Gender Variation in the Asexual Community: Results

A little while ago, I created a survey meant to measure gender variation in the asexual community, because I suspected that a large number of asexuals, in one way or another, do not conform to gender norms. There have been polls around AVEN and elsewhere in the past which have indicated that there is a significant percentage of trans members, and in my four or five years of observing the asexual community, I had noted how often the subject of gender has come up–over and over again, people will ask whether others identify as androgynous or gender-neutral in some way (often making a connection between that and asexuality); or mention that they don’t “get” gender, or don’t feel like they have a gender at all. In that latter scenario, what follows is usually a bunch of people agreeing with that sentiment, and then a trans person will chime in to try to explain the subtle nuances of gender, and that devolves into a frustrating argument wherein there is usually a lot of misunderstanding (to put it mildly), and a clash of gender essentialist/social constructionist vs. intrinsic inclinationist views. I will likely make a post on that kind of argument later, but for now, I can’t bear to deal with it, and anyway, I want to focus on the task at hand.

Before I post the actual results, I feel it necessary to make some distinctions clear: this survey is by no means academic, and was faced with a number of problems which no doubt affected the results. This is not meant to provide solid statistics, but rather just a general idea of where the community stands with regard to gender diversity. But, if this serves to give people who actually have the means to do real scientific research on these ideas about what to examine, then so much the better.

I want to post something addressing the difficulties I had with the survey in detail, but I fear I will bore those of you who are just anxiously waiting for the results, so I will save that for another post. However, I do need to address definitions here before I begin: “Transsexual” refers to someone who wants to change their body (generally within the male/female binary), while “transgendered” can mean different things to different people, but here I use it as an umbrella term to encompass a range of people who explicitly identified themselves as such, either by ticking the “transgender” box in the question about which gender one identifies as, or by writing it in the comments. There is a significant difference between the two, since some trans people don’t identify as trans, but just women or men, no qualifiers necessary. Although I was aware of that, it’s not what I was looking to examine, so in order to simplify the results, I combined them; however, in any future surveys there would need to be a means of addressing this issue. Since this requires conscious identification with the label, there may have been (actually, there most definitely were) some people who may be considered transgendered under certain definitions of the word but who do not personally identify with the term, or have not yet figured out where they stand. In particular, this is likely to leave out some androgynous-identified people (and here, I use “androgynous-identified” as another umbrella term to refer to several different gender identities which would typically be considered “in-between” male and female: androgyne, neuter/neutrois/agender, bigender/intergender, and so on), who are not sure whether the term fits them. For these people, there is no standardized approach to gender, as there has come to be for transsexuals. Some may want to physically alter their bodies in certain ways, others may want to alter their bodies in different ways, some may rely primarily on gender expression rather than changing their physical sex, and still others may be content not to do anything at all. There isn’t an easy way to sort these people, because they defy conventional categorization. They tend to overlap with other categories, and this overlap may confuse any statistics formed from the survey.

For short, I am going to refer to all trans people on the FTM spectrum (including androgynous-identified) by FTM, and all on the MTF spectrum (likewise) with just MTF. Again, keep in mind, I am NOT INCLUDING those who did not specifically identify themselves as trans at some point in the survey.

Now, on to the actual results.

This is already a well-known fact which has come to be expected, but the online asexual community is extraordinarily female-dominated, and since the survey was posted on LJ, which is extraordinarily female-dominated itself, the results are naturally skewed. However, what’s interesting to me is that, not only do females outnumber males (79.2% to 14.7%), but 87% of the transgendered respondents were female-born as well. This is interesting, because while I’m not sure what the actual FTM:MTF ratio is for the general population (I have seen various estimates ranging from 1:8.7 to 1:0.66), it is considered to be roughly equal, and certainly a lot closer than the 20:3 that responded here. It is doubly interesting because there is significant evidence that testosterone increases sex drive, whereas a switch from testosterone to estrogen reduces it. For this reason, transitioning FTMs are often stereotyped as aggressive hornballs, while it might be more expected that MTFs would, upon transition, become closer to asexual (as happened with my own girlfriend).

This may be a new piece of evidence, as it seems that many asexuals are unaware that there is such an extremely unbalanced ratio of FTMs to MTFs, as evidenced by this thread on AVEN. It is interesting to me that the OP of that thread thought that trans people within the community were predominately MTF; perhaps this has to do with the fact that (for disgustingly sexist, phallocentric reasons) people so often sensationalize MTF transsexuality, while completely ignoring the other side of the spectrum.

