Using Online Surveys to Research Diverse Sexualities and Gender Identities: Opportunities and Challenges

Monday, 16 July 2018: 11:45
Oral Presentation
Rebecca BARNES, University of Leicester, United Kingdom
Catherine DONOVAN, University of Sunderland, United Kingdom
Cyber spaces and digital technologies have created new opportunities for minority and/or stigmatised groups to test, claim and live out identities and to form communities. A key example concerns diverse sexualities and gender identities, whereby online spaces potentially facilitate freedoms which may be inaccessible in ‘real’ life, providing political, educational, expressive, relational and even intimate opportunities. In parallel, the rapid expansion of digital access has fuelled the growing popularity of online surveys amongst social scientists, not only for reasons of cost and efficiency, but also because of their capacity to access harder-to-reach and/or stigmatised groups. This has had important implications for research with lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and/or transgender populations, and others who seek to explore or self-define beyond binarised gender identities and/or heterosexuality. However, whilst online survey methodologies have increased researchers’ access to larger and more diverse samples in terms of sexuality and gender identities, there are various challenges which researchers need to consider including: 1) questions of representativeness, such as the extent to which online surveys reach the most marginalised within these communities (for example, the poor representation of minority ethnic people); 2) the development of appropriate, inclusive language to describe sexualities and gender identities which can be highly politicised and fluid; and 3) the diversity and uniqueness of the terms through which participants articulate their identities in free-text responses, where the freedom to self-define comes into tension with the constraints of quantitative measurement and analysis. This paper explores these issues, drawing from online surveys of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and/or transgender individuals, including our own study which collected data in the UK on homo/bi/transphobia, intimate relationship expectations and the experience and enactment of abusive behaviours.