The need for ‘pansexual’ as an answer choice on data collection instruments

by misstomrstodr

Without a doubt, the current state of affairs in LGBTQA data collection is severely lacking and suboptimal for numerous reasons, many of which deserve their own separate post for another time. My post today pertains more to something quite specific that I’ve come across on research projects that I’ve worked with in the capacity as a data manager.

It is hard to make the argument (at least for those who are part of the LGBTQA community and/or those that work in this field often) that data collection for “non-heterosexual” populations of any sort is done adequately [*note: a friend of mine cringes when I’ve said ‘non-heterosexual’ in our discussions about a conference abstract we submitted a few months back, but I use it here only to make a point].

When it comes to data collection, we can focus on labels, identity, actions… where to start? What to capture? And from a sociological lens, an philosophical perspective, or a public health focus (or all of the above)? But pie-in-the-sky dreams aside, there is an obvious gaping hole in the question that so frequently peppers data collection instruments as the “standard” or “core” sexual orientation question. I completely support the notion that some effort is better than no effort – asking a question on a survey about sexual orientation helps us not only collect relevant data, but also provides a point from which to grow, refine, and appropriately develop adequate data collection tools for this needy population.

But as your resident bi-lov-ed researcher, it is my duty to say that this standard/core question is failing to capture an important element of the bisexual realm. From my past post, you may have read that I have my reasons for identifying as a bisexual woman, rather than a pansexual woman. I have theorized that I feel comfortable in my current state as a bisexual woman because it allows me to coexist happily as a woman in a marriage with a cismale, while also feeling comfortable with having attractions towards women. I have discussed with my husband that it is quite likely (in an alternate universe, perhaps) that my identity as a single woman would actually be pansexual – my first inclination throughout my life in looking for my life partner was never to ask whether Mendelian randomization at conception provided them XX or XY (or triploid sex chromosomes?).

Thus, honing in beyond the global (but vitally important) notion that sexuality is fluid and identities are dynamic rather than static, tattooed-on labels that stick with us for life in databases, we need to understand that lacking an answer choice that at least says “Bisexual/pansexual” and only providing a choice that says “bisexual” will alienate pansexual individuals and force them to either skip the question, to choose a selection that doesn’t fit their current identity, or inconvenience them by writing in their answer in the ‘Other’ box [if there is such a box!]

Yes, some data is better than no data, but while we’re at it, why not add just one more word to help enrich the data that we are already collecting in so many surveys?