polls being wrong doesn’t mean mathematics is bunk

Suggested listening: “Losing My Edge” – LCD Soundsystem

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Perhaps this was the problem?

The writer Sam Kriss, in a March 2017 article for The Baffler, expressed his disdain for the polling industry, taking aim especially at coverage presented on the analyst Nate Silver’s website, FiveThirtyEight.com. Kriss argues that the polling-industrial complex, which includes media outlets, is doomed to repeat the sins of the past. The industry’s reaction to the existential crisis of polling—brought on, of course, by the unforeseen election of Donald Trump—has been insufficient, Kriss charges.

According to Kriss’ article, which bears the breezy title “Psephology in Free Fall,” Silver and the pundit class he represents have wrongly chosen to reexamine their research methodology rather than question their main operating assumption—namely, that we can obtain an accurate prediction of election results through opinion surveys with large sample sizes.

Kriss offers a Philosophy 101 critique of this idea, citing the variegated history of divination practices—for some reason the article revels in talk about birds being eviscerated—to suggest that Silver and his ilk are just the modern-day equivalents of oracles and shamans, with no better predictive ability. “When every poll gets it wrong, with increasing and alarming frequency, the problem is no longer methodological but metaphysical,” Kriss writes.

Although the basic thrust of Kriss’ attack is certainly correct—Silver was, in fact, systematically wrong about the 2016 presidential election—his advancement of this argument after Donald Trump’s victory suggests that he doesn’t believe his own conclusion—namely, that polling by random digit dialing has so little predictive value it might as well be tarot-card reading.

Kriss’ presumable point—that a preoccupation with favorable polls tends to engender political complacency—would have been a useful criticism before November 8, 2016. From the perspective of hindsight, it rings hollow. Why, in other words, didn’t Kriss think to say this earlier? If he—a high-profile writer with more than 20,000 Twitter followers—knew, on purely logical grounds, that the polls were wrong, why not say so while there was still time to do something about it?

As though anticipating this objection, Kriss points to the hostile reaction toward “qualitative” analysts, such as American University’s Allan Lichtman, who predicted Donald Trump’s victory, as a way of suggesting that speaking up would have been pointless.

On this score, I agree. Another “Trump’s going to win” hot take wouldn’t have mattered. It couldn’t have diffused the fog of moral certainty that surrounded the Clinton campaign.

But Kriss can’t embrace this defeatist logic, since it implies that his current anti-probabilist argument—another online take floating in the void of cyberspace—is also pointless. It seems only fair to assume that Kriss wants his contentions to be taken seriously.

The heart of the problem is that Kriss fails to consider the idea that, despite being imperfect, such dubious-sounding methods as augury, tarot-card reading, and, yes, even political polling still possess some predictive capacity, and, in fact, some of these techniques generate more accurate predictions—measured as average correctness over time—than others. In a shocking turn of events, it turns out that thinking about the future—even in a ritualized or religious mode—can, in fact, tell us things about the future. The accumulated wisdom of a sage is assuredly better than a broken clock. So, what’s really needed is a substantive critique of the specifics of Nate Silver’s approach to divination, and Kriss provides none.

Kriss invokes David Hume’s argument against causality—which states that the constant conjunction of events does not imply a causal relationship between them—to suggest that the exact future—the Event, to use the Lacanian terminology—is forever illegible, since its leading edge is always, by definition, just beyond the present.

One wants to ask if Kriss knows how to read a calendar. While it’s true that polling provides only a snapshot view of the stated opinions of a decidedly non-random group of people, that’s still some guide to what the future will look like. If 55% of 10,000 phone-answerers called on October 11, 2016, say they will vote for Hillary Clinton, then the pollster knows that, among phone-answerers in some geographic region, there are at least 5,500 people willing to say that they will vote for Hillary Clinton. That is not, by itself, enough information to predict the result of the presidential election, scheduled to take place 28 days later. Nevertheless, at bare minimum, we can infer that those 5,500 people are, on average, more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton than not. Using these methods, it may not be possible to assign a precise percentage to the chance that a given person will, in fact, pull the blue lever, but it’s pure mystification to assert, as Kriss dares, that polling provides no information at all.

In 2016, most of the signs pointed to a Hillary Clinton victory; it will be a “coronation,” we used to complain. And yet: Compare Kriss’ befuddling article to my November 6, 2016, blog post arguing that readers should vote for Hillary Clinton, the main objective of which was to discourage Leftists from voting for Jill Stein (or voting for Harambe, or not voting, or writing in Bernie Sanders, or whatever). My argument was very simple: Donald Trump is probably going to win because people—especially independent voters, who comprise the majority of the U.S. electorate—are justifiably unexcited by Hillary Clinton, which will cause low turnout for her side in key states. This is a concrete claim that offers clear reasoning as to why things will turn out a certain way. If the Event turns out the other way, then the reasoning was mistaken. There is no middle ground.

