Suggested listening: “Give Peace a Chance” – John Lennon, Yoko Ono
Do you know your Myers-Briggs type? I’m an ENFP (shocking, I know).
I see Myers-Briggs types broadcast on Tinder profiles as though they were matchmaking tools. (How is that supposed to work, by the way? Is it like the Zodiac? “Marry an ox or a dragon, avoid the rat?” (or whatever?). Like if I’m an ENFP, am I supposed to find an ISTJ to serve as my perfect compliment? Paul Abdul told me opposites attract, and lawd knows it’s extremely important to take dating advice from random pop songs from 1988. Maybe I’ve been approaching romance all wrong.) Anyway, what I’m saying here is there’s a fairly high degree of cultural awareness of the Myers-Briggs typology. Despite the fact that Carl Jung’s theories (on which the test was based) were likely influenced by his 16-year-long psychosis, the MBTI is widely used in American workplaces. You might say it’s the gold standard of personality typologies, especially given the lucrative management consulting industry it supports.
As I said in The Boston Globe, I do think Myers-Briggs can be useful, despite the fact that it’s pseudoscience. Anything that gets people thinking critically about the social dynamics created by the interplay between personalities is a good thing, and it’s probably better than a horoscope for that purpose, since people will tend to take it more seriously (rightly or wrongly). Even though one’s answers to the test questions tautologically determine one’s type–and even though dichotomous personality “types” are, y’know, not a real thing–still the process of answering the test questions offers a valuable opportunity for introspection about the issues the test covers. What’s more, most people exhibit fairly stable patterns of response over time. I’ve been reliably getting ENFP for the past 8 or so years, for instance.
Yes, I Do Have a Point
So! What’s strange to me is that there aren’t similarly popular tools for assessing more intimate aspects of personality–namely, those relating to gender and sexuality. Given the increasing national consciousness of LGBTQ issues (and BTQ issues especially), and given the increasing societal acceptance of sexual kinks (thanks, The Weeknd!), the need for reliable instruments for self-examination in these areas seems obvious.
Wouldn’t it be great, for instance, to be able to type a few little letters and have everyone quickly and easily understand key information about who you are (sexually, at least) and about what kind of intimate relationship you’re seeking? Instead, people are forced to either: (a) give lengthy explanations of themselves, which requires a level of self-knowledge that isn’t easy to develop; or (b) leave these issues unspoken until they somehow come up, which probably has the effect of keeping LGBTQ people in the closet.
Fortunately, a late-night Googling spree led me to a couple lesser-known psychometric instruments that might be useful for these purposes.
The Bem Sex Role Inventory
The Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) allegedly measures gender identity. It assumes the existence of a gender spectrum that ranges between masculine and feminine (male and female, yin and yang, light and dark, whatever). While some queer critics might argue that this division is an oversimplification–witness the existence of third gender, neutrois, and two-spirit people, for instance–it’s still useful, since in practice social expectations are often defined with reference to the traditional gender binary. And getting feedback about the social roles you play will certainly give you (and others) information about how you enact your gender. What’s more, the test acknowledges the existence of a complex “neutral zone” of androgynous or otherwise non-conforming identities, and I’d predict many non-binary people would get results in these quadrants. Sandra Bem, who developed the test in the 1970s, argued that an androgynous identity was psychologically healthiest. There was no reason, she claimed, that male-bodied individuals needed to act masculine or that female-bodied individuals needed to act feminine. (✿ ♥‿♥).
Which brings me to the main problem with the test: The results are somewhat difficult to interpret, being represented as points in a hypothetical plane whose surface area I guess encapsulates the space of all possible gender identities? Behold:
[N.B. the test uses the term “undifferentiated” to refer to the lower left quadrant, but I think that’s kind of judge-y, so I’ve played Mr. Fix It for the makers and referred to this identity space as “non-conforming.”]
When I take this test, I get a result that’s close to the androgynous side of the feminine quadrant (okay, fine, not that close). Masculinity = 90; femininity = 117–the mean is 100 and the standard deviation is 15. But what does this mean? I think not much more than, “out of four possibilities, masculine, feminine, androgynous, and non-conforming, I’m feminine.” And how fine a degree of variation can really be detected with the test’s 44 questions? Hmm.
While not a perfect instrument, the BSRI might be a useful tool for facilitating discussions about gender performance in social settings. M, F, A, or N?
Interjection re: Distinction between Gender ID and Gender Presentation
I think by now most people are familiar with the distinction between sex and gender (right? right? said in the Nathan for You voice). But there’s also a difference between one’s gender identity and one’s chosen self-presentation. As the drag queens out in Provincetown have been making clear for decades now, a male-bodied person can, in fact, physically put on a dress. The point being, if we’re developing a Myers-Briggs-like typology for gender, it’s probably best to include a separate symbol for gender presentation, which encapsulates things like clothing, accessories, hairstyle, makeup (or lack thereof), manicuring (or lack thereof), and body style (thin, heavy, muscular, curvy, tattooed, pierced, etc.).
Although there is a high degree of variability among people in all facets of self-presentation, personal style choices are gender-coded as masculine, feminine, androgynous, or non-conforming within social contexts. Being waifishly frail, wearing earrings, and putting on a dress and heels is decidedly feminine. Being a buff bro who totally did some sick dead-lifts at the gym (and who is rocking that sleeveless tee, dawg) is decidedly masculine. And then there are a huge variety of possible self-expressions in between (and that don’t fit the mold at all, such as cosplay).
Again, the same basic typology emerges: M, F, A, or N. This means it’s possible to create a two-letter system to represent one’s gender identity and presentation succinctly, à la Myers-Briggs. Order definitely matters here, so let’s say the first position represents gender presentation and the second gender identity, since you’d be most likely to say “masculine-presenting feminine male” (just for example). In this scheme, I’d be an MF. Most people are FF or MM. Even though this system only uses two characters, it, like Myers-Briggs, results in 16 possible identity classifications.
FF FA FN FM AF AA AN AM NF NA NN NM MF MA MN MM
Getting Kinky with BDSMtest.org
From specific fetishes (high heels, anyone?) to overall relationship power-dynamics, the ways in which a person’s psychological makeup shapes their patterns of arousal are highly varied. What’s more, individual people enjoy a wide range of sexual activities. But, with that said, many people exhibit fairly stable preferences around the kinds of sexual activities–kinky or vanilla–that actually get them off. The key, of course, is finding a willing partner.
I don’t want to wade into debates about the morality of kink–or debates within the kink community about limits and consent–so I’ll just say that, whatever fucked up thing you’re secretly into, the folks at BDSMtest.org have probably heard of it.
The problem with this instrument is that the results are extremely complicated. The test’s output contains so much data that it ends up looking like a character stats page from a video game. Rather than reducing complexity, BDSMtest attempts to provide you with a “power meter” for each kind of kinky sex you could potentially be having. There’s no threshold for significance, no typology, and no clear indication of what the various percentages mean. However, it’s still possible to learn about yourself this way. Any kink that’s rated above 90%, for example, is probably safe to label as a pronounced sexual proclivity–if not an actual psychological need.
The End Goal? D&D!
Using both of these instruments, some self-reflection, and some critical thought about sexual orientation, we might develop a compact, standardized system for conveying meaningful information about our gender and sexuality. A Sexual D&D Character Sheet, if you will (and I know you will). Silly though it sounds, this kind of system would, I think, help
(⊙_☉) dispel some of the confusion.
Sexual orientation: Gynephilic