“A very Unusual Person”

I do not read horoscopes, but I love personality tests. I admit that this is weird, because one makes promises (nearly?) as false as the other, but I find the attempt of measuring human character and abilities in numbers marvelously interesting. Finally, with my project on the methodological review of the Kinsey Report, I have a respectable reason for taking some of these tests during my work time—and learn about my sexual orientation.

One of Kinsey et al.’s findings was that sexual orientation is not dichotomic. Instead, they proposed a scale on which they measured sexuality between the poles “Exclusively Heterosexual” (0) and “Exclusively Homosexual” (6).1 Similar to “What Kind of Bride Are You?,” this scale offers several categories of which one should pretty likely cover your preferences. The first test I took several months ago, was in German, pretty short and boring. Four questions, and the answer was not even phrased in Kinsey’s terms. Even my grandmother could have given me that kind of diagnosis. The second one I liked much better: Questions 7 to 11 are hilarious, and I cannot deprive you of them. Since the test is also in German, I will translate them for you:

7) Did you sometimes get nervous when an attractive female or male (!) hairdresser … touched you?
8) Did you feel comfortable with their touching you?
9) Did it make you nervous?
10) Did you enjoy their touching you?
11) Did you wish by yourself that they would go on touching you?

So, please imagine yourself going to an expensive hairdresser.2 It is cold outside, but they wash your hair with warm water and give you this massage of which you wish it might never end. Of course I am comfortable with that! Of course the thought this situation might be over in a few minutes makes me nervous! Of course I enjoy it! Of course I wish they would go on and on and … What a ridiculous set of questions to determine my sexual preferences.

The most interesting one in English I found so far, does not ask for your feelings when touched by a hairdresser. What makes it so special, is that after answering some questions which are obviously related to your sexuality, you are redirected to another page where you have to answer some seemingly random questions concerning hobbies, ethnicity, etc. Only after answering these, you get access to your Kinsey grade. I was totally blown away when I realized that I just witnessed an instance of profiling humans with regard to bodily and behavioral features. As if that were not enough, the Kinsey grade I had worked so hard for could not be determined! I am obviously a “very unusual person,” and therefore they were not able to match me to one of Kinsey’s groups. (It worked for several friends of mine; so there is either a bug that does only affect those with the most honorable intentions, or my way of answering the questions is indeed very uncommon and requires such a result.) My reaction was quite ambiguous: One part of me crowed over this test’s inability to put parts of my personality in numbers, but the other one was seriously offended by the stupid machine’s assertion that I am either too dumb to click “True” or “False,” or “very unusual,” which to me sounded like “interesting,” “special,” or “nice” as euphemism for … you know.

Screenshot 10/15/2013 (Tabea Cornel, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Screenshot 10/15/2013 (Tabea Cornel, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Needless to say that none of the tests came to the same conclusion about my sexual preferences. I find it much more interesting that this system of putting people’s personalities in numbers is directly linked with the advertisement industry, a worldwide system of profiling people. I am wondering what Kinsey would have said if somebody had told him about that before he died. Not only this use of his system, but also the way the data is acquired (anonymous, using a standardized questionnaire with binary answering options) might have troubled him. Kinsey interviewed people personally before he drew conclusions about their sexual life, and he spent years finding trustworthy and skilled assistants to carry out this task. I am curios to learn about the processes that allowed de-personalizing his system to a rigid online test, and re-personalizing as well as enriching the data again as part of a capitalist consumer surveillance system.

Do you see how the list of investigational categories is growing? We have sexuality, we have handedness, and we have sex/gender. Add intelligence, age, education, etc., and imagine how the advertising industry would thank us if we made these numbers about us available to them—and told them afterwards how many hours we run per week. Somebody has to come up with a possibility to unite all these scattered tests to a comprehensive one. The Big Siblings will love it.

1 On what this meant during the early Cold War era, I highly recommend David K. Johnson’s The Lavender Scare.

2 I suggest you go to Sassoon in Berlin (ask for Peter, but note that he is only there on Saturdays, since he decided to go to school again), or Haartrend Reichardt in Speyer (tell Willi I said hi).

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