Tag Archives: disclosure

Specifying your gender on Facebook

Just over two years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “Does a rose by 58 other names smell as sweet?” where I talked about Facebook’s attempt to allow users to specify more than just a gender binary of male or female. I also mentioned how I wouldn’t be using it as I had already subverted the system to force Facebook to use the singular “they”, “them” and “their” for me by recording a null value for my gender.

At that time, Facebook were proposing an enormous drop-list of every conceivable variation, seemingly having taken on board every suggestion from every focus group they had done. It sounded like an unwieldy mess to me.

Today I decided to revisit my unspecified gender on Facebook, and made rather a pleasant discovery – what is now on offer is actually pretty good!

At the simplest level, your choices for gender are initially presented as a drop-list of “Female”, “Male” and “Custom”. This doesn’t alienate all the cis-gender people who just want to choose from a simple list. This is good User Interface design.

Selecting Custom is where it gets interesting, as the options then expand to let you choose your gender and also the gender pronoun you wish to use.

Facebook's custom gender options

Facebook’s custom gender options

Choosing your gender is via a free text field that also accepts tags. In other words you can type what you want, but if what you are typing matches something that already exists then you can select it and it becomes a tagged value instead . If not, it stays as free text. Very flexible. This is very similar to when you tag someone in a post.

You can also specify who can see your gender on your profile. You can leave it as public, or limit its visibility. This uses the standard privacy menu that is used throughout Facebook, so you can choose from the standard options or go full custom. I chose to limit it so that only Friends can see it.

You can then specify your preferred pronoun. Currently this drop-list only has the options of Female, Male or Neutral, the latter being the singular “they”, “them” and “their” that I mentioned earlier. Facebook does not allow the use of the various gender-neutral pronouns that have been proposed and adopted, with varying degrees of success, by some. See the links below for more details on this, if you are interested.
This will be a huge shortcoming for some people but it’s a balancing act between complexity and usability and, although it is fairly limiting, I think it will be sufficient for many people. It is for me. Although, having said that, the singular “they” is rather clumsy for personal pronouns and for that I would have a preference for the Germanic hir for her/his, and zie for he/she.

So, in summary, Facebook seem to have found a good balance between User Interface simplicity, and the flexibility to let people express their gender identity. From a Design perspective, going down the route of “Female”, “Male” or “Custom” was absolutely the right thing to do.

I hate to say it, but it looks like Facebook got something right for once.


Further reading on gender pronouns……


Posted by on 30th April 2016 in Opinion, Transgender

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Does a rose by 58 other names smell as sweet?

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:

Flickr Gender options

Flickr Gender options

and Google+ is even more streamlined

Google+ gender options

Google+ gender options

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.





Posted by on 4th April 2014 in Opinion, Transgender


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