Comments on survey design

Because this survey (on “sexual and asexual relationship dynamics” from Ball State University) did not have any option to leave comments on the design of the survey and what the questions were supposed to mean at the end, I’m going to just leave my comments here. I started copying and pasting questions into Notepad somewhere in the middle of the survey, so these are only some of the issues I had with this survey. I surely have forgotten others. At the end, I will mention the way the survey handled consent, but I’m mostly not focusing on that.

I want to preface this by saying that I am really annoyed by MOST surveys, I just don’t typically have the time to comment on them like this, and when there is an option to share comments about the survey within the survey itself, there is usually no need to share those comments publicly. This survey is not even remotely exceptional or surprising. More discussion of asexuals’ responses to academic surveys can be found in a fairly recent Asexual Agenda question of the week. I hope that people who research asexuality consider these problems when designing surveys in the future. Honestly, these are mostly problems that testing with a focus group could have helped iron out. It is very frustrating that these issues don’t ever seem to be corrected before the surveys are sent out.

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This survey has nothing to do with RFAS, and is really not okay

[TW: sexual violence, toxic community, erasure of survivors]

So I just got back from the hospital (I’m fine, I’m taking care of someone else), and found a link to this survey in my email. This has apparently been going around since August 1st?? But I didn’t even see it at all until now.

Which is terrible, considering I’ve been the one mainly holding down the fort at Resources for Ace Survivors through the first half of this month. Whoever made this up—it was not a researcher, I presume, because it lacks any kind of information about who is conducting the research and how it will be used—did not try to contact anyone at RFAS at all. This suggests to me that whoever made up the survey either may not be very experienced with the ace community, or may not really know or care much about ace survivors’ actual experiences. A cursory google search would have brought RFAS up, and it should be pretty obvious we’re the go-to place for that sort of stuff.  If Mysterious over there wanted participants, we would have been the place to ask.

This survey as written, though, is NOT safe or trauma-sensitive. In short, I recommend avoiding it. Some triggering details about this survey under the cut…

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Project Update: The Sexual Assault Survey 11.4

Last April, I was assigned a free choice project for my creative writing class, which was a form and technique class on the lyric essay. For those of you unfamiliar with the form, this is a sort of experimental fusion of poetry and prose, typically non-fiction, where the writer is given a much freer reign with regard to form and content than is allowed in a regular essay. It’s difficult to describe/define if you haven’t seen any examples, so for the curious, just google it.

Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I decided to make my work related to that. My idea was to create a piece where there were two interwoven voices: one a sort of collective of experience, focusing on the sensations, impressions, and resulting feelings of people who have experienced rape, something in the “gray area” of non-consent, or another form of sexual assault; the other my own individual voice, presenting a critique of societal attitudes towards rape. In order to collect material to create the collective voice, I created a survey asking survivors to describe their experiences in their own words, from which I will take anonymous excerpts. I expected to get maybe ten or twenty respondents, but instead I’ve had over a hundred… 130 so far, to be precise. I quickly realized that this would end up being a much, much bigger project than I had originally intended. To everyone who has responded or linked this, thank you!!

So instead of closing the survey, I’ve decided to leave it up, and continue to collect responses as I conduct further research. As April rolls around again, I am asking for more responses. My goal with this project is to represent many different kinds of experiences, and looking at the data, I’ve noticed that there are certain demographics that I missed the first time around. I hope to expand to include those voices, as well as those of anyone else who wishes to participate.

I am looking for more responses from:

