Only the Internet Can Tell You Your Real Gender

24 Mar

This is old news, but there’s a site online (found here) that uses word choice to predict author gender. How accurate is it? Who knows, I didn’t see a link for their stats. My first thought is, ohhhh, nifty! Then again, things like this make me really nervous since some trans people, in particular, are over-eager to feel their sense of gender confirmed. Oh, so-and-so test says I’m trans, it must be so! Or, so-and-so test says I write like a man, but I’m a trans woman! I’m aghast, all is lost, my identity is for naught…

Yeah, so let’s not look that far into stuff. So after all this, did I try it? Of course. Yeah, I know, I know…

I threw in my last five blog entries, giving me these results:

1: Female Score: 1463, Male Score: 942

2: Female Score: 739, Male Score: 586

3: Female Score: 857, Male Score: 571

4: Female Score: 890, Male Score: 888

5: Female Score: 1934, Male Score: 1188

So, the idea is that it assesses word choice (not sentence construction or anything fancy) and weights words men and women use more or less frequently in writing. It adds the words used preferentially by one gender or the other in their respective “male” and “female” columns, multiplies each word by how much a gender marker it is, multiplies by how often you use each word, and then adds it all up and pops out your gross numbers (whatcha see above) as “Female Score” and “Male Score.” It’s really a game of averages. The problem is that the deviation is probably massive from person to person. A blogger (here) elucidates better than I can the problems of taking cool findings to crappy conclusions. Deep thought– the variation between individual test takers likely swamps the variation between genders. Or, as my former stats prof loved to say about gender tests, the variation within groups is much greater than the variation between groups. Again, click that blog link up there, because while I can pretend to be a scientist, I’m not a statistician. Even that word gives me the creeps. Ah, the maths, it burns!

In this test I’m told The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female! Giving props where they’re due, it at least gives the same result to five samples (i.e. in this regard it’s consistent). There’s quite a bit of variation from post to post, though. On the fourth (a post that was more or less a list I wrote, which probably muddles things) the scores were –to use proper maths-speak– really close, dude. Or not statistically significant, whatever. So, added into the mix is variation of writing day by day and format by format. What a mess. And, I don’t mean to attack a strawman, here; it’s a cool site, and they’re not marketing it as anything definitive, just fun. I think that’s great.

My last word on all that is that the quiz supposes a binary –male or female– that’s a little silly. If you buy that gender lives on a continuum, I’d bet that so too does our writing.

I only mention this really as an example. Our community is littered with these kinds of tests. I think the motivation is two-fold. First, maybe we’re curious about who we are, or how we’re read (literally). Maybe folks are in the beginning of questioning whether or not they’re trans, or maybe they’re interested in seeing how well they blend via various criteria. Second, I think we’re looking for confirmation, the more assertive side of questioning. Like, a-ha! I’m a trans person, afterall. You can’t deny my test results, yo.

Probably the most famous gender test is this one, the COGIATI. Jennifer Reitz is a character, and on an unrelated note, hers was one of the first sites I saw online when I first Yahooed transsexuality in the 1990s. Yeah, that’s right kids, back in my day we didn’t Google something, we Yahooed it. Honestly, the site was something less than helpful for me, but hey, a lot of people like it. The disclaimer notes that the test isn’t meant to be taken as gospel, or in lieu of counseling or personal reflection. I like that.

The questions are largely stereotypes, which I’m not a big fan of, even if I fit most of them. Not everyone does. Last day of my “Feminism 101” class we were wrapping up with final thoughts and a girl piped in that all stereotypes have a bit of truth to them. It was worth hearing that just to listen to our prof’s response. Anyway, on to the test.


Apparently, the classifications are (1) standard male, (2) feminine male, (3) androgyne, (4) probably transsexual, and (5) transsexual. The judges have ruled, though, and I’m a probable transsexual; for me, this too is consistent, since I scored the same when I took this at 14. Apparently being good at spacial orientation makes me less transgender, who knew. Yes, I’m harping again on those pesky stereotypes…

The test allows for some middle-ground, but certainly there’s more in gender expression than fitting within one of five categories. That’s one problem these tests face. What about the folks who identify as bi-gender? That identity is pretty different than, say, genderqueer. The test seems to indicate they’d all fall under classification three, though.

This (awesome) resource discusses more seriously the problems with the test.

So, if online tests don’t work, what does? Probably knowing that you’re trans is about that simple. If you think you are, you probably are. If you think you aren’t, you probably aren’t. It’s a real simple test. It also means that all the introspection –or whatever else, I guess– is more or less on your own shoulders. Probably as it should be. Transition is a pretty big deal, and following through requires a good degree of self-assurance. That’s hard to come by, but in the end, it’s what you need most. There’ll always be trans people who transitioned younger, or blend better, or have resources you don’t. It’s amazing how many are utterly miserable. Nothing is more important than being self-assured, being able to brush off the haters, and finding your own bit of happiness in life.

The problem with the “think you are, then you are” model is it makes cisgender people (really, the medical establishment) nervous. Most gender markers they can really get a feel for. Chromosomes, or things we can see face-to-face, like dicks, all serve to help parse the world into male and female. Usually the parsing is done by cisgender peeps. The “think you are” model is scarier since it’s the only one where the power is in the hands of the individual. Instead of being told what we are, it’s announcing ourselves. And, that sorta throws the whole power dynamic off.

So, I guess take the tests for fun, I know I do. Earlier today I was told my inner age is really 23, and I’m living until I’m 82. I’d just take gender tests about as seriously as those announcing your inner age or how long you’ll live.

I think the next post I’ll talk about why not to look too far into handwriting. It won’t suck as much as it sounds, and it’ll include a couple pictures.

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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in Uncategorized


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