The real issue, in other words, is that Nate Silver-style prediction-making tries to answer every question that involves voting by taking a headcount. If there are X voters out there, and votes are apportioned across the determining units (states, counties, districts) like so, and Y people in State Z will vote for Hillary Clinton, then State Z’s electors (probably) will go to Hillary Clinton—and so on. Although this formulation of the issue is abstractly correct, the level of knowledge (and information-gathering) necessary to make it functional cannot be achieved: To get beyond a “good enough” prediction—a 99% confidence interval, say—one would have to be all but omniscient. Silver reasoned, plausibly, that large sample sizes and error-correcting transformations could overcome just about any problem with his model. That confidence is what turned out to be misguided, not the mathematics of probability as a whole.

There are, to be sure, a variety of ways in which polling can and does go awry—Trump supporters deliberately manipulating results, for instance! But that does not mean that gathering information is equivalent to staring into a crystal ball, even if statistical forecasting and palm-reading are, arguably, part of the same cultural tradition.

As a critique of punditry, then, Kriss’ article is a disappointment. As a philosophy, however, it is a dodgy invitation to incoherence. I won’t claim I saw it coming.

election night anxiety machine

Suggested listening: “Might Not” – The Weeknd

Parks and Recreation

Let me be straightforward: #ImWithHer, but my hopes for America’s bright future—my youthful optimism about the possibility of a Leftward shift—died with Bernie Sanders’ campaign. In Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton we witnessed a public hollowing-out of the fiery socialist we saw during the primary, a forced, through-the-teeth kind of “support.” Once it became clear that Sanders would lose the primary, everyone saw this uncomfortable concession coming (except, apparently, Slavoj Žižek), but its sad significance is clear only now, in retrospect.

Voting for Her, we are told, is the only way to Stop Trump, and every sensible person agrees we must Stop Trump. Aren’t you just so inspired by this bold vision of a peaceful, sustainable, and egalitarian future?

Perhaps the apotheosis of this do-your-dismal-duty argument can be seen in The Atlantic’s decision—not undertaken lightly, they made abundantly clear—to lend the weight of their brand to Team Clinton, but only as a means of Stopping Trump.

Yes, Trumping Trump is the name of the game, and it’s one that hardly any American Leftist or liberal could reasonably decline to play (myself included), especially given Trump’s disgusting attitudes toward women.

* * *

Let me also be clear: Electing a woman to our nation’s highest office would be a good thing, full stop, and I wouldn’t fault any feminist for voting Clinton on this basis alone. But (there’s always a but) I, at least, cannot pretend to believe that Hillary being a woman makes her possible Presidency any more likely than Bernie’s would have been to result in policies that will actually serve the interests of working- and middle-class women (many of whom will vote Trump, by the way). There is ritualistic, symbolic, and practical value to be gained in electing a woman President, but this shouldn’t blind us to Clinton’s broadly conservative platform—e.g., her military hawkishness, war-on-terror fear-mongering, complicity with Wall Street, insincere-or-late-blooming support of LGBT rights, and status quo-preserving incremental-reformism on issues from immigration to education. It’s easy to see that a Clinton win would represent a victory for feminism—especially compared to a Trump win—but it’s equally easy to see that, policy-wise, Bernie Sanders was the feminist candidate.

This was the semiotic double-bind the Left confronted this primary season: Pick Clinton and you perpetuate a harshly anti-feminist agenda while striking back at the cultural hegemony of American politics (brought to you by The Patriarchy™); pick Sanders and you give the Presidency back to yet another straight white male whose agenda would nevertheless represent a major feminist victory in policy terms.

Feminists themselves were divided about how to answer this question, largely along generational lines. But I believe—as did most Millennial women—that feminist changes in public policy ultimately matter more than merely (“merely”) electing a woman. I mean, let’s be candid: Would you, dear female readers, really have voted for, say, Carly Fiorina over Bernie Sanders just to see a woman in the White House? True, the question of the exact point on the ideological spectrum at which the balance tips in favor of woman-qua-woman is near-impossible to resolve, but the difference between Sanders and Clinton was substantial.