  • Gender-variant and intersex people. I have had two responses from FTM-spectrum trans people, nine from people identifying themselves as genderqueer (some of whom did not indicate their physical sex; the ones who did were all female-born), and zero from both MTF-spectrum trans people and intersex people. Any and all contributions from people in these groups would be welcome!
  • People who have been married to their abusers. So far I have received zero responses from this demographic, which is a curious absence to me considering that I have specifically talked about this here on the blog before. I think this is a very important dynamic to represent, so I’d greatly appreciate any responses. I’m not sure where exactly to look for them, so if anyone has any suggestions, do let me know.
  • Male survivors. So far, I’ve had eight responses from men. I’m grateful that I’ve had any at all, but given how underrepresented they tend to be, I’d love to have a larger response from them.
  • People whose perpetrators were female. So far I have had eight people who have had female perpetrators answer the survey. From these people, I’d like to hear if this fact has caused any particular difficulties regarding receiving support from others, accepting that it was really sexual assault, etc.
  • Anyone who has experienced sexual assault motivated by or with particular complications due to demographic factors or other special circumstances. This is something that I didn’t ask about originally, because I didn’t think I’d have enough respondents that it’d be likely to come up. However, I’ve had respondents who felt their asexuality was related to or caused their assault, people with disabilities that they felt made them more vulnerable, people who were raped while visiting a foreign country, etc. I think these are important factors to consider, so I added a question to the end of the demographics page asking if there was anything like that involved. I didn’t add any questions about racial background originally either, so this is a way for people to note that as well, if they feel it is relevant. For those people who have already taken the survey, if you would like to add any explanation of these factors, you can fill out the first part of the survey again (link below). You don’t have to fill out anything other than the demographics page, since it is at the bottom of the first page, unless you want to.

Although I’ve listed people I would especially encourage to participate, everyone who feels their story is relevant is welcome to complete the survey. Even if you’re not really sure how to classify what happened, or you’re not sure if it was intended to be an assault, if it felt non-consensual to you, please feel welcome to take the survey. There’s no reason to worry that you’ll be messing up the results. You won’t be. In fact, that kind of uncertainty is of particular interest to me, and I intend to explore it in the essay.

Clarifications:

Now, before I post the link, I want to address some confusion that people had regarding a certain portion of the survey which asks open-ended questions like “What did you see?” and “Where did you/your mind go?” etc. A lot of people seemed frustrated by these questions, and not sure how to answer them because of their vagueness. The reason that I ask is because I want to keep a strong connection to lyricism, and ground the collective voice in concrete sensory details, so that a reader who has not experienced anything similar might be more enlightened about what survivors’ experiences are actually like. It is often the little details which tend to really capture a reader’s attention and empathy, rather than just the bare facts, so I ask these questions as an attempt to incorporate them, although you don’t have to go into details if you don’t want to. I don’t ask where or when you saw or heard what you describe because I want it to be anything that stands out to you connected to the event. It doesn’t have to be a memory of what happened, it could be something like, “I feel the sharp sensation of the pencil against my skin,” describing what you feel/see/hear/think during attempts to cope or come to terms with what happened. It could be parts of dreams you’ve had related to the incident. It could be something metaphorical that represents where you were or where you are now. Think about moments of triumph as well as the pain. It can be about whatever you feel is relevant, anything at all. Give weird answers, if you want. Feel free to reflect. There is no one way to interpret the questions, so feel free to elaborate on whatever you want. Express whatever you’re thinking about, as much or as little as you want to. If this (or any other question) makes you feel too uncomfortable, there is no pressure to answer any of the questions in this section. I hope this helps to clarify.

One question in this section in particular seems to have been interpreted in only one way, with several people answering something to the effect of, “I don’t like to think like that.” I want to clarify that there’s more than one way to interpret that question. When I ask, “What might have been?” I designed the question specifically not to include any particular if-then scenario, which is why it’s phrased a little strangely. Nearly everyone seems to be interpreting this question as if it includes “if that never happened to you” at the end (I’m curious to know why so many people make that assumption). It’s fine if you want to answer the question like that, of course, but I’d like people to think of this in a different way as well. Think about it like this: what has helped you get through this, to the extent that without it you’re not sure if you would have been able to? Music, supportive friends, hobbies/activities, any particular mindset? If you hadn’t had that, how do you think you would have dealt with it instead? What negative things have you been able to stop yourself from doing? How have you reacted differently than you thought you might have before anything like this occurred? What could have been different about your situation that would have significantly impacted (either positively or negatively) your ability to cope? These are just some of the possibilities. Answer the question in whatever way feels most appropriate to you.

