Seeing the Rainbow - Modeling Sex, Gender, and Sexuality Spectrums

rubikscube's picture

When thinking about the categories of sex, gender, and sexuality, my instinct is to organize these categories so I can better understand their meanings and relationships with each other. The image above is a tree I created to show the different ways that a person can be categorized. If sticking to a binary for each of the categories, there is a limited number of options. From a class exercise we did in Gender and Technology, we discussed the concept of having sex, gender, and sexuality each being on its own spectrum. After reading from Joan Roughgarden's Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People, we learned about the large number of variations of sex, gender, and sexuality among animals. Although Roughgarden does not necessarily suggest that humans have the same amount of these categorical variations, I still found the concept of having these categories on a spectrum interesting. Based on this idea, I attempted to create a new tree diagram to account for these spectrums.

From this tree, I created 27 distinct types of people based on the different spectrums, with several of these distinctions incorporating some type of spectrum. Because of this, I found this method of organizing these categories incomplete, as tree diagrams cannot accurately represent a spectrum in a way that can be easily understood.

This led me to using NetLogo, a programming environment used for creating models. Through this technology, I was able to use color to represent the spectrums of sex, gender, and sexuality.




Roughgarden's Evolution's Rainbow

NetLogo 4.1.2 User Manual: Programming Guide

League of Reason Forum


admin's picture

play your applet?

Hi rubikscube,

Will you post your netlogo model as an applet within a page so we can all play with it?

Thanks, Ann

rubikscube's picture


 Sorry for my late reply. Sure, I'll try to do this. I'm pretty sure I can make the NetLogo model into an applet, so once I figure this out, I'll post it.

Anne Dalke's picture

"We are tired of trees"

I'm delighted to see you playing with ways to "figure" the diversity human sex, gender and sexuality; your beginning with a tree, finding it inadequate, then replacing with a new, and much more complex, tree diagram that still failed to accurately represent an understandable spectrum put me in mind of the famous remark by Deleuze and Guattari (quoted by Hayles in this week's reading for class): "we are tired of trees."

You then do exactly what Hayles recommends: draw on the technological resources available to you --in this case, the Netlogo programming environment --to create a model that enables you to use color to represent the spectrums of sex, gender, and sexuality. I found this very effective (as you seemed to have, also) as a tool to illustrate the limits of the binary structure of trees, as a way to figure varieties of ways of being human.

So (after a moment of pleasure and affirmation), are you ready for a next step? One of the fascinating things about models (for me) is that they are not intended as virtual representations of some other "reality." In fact, I'd say what makes them so useful is that they are simplified versions of the world: conscious attempts not to make an image as big as the world it maps, but to highlight (as every map and model must) some selection of it. So: what's missing from your model? What does it foreground, what background? And how might you design another model to incorporate those dimensions?

Several exhibits on Serendip explore the use of computer models in science education  --you might want to check out some of those.

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