.
    I am what I can only call a heterosexual agender person. Biologically male at birth, I have never been able to identify with the male gender identity, but also feel no particular draw to become female. Not enough to inspire substantial action in any case. I would consider myself somewhat alienated from my sex organs in some way, but the thing is still entertaining.
    In any case, the point of puzzlement comes from desire. I have never managed to empathize with an image of a homosexual sex act. I can appreciate that a same sex couple is adorable, and be happy to see them each other’s company, but I can’t seem to put myself into the scene mentally; it just fails to be appealing. On the other hand, I have often encountered people that I have been attracted to sexually. The issue comes from the way this is experienced.
    When in the company of a woman I am attracted to, I want to be close to them and get to know them more, entangled with an undercurrent that I desire sex with them. I have also encountered men that I have been struck by the appeal of, but the sensation is very specific; I have a desire to be close to them, but it is entangled with a strong feeling that I want them penetrating my vagina. Since I realize that I don’t actually possess the relevant anatomy, the desire generally disintegrates shortly after; it can’t be generalized to a more general desire. .
    Unfortunately, this seems like a mess on standard ideas of a spectrum. I’m not sure if anyone has unpacked that sort of specific target focused entanglement. Is there some need to construct an image of what activity is desired to build a framework of desire? Or is it possible that I am reacting to some other factor?

    • Sorry that you are having difficulties with the definitions.

      I think that this is not uncommon for trans folks in general. For example, does one qualify their sexuality based on their genitals or their gender? In your case, being agender, that might not be so simple. As you are attracted to both men and women, would you consider yourself to be bisexual? Or perhaps pansexual? But even that question is probably over simplified.

      Sexuality is more complicated than what I’ve put in my blog post. It can be broken down into even more spectra. There is who we are attracted to, who we fantasize about and who we have sex with (for example) and none of those have to be the same.

      Then there’s the issue of our bodies and how we relate to others based on our physical selves. Before I transitioned, I was not attracted to women, but now I date women exclusively. The ability to be with women as a man is much more acceptable to me than was being with women as a “woman.”

      Also with my self-awareness of my masculine gender identity, I came to realize that my attraction to men had been based on my wanting to *be* them rather than be *with* them. It was completely sub-conscious.

      I’m not saying that what I experienced applies to you. What I’m saying is that for many trans folks, there are not really nice, neat, tidy labels and boxes for them to step into, so you are not alone in that respect.

      You don’t say how far along you are in your journey, but you may be aware that aspects of our sexuality and gender can change with self-exploration. Best wishes to you in finding your definitions.

  17. torchyboy says:

    Great post! I find your arguments interesting and challenging my limited view on this issue.

    I don’t mean to undermine your main point but being an epidemiologist I am compelled to point out a misconception when you stated:
    “This type of bell-shaped curve represents a “normal distribution” in that it is symmetric on both sides of the average. There can be other bell-shaped curves that still represent normal distributions”

    Actually the definition of normal distribution is not only based on symmetry, but also on kurtosis. Bell-shaped distribution curves that are leptokurtic (skinny and pointy up high) or platykurtic (wide and flat) are NOT called normal distributions; only those with meso-/normo-kurtic are.

    • Thank you for your kind feedback and comments. Regarding kurtosis, true, leptokurtic and platykurtic distributions are not normal, but kurtosis depends on the rate of decay and the size of the tails in addition to the size of the peak. Don’t leptokurtic curves have long, “fat tails” and platykurtic distributions have short, “thin tails” compared to normal distributions? Normal distributions can be taller or wider, depending on the variation of the observations, no?

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