Our Division Name

Moving Forward without Leaving Anyone Behind

Our division, its name and its future.

By Mira Krishnan, PhD, ABPP, and Christopher Davids, PhD

Earlier this year, the Committee for Transgender People and Gender Diversity and the Committee on Bisexual Issues began a conversation about Div. 44's name, ultimately recommending a change to “Society for the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity (SPSOGD),” and corresponding changes to our bylaws. The division exercised its voice, and we would like to thank division membership for all the feedback we received.

Your voice will be needed once more, as this issue will be taken to a membership ballot for final determination, and to help prepare you for that, as co-chairs of the two committees making this recommendation, we would like to discuss this change further.

Why make a change? And why now?

We believe this change better positions our division for future work, follows national trends related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and recognizes increasing diversity within our community, as new identity groups become visible. This new language in particular is more inclusive of gender diverse people who do not identify with the term transgender, including some genderqueer, agender, non-binary or gender fluid people, and sexually diverse people who do not identify with the terms lesbian, gay or bisexual, including some queer, asexual, aromantic, demisexual, pansexual or sexually fluid people. This name change also acknowledges the multiplicity of identities and relationship configurations. We, as a division, and our members as scientists and practitioners, have already been working to understand and support these populations. In fact, the division recently published a new fact sheet (PDF, 102KB) exploring non-binary gender identities.

At Midwinter Meeting in January, division leadership reviewed the range of responses to this proposal. Participants at Midwinter Meeting also had a nuanced discussion about the choice to use “Psychology of” instead of “Psychological Study of,” which was ultimately felt to represent a stronger and more inclusive change. This change recognized, among other things, that our psychology is of, for and by us, and that people of varying sexual orientation and gender identities are not limited to being subjects of research, but play a role in advancing and directing it, and that our division membership has always reflected not just the scientist tradition, but also the practitioner tradition, as it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Much of the feedback we received was positive, and we are grateful for all feedback: positive, negative or neutral. After reviewing your comments, we would like to briefly discuss two more common themes among concerns raised.

Some division members raised concerns about feeling left behind, with dropping the LGBT label. The authors of this article certainly sympathize with this — we identify with letters in that acronym ourselves. Some people may even be surprised that two identity-based committees, representing groups historically marginalized within the LGBT community, would put forward such a request now that we have greater visibility at the proverbial table. Yet many of our committee members, particularly, those who have been out for longer periods of time, can probably remember when their identities were not included. Transgender people felt excluded when “LGB” was the phrase commonly used, and lesbian and bisexual individuals felt excluded when it was simply “Gay.” And so, while “LGBT” can feel like a safe, friendly and inclusive term for some, we should remember what it feels like to be left out, and certainly, the entire community knows what it feels like to be left out from “straight” culture. In the past, we've responded by lengthening the acronym — “LG” became “LGB,” and then “LGBT,” and sometimes more inclusive acronyms, such as “LGBTQIA+,” are used. This leads to an alphabet soup problem — the acronym will only get longer and more unwieldy over time. Alternate phrases, like “sexual orientation and gender diversity,” attempt to solve this problem not by enumerating all of our identities, but by emphasizing the psychological/identity constructs we have in common. This way, we circumvent the perennial role of catch-up, as new generations embrace new language that better represents who they are.

Some division members also questioned the relationship between sexual orientation and gender identity. Although this relationship was already in place in our division's current name, it bears discussion. We wish to make a few simple points in response. First, the line between gender and sexuality has never been a firm boundary, as evidenced by the range of gender practices within the lesbian and gay community, including “drag,” labels such as “butch” and “femme,” human experiences of gender that continue to be of psychological interest. Second, there is a danger in this line of reasoning in forgetting that, just as everyone has a sexual orientation (including the cisgender / heterosexual population, and, importantly, transgender and gender nonconforming people, many of whom are, themselves, also lesbian, gay, or bisexual), everyone also has as a gender identity. Third, just as many forms of diversity and resilience overlap, we know that oppression and marginalization do, as well. A prime example is seen in current attempts to police the use of bathrooms that conform to one's gender identity. Although these laws and practices ostensibly target primarily transgender and gender nonconforming people, there are many instances in which they have affected people who are not transgender, particularly butch lesbians, on the basis of their gender expression. In the same vein, marriage equality allowed many transgender and gender nonconforming people recognition of their relationships.

Change can be frightening. Moving forward has a feeling of moving “from” some place to some other place, in this case, moving from an emphasis on some identities to an emphasis on others. It is our hope that, instead, with this name change, Div. 44 is laying the groundwork not for leaving anybody behind, but for encouraging a psychology that is inclusive of all of our experiences. We hope that you support the forthcoming ballot proposal, and we thank you for your contributions to our division and to the psychology of all of us.