* * *

What’s more, there is a candidate who offers a logical escape route for progressive feminists: Jill Stein. Put aside the extremely widespread misinformation about Stein’s position on vaccines (hint: she’s a medical doctor), and put aside whatever you heard in John Oliver’s bizarrely aggressive anti-Stein rant, and put aside the misguided attempts to ridicule her for being kind of a hippie, and there can be no doubt that Stein should have been (“should have been”) the go-to feminist candidate this election, at least for those on the Left. (Elizabeth Warren could have filled a similar role, but perhaps believes her moment will come in 2020 or 2024.)

But if Stein solves the semiotic problem, why is there no enthusiasm for her? Why is Stein—a peace-loving left-wing hippie-feminist with an M.D., an advocate for books over bombs, saving the planet from global warming, and redistributive taxation—not able to run as a Democrat? Are these values not mainstream enough? What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding in 2016?

The lack of mainstream support for positions like Stein’s is a stark reminder that much of the (nominally) feminist support for Clinton is really based on ideological support for Clinton’s neoliberal, hawkish policies, awkwardly stapled to a Gramscian sense that her identity as a woman matters in and of itself.

* * *

The problem with Stein, of course, is the obvious one: Stein, as a third-party candidate facing down an electoral system designed to exclude third parties, simply cannot win. Third parties in America face a mountain of structural disadvantages: Our first-past-the-post voting system, gerrymandered voting districts, exclusionary system of public debates, corporate-financed elections, and electoral college ensure that purportedly radical candidates like Jill Stein, however benevolent their intentions, will always stand a snowball’s chance in hell of actually winning as candidates from third parties. Faced with pressure from voters who are willing to form coalitions that comprise approximately 51% of the electorate (or enough of it to get 270 votes in the electoral college, at any rate), third parties in America must resign themselves to repeatedly losing (as Stein evidently has) in an arguably vain act of protest against The System.™

It’s sad, but it’s true. The idea known as Duverger’s principle looms large over our politics, though ironically, one of the most powerful counterforces to Donald Trump’s dominance of this election is Gary Johnson’s presence in it. The Ron Swanson wannabes, it seems, have gone their own way, perhaps fearing the white supremacists with whom Trump asked them to be bedfellows. They will never vote for a Big Government Liberal like Leslie Knope Hillary Clinton, but are also smart enough to realize that their fantasies of unlimited personal freedom and U.S. isolationism are incompatible with Republican politics. Were Johnson suddenly to drop out, a Trump victory would be significantly more likely. In fact, assuming Trump could capture most of Johnson’s supporters, he’d be winning the popular vote.

* * *

So, what’s a girl to do? How do we unwind the political mechanisms that prevent left-wing feminists from taking state power?

The best hope, I believe, is a strategic takeover of the Democratic Party from within, one modeled on Sanders’ campaign but helmed by a woman, ideally one with significant political experience (paging Senator Warren!). This could allow the Left to set new ideological goals for the party, placing vastly more emphasis on ecological sustainability, socialist economic policies (financed by increased taxes on the wealthy and reduced military spending), open borders, legal and social equality, criminal justice reform (especially drug legalization), the dismantling of state surveillance, and the redress of historical discrimination and violence, among other, more mainstream-liberal goals.

However, as widespread support for Clinton among the wealthy and powerful makes clear, this kind of party makeover may not be possible anytime soon. Many influential Democrats, in other words, are active supporters of an essentially neoliberal program; to them, Clinton’s hawkishness (for example) is a feature, not a bug.

As such, Leftists might do better by seeking to reform the structural rules that prevent third-party candidates like Stein from gaining traction. The idea would be to foster a strong green-socialist third party, one capable of menacing the Democratic Party’s chances at electoral victory, with the aim of forcing concessions on policy from centrists, perhaps in exchange for party reconsolidation (or at least enough votes to get past the proverbial post). In other words, let the Left hold the centrists hostage with the threat of a Republican victory in the same way the centrists have always done to the Left.

However, as Stein’s meager support suggests, this strategy is also unlikely to succeed. Thus, it seems we will be repeatedly bludgeoned by neoliberal forces eager to continue pursuing their hideous ideological goal of global capitalism backed by extensive military power—a masculine fantasy run amok. If you’re a young woman feeling happy about the prospect of Hillary, recall that, in a hypothetical re-do of this election in which only young women could vote, Bernie Sanders would be President.

Again, I don’t question the validity of a feminist Clinton vote based solely on her identity as a woman, but again-again, I don’t think most feminists actually endorse that kind of naked identity politics. When the Bernie dream died, so did the last best hope for turning America in a left-wing feminist direction. A moment of silence for that.

