Disalienation: Why Gender is a Text Field on Diaspora
The “gender” field in a person’s profile was originally a dropdown menu, with three choices: blank, male, and female. My change made it an optional text field that was blank to start. A wide open frontier! Enter anything you want.
For a while, only a few people noticed.
But now that Diaspora is in private alpha, more people have started noticing – on twitter, in the bug tracker, and in GetSatisfaction, among other places. Some folks have asked why it’s not a dropdown with two options like everywhere else. So here’s why.
…what else is there?
Four years ago, at my first rails job, I worked at a company with a mostly-lesbian customer base. It turns out, in that context, knowing if someone is “male” or “female” gives you almost no useful information. The lesbian community has other widely-accepted categories of gender, but the company’s internal order tracking software — a well-known package from a national vendor — offered only male or female.
As a result, the company didn’t even bother to ask for gender when users created accounts.
That was my first real-life experience with the limitations of the gender binary. It was certainly interesting, but it was essentially academic. Not long after I left that job, though, one of my closest family members told me that he’s transgender. That made the whole subject way more immediate.
Now it’s personal
So in the last few years I’ve tried really hard to understand what being transgender means. I’ve done a lot of reading and talking and thinking about how we construct a gender identity, and how we perceive others’ gender. I’m certainly no expert, having not lived it myself. But I have discovered that my own gender identity is a bit more fluid than I thought. And perhaps most importantly, I’ve gotten comfortable with the idea of gender as an n-dimensional space, with two big clusters and a hell of a lot of outliers.
I made this change to Diaspora so that I won’t alienate anyone I love before they finish signing up.
I made this change because gender is a beautiful and multifaceted thing that can’t be contained by a list.
I know a lot of people aren’t there with me yet. So I also made this change to give them one momentary chance to consider other possibilities.
I made it to start a conversation.
I made it because I can.
And, of course, I made it so you can be a smartass.
Go out and have fun with it.
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