Disalienation: Why Gender is a Text Field on Diaspora

A few months ago, I started contributing to the Diaspora project. I began by refactoring their test suite and setting up a continuous integration server. Then I installed Jasmine and started mucking around with the JavaScript. That was all pretty straightforward.

A few weeks ago I made a slightly more controversial change.

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.

Screenshot of a github commit comment

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.

Then I met Sarah Dopp at She’s Geeky, and we talked about dropdown menus, and it all fell into place.


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.

a selection of the gender self-descriptions of my contacts on diaspora

a selection of the gender self-descriptions of my contacts on diaspora

Go out and have fun with it.

Diaspora is an open-source social network that puts you in control of your information. As of today, November 27th, we’ve been live less than a week. Here’s a quick overview of the project, and if you want more news, our blog. Thanks for visiting!

349 comments to Disalienation: Why Gender is a Text Field on Diaspora

  • *sigh*

    I took the time to write a comment on the blog of a dissenter on this. Thoughtfully, I’d thought. Wasn’t well received.

    From my vantage, being a 40 year old software engineer and having written code for 30 years, this is a good change simply on the basis of removing an assumed matter of policy from the code and putting the decision in the hands of the user. Simple, really. The notion of “gender” being encoded in the Englsh language so deep that there aren’t other available choices is a farce. See below.

    Auto-complete would be nice from a usability stance, but…

    From my other vantage, being transgendered myself, I like seeing people subtly challenged on this once in a while — the amount of effort I have to go through to accommodate their sloppy assumptions and the fallout, and they whine about not even a secon’s extra work on their part. Feh. Why should I have all the “fun”? Oh, and as for the English language?

    You should see how easilly my closest friends handled this among those “not in the know” and not “ready” to know. All they did was switch to using my first name and no gendered pronouns at all, creating my own me-specific gender in the language. You’d be surprised how few people even notice this is being done around them: zero. Which points to something else– natural language is more fluid than conventional wisdom about grammar gives it credit for. Yes, gender is an entrenched feature and there’s even the linguistic theory that there’s a non-obvious reason for that, perhaps its a redundant signal our brains use to catch and correct misheard utterances and leave us with a “more likely what was really said was” perception. But gender in language is attached to all manner of unsexed things, and there’s disagreement between languages on which gets what. People learn new languages other than their native language all the time, so obviosly our brains are flexible enough to relearn possibilities here. There’s likely space in there for more fluidity than most cede for people to accept other “non-binary” gender in language.

  • PS– (((((thanks!)))))

  • james

    Thank you for doing this! “One large step for people-kind”

  • Way to go!
    This has been a long time coming!

    Now if only the other social network sites would clue in:

  • Hi,

    yes sure it’s interesting, it’s a kind of micro-status then.
    However, could we imagine a dropbox saying : what gender the software will use with you ? M/F/N etc

    Because i know some girls that would not really like this software saying “Mary want to add you to his friend list, do you want to add him to your friend list?”

    And think about languages using gender and neutral differently. As an example, in french, “John is now connected” is “John est connecté”, “Mary is connected” is “Mary est connectée” (adjectives are gender sensitive)

    So the problem will not be “how to choose a funny gender” but “how to make this software respect the gender I want, when talking about me”

  • @AshLeDombos:

    Why not ask the transgendered communities in respective languages how they’ve dealt with it on a practical level? Some might have some insight, especially if they’ve had some experience localizing software.

  • @random9q
    in french or spanish, you can use somethink that looks like : “(s)he wants to add you to his/her friend list”

  • Elisabeth

    Thank you.

  • Janine

    Oh Really? Why does it matter? I thought Diaspora might stand for diaspora, evidently not. Duh

  • Sheila

    Why have a gender field at all? I was slightly irked it was even there. But if you are going to have one, I like that it is freeform.

    There are a few annoying responses in the comments.

    I guess people who are prescriptivists will be sticklers for ‘gender’ referring to a grammatical construct. I will set you aside, since I am more descriptivist about language.

    Some people are claiming that there are only two biological sexes. I don’t know much biology, but I have read about an androgen disorders such that humans with Y chromosomes who are phenotypically female. This is just one counter example to someone who would try to come up with a firm definition of the sex of a person. I would have thought that having a Y chromosome would be a good definition until I learned about a little.

