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September 1, 2011

Dear BlogHer: Transgender is not a sexual orientation

I just registered for the 2012 BlogHer Conference! Yes, we know that the Blogher11 just ended, but next year the conference is coming back to New York so we already know that we have to go!

While registering I noticed something on the questionnaire that I found problematic. (We noticed this last year as well, but we were still surprised to see it again this year.) Amidst all the other 'demographic' type questions about race and age, there was a question of sexual orientation.

The choices are 'Bisexual', 'Gay/Lesbian', 'Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual', 'Heterosexual', 'Transgender', 'Decline to state' and 'Asexual'. Now we have to give BlogHer some credit that they're even acknowledging that there are more types of people other than Heterosexual and 'Not Heterosexual'. (You'd be surprised how many questionnaires basically have these choices.) So we think it's great that they're trying to be more inclusive.

But they're still doing it wrong.

First of all, 'Transgender' is not a sexual orientation. Just because 'LGBT' is a popular acronym, doesn't mean that each letter signifies a sexual orientation. According to About.com's Civil Liberties section, a transgender person is "someone whose personal idea of gender does not correlate with his or her assigned gender role". Gender identity and sexual orientation are often associated, but they are not the same thing.

The fact that you can only choose one option and 'Transgender' is one of them, is problematic. You can be Transgender and Heterosexual. You can be Transgender and Gay/Lesbian or Bisexual. You can be Transgender and Asexual. Since you can't choose more than one option, it almost feels as though they are asking the women of BlogHer "Are you a straight woman? Are you a gay woman? Or are you not really a woman?" This is really problematic and offensive to me, because trans women are women, period. By classifying it as a sexual orientation, not only do they limit transgender attendees from filling out the questionnaire fully, but they are also perpetuating an ignorant misconception to anyone else reading the questionnaire.

Personally, we don't think it's any of BlogHer's business if you're Transgender or not. Since the conference is open to everyone, not just women, it seems unnecessary and overly invasive for them to want to know if we were born as biologically female or not. (Not that anyone should feel the need to hide who they are... only that it should be their choice to disclose this information rather than be asked.)

If BlogHer is going to start asking whether or not we're Transgender, then why shouldn't they include some other gender identities as well? Cisfemale, Cismale, Transfemale, Transmale, Intersex, Genderqueer, etc...

The 'Transgender' option isn't the only confusing part of these choices. Why are 'Bisexual' and 'Gay/Lesbian' listed separately and then again in combination ('Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual')? Is there really some kind of gay-bi-combo that I wasn't aware of?

Personally, I think there are varying degrees to sexuality - much like the Kinsey scale - and often the black-and-white, clear-cut categories of straight, gay and bi don't always work for most people. Bisexuality isn't usually 50% male, 50% female like some people think (and it certainly isn't the "I'll just sleep with anyone" stereotype that some people believe). I also understand that sexual behaviors don't always match sexual desires or sexual identity. There are women who sleep with other women but don't identity as lesbians, just as their are lesbians who sleep with men, and so on...

In addition to the choices given, there are still other orientations... such as pansexual or polysexual. (Hell, there's even objectum sexuality.)

I hate to criticize BlogHer for trying to be more inclusive. We're glad that the conference is acknowledging that we're not all mommy bloggers and funds official parties like the Queerosphere Party (organized by the always awesome Deb on the Rocks). I just feel like if you're going to do it - do it and do it right. Don't half-ass it. Don't mix up terminology. If you're not the most informed person on the subject that's okay, find someone who is. I'm pretty sure I'm going to get a few comments telling me all the errors and omissions I made in this blog post alone, but at least my heart is in the right place!

I know BlogHer's heart is in the right place too. But heart isn't enough when it comes to true inclusiveness. You also have to be accurate.

Update: Way to go BlogHer!


Yandie, Goddess of Pickles. said...

I kind of feel like saying "A for Effort, C for execution"

ElisaC said...

Hi there. First, I did want to let you know why we bother asking about orientation at all. As you have noticed, we do a lot of outreach to various diverse communities within our community. We do this when seeking panel submissions, speaker suggestions, and of course attendees. We ask about race and orientation in our registration survey, because we want to know if our outreach is working/helping.

Second, you make a totally valid point that lumping the T in with the LGB in our orientation question is not appropriate.So, I've removed it. Finally, I can't remember anymore why we would have offered G/L/B as a choice in addition to just Bisexual and Gay/Lesbian. So, to simplify things, I've removed that too.

Thanks for the feedback.

Anonymous said...

That was an awesomely fast response, thank you Elisa!! We're glad that BlogHer does outreach to other communities - keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

In fact, that was so awesome... we wrote this:


ElisaC said...

Thanks chica!

Anonymous said...

While you're taking our 'awesome advice' lol... here are some of our blogher11 criticisms and blogher12 suggestions...