Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

To Count or Not to Count: Queering Measurement and the Transgender Community

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

To Count or Not to Count: Queering Measurement and the Transgender Community

Article excerpt

An area of increasing attention at the intersection of social sciences and queer theory is how to study LGBTQ+ populations, particularly what methods are most appropriate for assessing the fluid subjectivities contained within the broader LGBTQ+ community. In this context, estimating the size of the queer (LGBTQ+) population both challenges this fluidity and acts to undermine heteronormativity and its exercise of Foucauldian governmentality (Foucault 1978). If compulsory heterosexuality "others" queer populations, then counting queer populations may undermine this "otherness" by demonstrating the legitimate needs of the LGBTQ+ population for basic facilities. The urgent need for transgender access to safe bathrooms and social services, including medical care, justifies the act of counting. Bathroom access enables trans and other gender-nonconforming people to move through public space. Since politicians excel in counting votes, without more complete estimates of trans and gender nonnormative people, public officials are unlikely to invest in safe and accessible public facilities. In late 2015 and early 2016, legislative efforts to keep transgender people out of bathrooms have intensified, making the counting issue even more critical.

Queer methodologies require both researchers and subjects to acknowledge the complexity of their subjectivities and lived experiences (Ryan-Flood and Rooke 2009). Interactions between researcher and subject are easily compromised when respondents are subjectively categorized to facilitate the aims of the research. For instance, Warner (2004) argues that most research on LGBTQ+ populations reifies research subjects into fixed categories chosen by the researcher that do not reflect the lived realities of these subjects. Browne's (2008) participation in a quantitative survey using "tick boxes" to identify various LGBTQ+ subjectivities risked "selling out" her identity as a queer researcher, but it did provide useful insights into the inequalities faced by some lesbian and gay subjects that were an essential first step to ameliorating inequality and developing more just policies.

Clearly, the measurement of subjective categories can be tricky. Weston (2009) suggests that measuring lesbian subjectivities requires the deconstruction of even the most basic approaches. For example, simply asking a subject about their identity is fraught, because self-identification is dependent on the ways that individuals interpret what it means to be a lesbian. However, because such identities, including "ex-lesbians" and men who identify as lesbians, are often in flux, the lesbian category destabilizes the very research process. Because self-definition also permits anyone to lay claim to lesbian identity, the results can be at odds with so-called common sense understandings of the term. In a pop-culture example of the fluid boundaries of self-definition, a character on the television drama The L Word, who was born male, insisted he identified as a lesbian and struck up a relationship with a female character who had a history of erotic involvement with other women (Weston 2009, 142).

Measuring transgender identity is harder to do since it is one of the least visible segments of the LGBTQ+ rainbow. This paper applies a queer theory lens that seeks both to destabilize categories such as "gender" and to avoid severing queer bodies from the environment in which they live, breathe, and excrete bodily fluids. Within queer theory, Jagose, among others, highlights the instability of identity categories, arguing that "queer is an identity category that has no interest in consolidating or even stabilizing itself. . . . [Q]ueer is always an identity under construction" (1996, 131). Corber and Valocchi (2003) suggest that subjectivities arise not from within the self but outside it. Butler (1990) extends this instability to the performance of gender that transcends the body, and Grosz (1992) argues that a complex feedback relation exists between bodies and environments. …

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