    This is why I liked that xkcd blag entry explaining the ‘do you have a Y chromosome’ question for the color survey. Also, I felt that the Y chromosome question was a good one to include for a color survey since there are color vision differences based on sex. Whereas, for diaspora, why does sex or gender matter?

  • “This revolution won’t be a dropdown” :-)

    Bravo Sarah. Good work!


  • seutje

    I can’t help but feel like you’ve made a slightly worthless field even more worthless.
    I imagine there to be as many entries as there are users, making it rather pointless to use this as a filter or something. (e.g. show me all my friends who are male…)
    Is it like a second status field? (Today, I’m feeling slightly less masculine than I did yesterday…?)
    Like others have pointed out, this is gonna be a blast for localization, English being one of the few languages in which you don’t really change anything depending on the gender.
    Can’t we just remove the field altogether and call every1 “it” or “person” or something so arbitrary it has no meaning? apparently, it’d save a lot of crying…

    Oh well, I don’t see myself losing any sleep over this, and if the community agrees, FOSS has spoken! Who am I to disagree…

  • Anon

    “1. Go look up the difference between gender and sex.”

    I looked it up and the dictionary says they’re synonymous. Which we already knew. You’re playing an academic, political game, trying to force new meanings onto words. We already knew that too.In the vernacular, they mean what we’ve been saying they mean: gender = sex. Now knock it off.

    “2. When you’ve done that, go look up intersex.”

    I looked it up and it says it means a hermaphrodite. But wait, I thought the PC police already said that’s a no-no. Do you have a clear point?

  • […] person is dropping Diaspora as a web topic based on Sarah Mei‘s analysis of the situation around “Gender” being a text field in Diaspora. You […]

  • Stephanie Jobs

    As a member of the trans community, I went through a two year period in my transition from male to female where I was extremely androgynous in appearance. During those two years, I discovered all the cues that people use to define gender, and I learned that if I could provide a person with just one of those cues within the first minute of meeting them, from then on, that’s the gender I was in their mind, and it was in their brain almost permanently.

    I also learned that people use gender as the first line of categorization to help them make sense of their world, and if they can’t determine the gender of someone, it totally messes up their system and drives them crazy. (That’s what made the “Pat” sketches on Saturday Night Live so funny.)

    In my experience, however, gender is not binary, but a continuum. It is people that have developed the habit of needing gender to be one or the other. Unfortunately, this is going to be a hard habit to break. Thank you for putting a crack in it.

  • Blake

    For the “use-ability” crowd (though for many users not having to swap from keyboard to mouse will mean the text field is faster anyway, so the “use-ability” argument rings hollow for me): there has long been a tradition of asking “what pronouns do you prefer?” in some circles, much like many organizations will ask, “which prefix do you prefer?” If you would like to use pronouns to refer to users, why not ask what pronouns your users would like? It makes more sense than asking a generic question and then making assumptions. Just like the small percentage of your users with Ph.Ds will be offended if you refer to them as Ms. or Mr., those users who prefer not to identify with their gender will be offended if you erase their existence.
    It could be three free-text fields if you wish to be particularly inclusive. If you limit it to a few characters the added space constraints wouldn’t even be significant.

    Personally, I prefer products that use “they/their” (like the recent Magic the Gathering: Planeswalkers game), since it’s what is vernacularly used to refer to generic singular people in my dialect of English. But other people prefer having their gender affirmed by random websites, and it is possible to offer them that option without making assumptions about gender, sex, pronouns or the interconnections of the three. More generally, much offense can be avoided by asking precisely for the information you need.

    Also, I don’t know why people think the “vast majority” of users will identify with “one or the other”. As these answers so far demonstrate, even cisgendered people’s gender isn’t simple or binary, and freeing them to express a more authentic self is a valuable side effect of acknowledging the diversity of human gender. I love how terrified some people are of that freedom. What if you have to define yourself rather than accepting externally-imposed definitions? Would your world really fall apart?

  • Merrit

    There are two genders. Male and Female. And some of those are mentally sick.