On Anonymity and Excerpts:

I will be taking some direct excerpts from the open-ended responses I receive, and some will be used indirectly. If you are uncomfortable with being directly quoted, please let me know. I can also just use your response for my own informational purposes without sharing it in the essay either directly or indirectly, if that is what you would prefer. In the survey, I ask if there is any particular name you would prefer to be used in the survey; you can choose to provide a pseudonym (which I recommend) or your real name if you are comfortable with that. If you do not provide any specific name, I will choose a random pseudonym to use with your response. You can choose to be listed as “anonymous” instead, or you can specify a name that you do NOT want me to use, and I will pick a different pseudonym. I also plan to specify your age if you are directly quoted, partially because some people have chosen the same pseudonym, and partially to give readers an idea of the range of respondents’ ages. If you are uncomfortable with your age being specified, I won’t list it. Please let me know of any other privacy concerns you might have. You can always change your mind later about whether you want to be quoted, etc. Please contact me to let me know, and I can identify your response based on the pseudonym you provided, IP address, or something else, and make a note of your changed preferences.

I also plan to publish this piece under a pseudonym myself (this blog is also published under a partial pseudonym), so if any of you are worried that you might be identified because you know me, please rest assured that I will take every precaution to avoid that.

Survey Links:

If you would like to complete the survey, and you have not done so before, please use this link. If you happen to start taking the survey and then remember that you have filled it out before, please note that so that your second response can be deleted, and then follow the link below instead, if you want to fill it out again.

Since I have redesigned and clarified several of the questions, and since it has been a year since I first asked for responses and people have had more time to reflect, I have decided to create a separate copy of the survey in case anyone would like to take it again, so that the demographics will not be distorted. If you didn’t finish the first time around and feel you can write more this time, if you weren’t satisfied with your original responses, or if you just want to see how far you’ve come, by all means use this link if you have already completed the first page of this survey once before. It’s not necessary for you to fill out the entire survey unless you want to; for any questions you don’t want to answer, just put an asterisk in the comment box to indicate that you feel satisfied enough with your original answer. It may be an interesting exercise to see if and how your retelling of your story has changed, however, so do feel free to answer again even if you were satisfied with what you wrote before. That may lead to some insightful points for the piece.

Feel free to link this around, by all means. My only request is that you ONLY LINK TO THIS BLOG POST, instead of the survey itself, so that my statistical information won’t get messed up from people who have already taken the survey taking it again.

And finally, a great big THANK YOU to everyone who takes this or links it around!

Survey: Experiences of rape and sexual assault

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It’s also usually the most strenuous month of classes for me, although this year due to a barrage of midterm papers all due at the same time, that may well have been March instead. So for the most part, I’ll be working on school projects this month instead of blogging.

One of the projects on my to-do list is a work of creative non-fiction in the topic and format of my choosing. As rape culture is something I have been exploring, and since it is a topic much on the mind lately, I decided I would do it on that.

Of course, although I have had some experience with Not-Rape, I have never actually been raped, so I cannot speak to what that experience is like. I need to do some serious research, and for that, I turn to the internet. I would like to compile stories of others’ experiences of rape and sexual assault and braid them in with a critical reflective voice which provides a focus and trajectory, with the goal of creating compassion and raising awareness of rape culture.

I will use no one’s story without their explicit consent. And since this is a lyric essay, there are specific aspects of the stories that I am looking to incorporate more so than others—specific details will help me to contextualize the stories, but beyond that, what I am looking for are concrete details which reveal the emotional texture of the event, and a lot of times those details get lost in the typical retelling of events. So, both in order to more easily find what I am looking for and solve the problem of explicit consent, I’ve created a survey.

If you have ever experienced rape or another form of sexual assault, and you want to help me tell this story, I invite you to participate. All information gathered here will of course be kept strictly confidential, and no identifying information will be used.

Click here to take the survey.

I am still collecting responses, and will continue to do so until further notice. I have posted a project update for this here, and you can find a link to the survey there.

Of course, feel free to link this post around, so that I can cast my net a little wider. Additionally, I welcome any articles or book recommendations you may have on the subject, and if you have a story to share about how rape culture has affected you even though you have not been raped or sexually assaulted, please feel free to share in the comments or via email (my contact info is on the sidebar).

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!