* * *

Okay, enough, who should I vote for? We find ourselves at a moment where, for the Left, there is no real alternative to voting Clinton, even though her platform can be accurately described as Center-Right (at best). This holds especially true with Stein polling at less than 1%, such that hopes for future funding for the Green Party (triggered at 5%) are not even in sight.

But the supposed glory of Stopping Trump is, at best, a way of papering over the dismal reality of an election that represented a major defeat for the Left. Trump would have been so horrible that we can feel good about vanquishing him, right? And let’s hang tight to that feeling as we watch Clinton spend billions on F-22s that should be spent on renewable energy development and improvements to our public schools. God bless America.

* * *

Let me, though, be fair: Coupled with a Democrat-controlled Senate, a Clinton win could allow for some policy reforms that will have positive effects on American lives, no doubt. She’s great on abortion and gun control, for instance. But let’s not forget that her coronation involved mercilessly crushing one of the best left-wing candidates to emerge in recent memory, a male who feminist women could feel good about endorsing. The only sane choice on Tuesday is still one that should fill our hearts with sadness.

i don’t catch pokémon, i don’t go outside

Suggested listening: “Grief” — Earl Sweatshirt

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Players congregate in Davis Square, Somerville, MA.

I’m not playing Pokémon Go, and I don’t think you should play it either.

Sheesh, what a hipster. I mean, honestly, who does this guy think he is? Some cultural prophet peddling his personal brand of holier-than-thou posturing? Puh-lease, haven’t we had enough of that? After all, it’s just a game! Playing Pokémon Go is fun! It lets me feel like I’ve accomplished something even on days that otherwise feel wasted. I can say: Whatever else happened today, whatever new misery the world rained on me, at least I caught that Psyduck! Today I even gained a level! 🎉🎉🎉!

Exactly. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Pokémon Go is never going to fill the existential holes in your life. That Psyduck isn’t real. It’s a digital object in a database for a game designed and owned by Niantic (originally a Google startup), one that purports to offer an “augmented reality.” Like most software products, Pokémon Go is regulated only by its Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, to which you implicitly consent by playing the game—and which I guarantee you’ve never read. (Three guesses whether those terms allow Niantic to sell your data to third parties.)

Niantic has, to date, made $200 million from Pokémon Go, and that’s only about a month after its launch. Some estimates place Niantic’s daily revenue from the game at $1.6 million, and that’s from Apple iOS-based downloads alone. Businesses have already concocted elaborate strategies to lure customers by doubling as Gyms or PokéStops (don’t ask me what exactly that entails—I’m blissfully unaware). What’s more, beyond its in-app purchases, the game also includes native advertising in the form of “sponsored locations.” The marketing gurus over at AdWeek are already diabolically twiddling their fingers about how mass participation in the game will revolutionize marketing by enabling a “generic” or “agnostic” approach to consumer-targeting. AdWeek writer Marie Goldstein is all breathless praise for the “pan-generational” combination of a well-known, nostalgic brand with new gaming technology. If you listen closely, you can hear the saliva dripping. It’s the same old story: They want your money.

So, at the risk of sounding paranoid: If Pokémon Go represents a virtual or augmented reality, that reality is, at best, a consumerist dystopia in which businesses and advertisers can access and control your literal, physical behavior—down to the very steps you take—through behind-the-scenes partnerships with the game-makers.

Of course, if you make enough money that spending a few dollars here and there on Pokémon-driven impulse purchases is no big deal to you, this kind of capitalist-wet-dream VR might seem totally benign (or at least harmless). But for working- and middle-class people—those for whom the marginal dollar really matters—the time, energy, and money spent trying to catch ‘em all represent a very real loss. Regardless of your social status, my point is: Be aware that they (“they”) can and will manipulate you. In my opinion, you shouldn’t surrender your consumer autonomy so lightly, even for a funny screen-cap of your bestie standing next to a Mewtwo on top of the Empire State Building (sure to rack up the Instagram likes!). In our late-capitalist, non-virtual reality, it’s one of the few powers you still have.

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They’ll never find me in here!

Furthermore, although part of me admires the evil genius on display with this whole built-in advertising conspiracy-thing, as a gamer, I find Pokémon Go extremely disappointing. Those who’ve seen me at Magic: The Gathering tournaments know that I thoroughly enjoy competitive strategy games. And I’m a fan of the art and creative work behind the Pokémon universe. I watched the TV show and even played the Pokémon collectible card game as a kid (I was pretty good at it). But I’m also something of a purist: For me, the game itself should be the product, and the only cross-merchandising allowed should be for accessories that make the game easier or more enjoyable to play. That’s the kind of integrity I expect from a game-maker interested in large chunks of my time and attention, and I won’t settle for less out of boredom or to appear trendy. On this (somewhat) traditionalist view, in fact, Pokémon Go isn’t even really a game—corporate mind control is closer to it. Be afraid.