  • @Name Required
    you’re misunderstanding OpenSocial (opensocial.Enum.Gender) – that has two strings to converge the common values to ‘male’ and ‘female’, but it does allow free text too. Read the definition of how the ENUMs work:


  • Latest OpenSocial spec reference text regarding gender:


    gender type:string

    The gender of this person. Service Providers SHOULD return one of the following Canonical Values, if appropriate:male, female, or undisclosed, and MAY return a different value if it is not covered by one of these Canonical Values.

  • Transfinite

    @Merrit: No.

    @Diaspora itself: Thank you so much. Recently I’ve come out as not being either male or female, and my experiences on websites with forced gender dropdowns have been… mixed. Thank you for this.

  • […] So rarely do we think about the basics of user data — name, age, etc. — but Sarah Mei has an amazing post on why Diaspora uses an empty text field for entering gender. […]

  • […] Sarah Mei talks about the importance of making “gender” a text field instead of a drop-down menu on the social network Diaspora (via Geek Feminism). […]

  • Jenn

    To anyone who has said “There are two genders: Male and Female” I would like to say something short and rude, so instead I will go on at length. Essentially, you are wrong. Please stop talking now, so we don’t have to listen to your ignorance grate across any attempted discussion like fingernails on a blackboard.

    Slightly more completely, how do you propose to define those categories? We are computer scientists here; we understand the complexities of classification problems (or we should.) I’m sure many of us have experience with how brittle any system that relies on threshold decisions is; I don’t see why we’d seek to apply one if there is any way to possibly avoid it.

    Let us assume we are seeking a heuristic solution: what characteristics give the best predictive results? What PD/PFA are we able to live with? Even a brief overview of potential dimensions leaves me unimpressed with the chances of finding a successful heuristic, and that’s without questioning our premise (why is this useful again?)
    If you stick with genotype I fail to see how it has any relevance. No one is going to sequence my DNA when they meet me, and that’s before you take into account that not everyone has XX or XY genotypes. (In fact, genetically, there is at least one more entire gender, XO. People with that genotype usually follow a distinct developmental path, which is how we know that humans aren’t “female” by default; the absence of a Y-chromosome isn’t sufficient to produce typically-classified-as-female development.) Once you’ve established the level of correlation between genotype and whatever-it-is you actually care about (still not clear on that one), we can talk, but then again we’re going to run into the issue that most people don’t know for sure what their genotype is.
    If instead you go with phenotype, you are A) going to have trouble with the diversity of human phenotypes, B) realize that all phenotypes are spectrums not drop-down menus, and C) discover that the importance attributed to any given feature is pretty much culturally constructed. Talk about localization issues! 99% of the people I meet have no need to know about my genitalia thanks to the cultural norms of clothing (they may be ambiguous anyway.) The presence or absence of breasts and facial hair is determined by hormones which can vary significantly even over a single individual’s lifetime. Vocal cadence is acquired and vocal pitch is similarly heterogeneous to height. Thanks to birth control and living past 35 the ability to bear children is no longer a defining characteristic or social organizational principle. Sexuality varies independently from all those other things. None of these features cause any of the dynamics normally classified as “gender” unless society imbues them with extra importance and spends a great deal of money policing them and eliminating heterogeneity (which ours does: see infertility treatment/surrogacy/sperm doners, plastic surgery for men who grow breasts, push-up bras, electrolysis, gym memberships and the number of people who appeared to have a personal stake in what clothing Angelina Jolie’s child wears.) If there were only two genders, we wouldn’t need to use technology in order for people to fit in those boxes because there wouldn’t be any other options. Instead, the very existence of these technologies suggests that the categories aren’t anywhere near sufficient to describe humanity.
    Finally, if you go with social expression, you are still going to find that their are as many ways of being a “woman” as there are women, and as many ways of being a “man” as their are men, even when people are punished for violating assumptions about those categories. If we go with “who lives in the public sphere and who is stuck in the private sphere raising children?”, not only has society moved on but those classifications have only applied to the middle and upper classes in Western Civilization. (In America, 25% of stay-at-home parents are men, according to the census, and women participate in the work force at rapidly-approaching-parity.)
    As far as I’ve been able to tell, the most frequent employed classification mechanism is “do self-identified straight men want to have sex with you? Then they will consider you a woman.” Needless to say, this is … problematic, and is only helpful to self-identified straight men. (Plus, if we’re going down the “sexual performance” route I recommend finding a copy of Bend Over Boyfriend.)