If I were to theorize, I would think there are several reasons for this: 1) It is a female-dominated community, so likely feminine socialization plays a big role. Females are probably more likely to realize that they have the option of being asexual, because they are more likely to be exposed to other females who identify as asexual. Due to the fact that male socialization is so sex-oriented, males may not ever be exposed to asexuality the way females are likely to be, and thus never realize it is an option, and the libidinal effects of testosterone surely do not contribute to the formation of an asexual identity. Some MTFs may, even upon encountering asexuality and finding they can identify with it to some degree, reject the notion that they could be asexual simply because it is not a way they have been used to thinking of themselves. I have more thoughts about that, but I’ll save it for another post. 2) FTMs may feel more limited sexually than MTFs, due to the fact that while vaginoplasty has become fairly sophisticated, phalloplasty leaves much to be desired. For this reason, a large number of FTMs choose not to go through with bottom surgery at all. Lacking the proper genitalia may be a contributor to asexuality, and those who have already had the experience of being asexual may not want to become sexual (it seems there aren’t many asexuals who would; likely that is because it is difficult to accept the identity “asexual” unless one is satisfied being that way). A number of asexuals on the FTM spectrum indicated that, rather than going for SRS, they would prefer to have their genitalia completely removed, thus becoming neutrois.

I wish I had something to compare this to; I would like to do a survey of the trans community to see how many of them identify as asexual, and whether there is a similar ratio there.

More results, in bullet format:

  • Twenty-four out of 279 respondents (out of 296 who started; those respondents who did not complete the survey were removed) identified themselves as transgendered. That’s about 8-9% of the total, which is possibly quite a bit higher than that of the general population. According to Julia Serano’s book Whipping Girl (page 190), “international statistics for post-operative transsexuals range from 1 to 3 percent of the poplulation,” and it is estimated that one in five hundred people in the U.S. are transsexual. However, there aren’t any statistics that measure how many transgendered people there are, as this survey was meant to do. That number is estimated to be higher, although I would suspect that our number is probably still higher than that.
  • Unsurprisingly, no one who identified themselves as transgendered said they had moderate or weak gender identity. Most said their identity was very strong, while the rest said it was somewhat strong.
  • Females are significantly more likely to have weaker gender identification, and also significantly more likely to identify themselves as androgynous.
  • Males tend to conform more to their assigned gender, and are less likely to be comfortable with transgendered people than women are. The highest number (39%) said they would be unwilling to date a trans person even if they were romantically oriented (one commented that he was only interested in romantic relationships with women, not realizing perhaps that many trans women are indistinguishable from cis women, though maybe reproduction is an issue). However, it is worth noting that 26.8% said that they would be willing to date a trans person, which, although I’m not sure there are any statistics out there about that, is probably a MUCH higher percentage than those of the general population. It is also worth noting that only one said he wouldn’t even be willing to be friends with a trans person.
  • Females show a very strong preference for a society with a non-binary gender system (61.5%), with an egalitarian society with binary genders and a post-gender world respectively being a distant second (19.9%) and third (14.9%). VERY few females (3.6%) were satisfied with the current gender system.
  • The men were much closer to evenly split on the question of which society would be most ideal. However, they still follow the general trend of preferring a non-binary gender system (36.6%). There were more who wanted an egalitarian society (24.4%) than who wanted a post-gender world (22%). A conservative view was in the minority, but still significantly higher than the percent of women who held such a view (17%).

I’m going to have to split up this post into a series to cover everything that I want to, because this is getting way too long. Later, I will post more about the results, including some of the comments I received, and discuss some of the issues that I ran into while doing this survey. Until next time!

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4 thoughts on “Gender Variation in the Asexual Community: Results

  1. Interesting survey, however there was one (to me major) flaw: Your question on “If you could change your body just by thought, would you” didn’t have a “No, not at all” option.

    I feel this will have served to prevent many people who are entirely happy with their birth gender to have given up at that point. I was forced to pick an untrue answer (I opted for the “just once” option) in order to progress, and I consider myself open minded – but I do not like lying. In reality, I am, and have always been, 100% happy with how I am and have no wish to change or experiment, not even “just once”.

    Questions on gender issues in on-line communities are liable to be self-selecting of their respondents anyway, but in this case, I think the lack of a “not at all” option in that question may well have skewed the results even further than they would have been naturally, as other “no” respondents may have simply given up at that point.

    Sorry to be negative!

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    • Actually, I changed that response after you took the survey, because several people suggested it. I wasn’t able to add very many responses in after the survey went live, but I amended it to say: “No, I wouldn’t want to at all OR I may want to try it once just to experience what it’s like, but otherwise I would want to stay the same.”

      (This is really just a problem with unclear wording, I think, because to me, the “may” made it quite clear that this did not necessarily mean that someone would want to try it even just once. To my mind, I don’t think it matters if someone would or wouldn’t want to experiment just once, because I think it’s a fairly common desire to just see what it’s like, but still be completely happy with one’s own body. I still really don’t see a reason to make that distinction by using separate responses.)

      I meant to reply to your earlier comment saying this, but I guess I forgot. Sorry about that.

      For the record, I did include the people who didn’t finish taking the survey in calculating the percentage of trans people vs. cis people.

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  2. The results are interesting. I’ve just got a couple comments. First, I suspect that it is just a typo, but you refer to 39% as a majority. Second, the biggest issue I had while taking the survey was the ideal-society questions. My own views really didn’t fit well with any of the options given.

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    • Thanks for pointing that out–it was a typo.

      And yes, I know, the options were very limited for that question. If I were to do a second version of the survey, I’m trying to think of the best way to make that broader.

      What are your views on that topic?

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