At the end of the day, you’re free to do what you want, and I don’t fault anyone who’s having fun catching Pokémon with their friends. But if you’re going to play, be aware of the ad man behind the curtain. At level 12 or level 40, you’re still just a game-piece in a marketing executive’s fantasy. Who’s catching who?

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i lost 30 pounds by doing nothing

Suggested listening: “Machine Gun” – Portishead

My diet’s working for me, but I don’t recommend it.

As you might know or imagine, the thing about losing weight through diet alone is that it’s really fucking hard. I’m hungry all the fucking time. (Apparently, though, since I’m a guy, no one really cares how I look anyway. This fact, in turn, makes me aware of my male privilege, which makes me feel self-hatred. But, of course, another part of me doubts the conventional wisdom about male appearance and attributes my loveless singleness to my being overweight, which kindles different (and boy, just equally wonderful) flames of self-hatred.) Despite the constant hunger-pangs, I manage to motivate myself to work with ✨✨caffeine✨✨, but the caffeine sometimes makes me feel even hungrier.

Wheeeeee

All of this means that, for me, weight loss comes at a huge cognitive cost—it takes tremendous willpower and concentration to ignore the constant hunger signals and push on with daily life—and I’m still 20 pounds from my goal weight.

Why don’t I just fucking exercise then, you ask? (Thanks for asking!) Well, because years of shaming from my mother have completely and utterly ruined my ability to enjoy physical activity. But hey man, you could really show her what’s what by proving you can enjoy exercise anyway! Sorry, well-meaning friend, I’ve done the math: Any capitulation will be reinterpreted after the fact as her having been right all along. (Jesus.) And yes, people who know me, I did enjoy being a member of an athletic team in high school and college, but let’s be honest, fellow oarsmen: It was never about winning for me. I hated the workouts, and I whined like a little bitch in practice. I was in it for the socializing. Plus I thought it would help me get laid. So now I’m left in this unpleasant mental space where even the mostly-sympathetic voice in my head telling me, hey, just go enjoy a nice, easy five-mile bike ride, dude makes me absurdly angry. Fuck you! I want to scream. I will sit in bed and eat pepperoni pizza if I damn well please. So that’s why I’m not into exercise.

I am, in other words, intentionally choosing one of the most difficult paths to weight loss imaginable, because it’s the only mode of losing weight that doesn’t make me feel like I’m capitulating to lifelong shame. Shame over junk food. Shame over sugary sweets. Shame over excessive delivery ordering. Shame over body fat. Shame over physical weakness. Shame over the way my clothes fit. Shame over my waistline. Shame over days without exercise. Shame over my lack of physical flexibility. You get the idea: These are the emotions I was made to feel throughout childhood and every time I went home as an adult.

Fuck it all, I say now. I can sit in bed all day, eat pepperoni pizza and candy, drink caffeinated soda, and still lose weight.

My weight loss advice, thus, consists only of this: Track—and harshly restrict—your caloric intake. If you go to bed hungry, too fucking bad. If your stomach’s growling, get over it. Be a total asshole to the craving, needy self. In other words, my advice is to use the techniques anorexic people use—try Googling “thinspiration”—but only for a short while. (For anyone worried, please don’t be: I’m still massively overweight (and I’m not just saying that—I’m five foot ten and weigh 212 pounds. I will balance out my calories when I reach my goal weight of 195.)

Besides, fat tub of lard that I am (ah, phrases that remind me of home!), I’m certain I’ll give in and overeat again. After all, it’s just my nature to be a pathetic fat-ass like that, sitting and licking the decadent male-privilege sauce off my fingers. I’d probably wash it down with a cancer-causing Diet Coke, too, just for the irony of consuming a diet soda alongside, say, an artery-clogging bacon cheeseburger (which is what I want right now—like so bad).

So, please, if you see me and it seems like I’ve lost weight? I could use a compliment, because believe me: I fucking have. Don’t try this at home.

all we are saying is (⊙_☉)

Suggested listening: “Give Peace a Chance” – John Lennon, Yoko Ono

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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:

Me

[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.

Final_Fantasy_VII_(PSX)_007

Gotta get the sick limit breaks, yo.

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.

Body: Male
Sexual orientation: Gynephilic
Gender: MF
Personality: ENFP
Kink stats:

April

Yeah right, dude, I’m not publishing that.