Facebook recently vastly expanded the gender option you can select for yourself on your profile, adding a bewildering 56 additional gender declarations to the more traditional “male” and “female”. Well, for users of US English anyway; those of us who use proper British English (and variations thereof) they are not yet available.
As a transgender person who considers themselves “gender fluid”, you’d think I would be very happy about this. But the truth is, I am completely unmoved by it. As a programmer, I know that if I offer methods on a “light bulb” class called “Illuminate”, “Incandesce”, “Turn On”, “Activate” and “Energise”, users will quite rightly ask what the difference between them is and which one they should use. And even if I was to assure them they were all equivalent, there would still be continuing confusion.
I know that cisgender friends have initially been even more confused than me about these new options, perhaps perplexed by the fact that “male” and female” appear not to be listed (but “cis female”, “cis woman”, “cis male”, “cisgender female”, “cisgender woman” and “cisgender male” are, although giving people the option to state this seems counter-productive to me). For the record, though, these are additional options; the existing “male” and “female” remain.
I believe that you can give people too much choice, though. Why do we need these 56 new options when a majority of them are synonyms or subtle differences to the point of hair-splitting? My experience is that transsexuals who want to transition from one gender binary to the other will want to identify as their chosen gender. And transgender people like me will simply want to say “other” or “gender fluid” or “none of your damn business” (or whatever). Basically, 99.9% of people will simply not want to split hairs the way Facebook is offering.
I rather suspect that Facebook had a number of Focus meetings, or otherwise garnered suggestions, and then just accepted every single suggestion.
I had a look on Flickr and Google+ to see what they offer, and I think their approaches are far more sensible.
Flickr gives you the following options:
and Google+ is even more streamlined
Personally, I like what Google+ is offering because it does not scream “I am different” like Flickr’s does. But I suppose that depends on how “in your face” you want to be about your Gender Identity. I suppose that if you are completely militant then you may love Facebook’s approach, but personally I think it is pants. It’s a case of going from one extreme to the other.
Fortunately, for me, a good while ago I subverted Facebook by recording a null value for my gender in my Facebook profile. Not only does this give me the gender ambiguity I desire, but it also leaves Facebook’s targeted advertising at a loss as to what to deluge me with, And that suits me just fine. Let’s not prevaricate about the shrubbery here folks, Facebook wants you to to choose the granularity it is offering so that it can fire targeted advertising at you. Facebook wants to know you are cis-female or trans-female so it knows whether or not to deluge you with adverts for feminine hygiene products (for example). It has absolutely nothing to do with freedom of expression or being “right on” with the LGBT community.
Personally I am going to stick with my subverted value and remain genderless to Facebook and leave them scratching their head as to what gender-specific adverts they should vomit forth to me.
How did I do this? Well, I’ll leave it to you to google that as it is a constantly changing thing, but basically it involves using web developer / debug tools to inject a bad value into the appropriate field that Facebook uses so that it is interpreted as “not set” or “invalid”. And when that is the case, Facebook reverts to using “their” instead of “her” or “his” which suits me just fine.