    Even if you can decide on a single definition, you have to face up to what you do with the people who violate it. You can label them as “mentally ill” (though that doesn’t make any sense for physiological violations of your classification scheme, it has certainly been done.) Since mental health is about behavior, in order to do even that you must define what “mentally well” people act like, and then you have to enforce that behavior lest your categories collapse like the tower of cards they are. As soon as you start gender policing and saying, “you are wrong; you are really X” we’re back in high school and the jock boys are calling the nerd boys “sissy” or “Sally” or homophobic crap and real men don’t get good grades, or get beat up, or have asthma, or are socially awkward, or feel lonely, or unfulfilled, or empty, and they definitely substitute sex for emotional intimacy and the comfort of non-sexual physical contact. Then they are supposed to blame women for being lonely and unfulfilled and empty, rather than blaming the categories that tell them all they need is sex.
    And that is why saying “There are two genders: Male and Female” is stupid, and harmful, and *wrong*. Personally, I’d like to stop people from being bullied and killed on the basis of something that simply doesn’t matter unless we pretend it does, and I’d like a world where people are free to express their true selves instead of being forced with carrots and sticks to maintain a harmful facade that they fit a shared delusion of gender.

    There’s an awful lot of people here pretending it matters. I wonder how hard they’ve had to work to fit in that they are so personally invested in holding everyone else to these same artificial standards.

  • Canis

    @Anon You seem to be failing at reading comprehension as your looking-up-of-things has not been very successful.

    Intersex does not mean hermaphrodite. The term “hermaphrodite” refers to non-human plants and animals who have evolved to have both sets of reproductive organs. For instance, many plants have both stamen and carpel. Humans haven’t evolved that way. It’s not appropriate to refer to humans as hermaphrodite because humans are not plants and while technically we are all animals, it’s still considered rude to call some subset of humanity by a word generally reserved for non-humans. In the same way that calling men “pigs” or women “bitches” is rude. It’s dehumanising. Do you see?

    Intersex does refer to one of many categories of people who are neither entirely male nor female. This doesn’t mean they have both sets of reproductive organs (although this can occur in rare cases). It can be due to a variety of genetic conditions, such as androgen insensitivity, mosaicism, and many more (see this list for some examples).

    Note also that intersexuality isn’t even all that rare — estimates (and criteria) vary, but between 1-in-100 and 1-in-1000 people are born with one of these conditions, which means that in the UK alone there are between 61,000 and 610,000 people for whom this could be an issue. Your crashing insensitivity in dismissing people who were born differently from you, and in telling others they are being “pretentious” (you posted Anon, but I’m assuming you’re the same person who posted before; if not, well, use a name next time…) because they care about those people, is plain obnoxious.

    As for gender meaning the same thing as sex: It is sometimes used to mean that, colloquially, but the word has several meanings, and clearly if people are making a distinction between sex and gender, it must be pretty obvious that they are referring to one of the other meanings. If someone asks, “Are you going to build a wall or a fence there?” are you the sort of person who tells them not to be so stupid because “you can’t build a person who deals in stolen goods”? Hello, context!

    So: gender. Originally, it was a linguistic term only, with no applicability to people. Over time (since the 1950s) it has evolved to have many meanings, and while it’s commonly used to refer to sex (I suspect mostly by people who have hangups about sexual intercourse and want to use a term that doesn’t remind them of it, or who are worried that people will fill in a “sex” field with “yes please”), the term is used in many circles — including this discussion — to distinguish between biological sex (male, female, intersex, etc — the chromosomes, genitalia and other physiological details, most of which are none of anybody else’s business unless they’re a medical professional or something) and a person’s gender identity. The latter term is complicated and cultural and may have no connection to the biological birth sex of the person (though in many cases it clearly has an influence). An individual’s gender identity may differ from their biological sex for many reasons: they may be a trans person who has yet to undergo treatment. They may come from a culture which has more than two cultural genders (eg many native-american & first nations tribes). They may be Indian Hijra, or a Samoan Fa’afafine, or any number of other examples from around the world.

    Or they may just refuse to bow down to gender-policing and the bullies who engage in it.

  • Frankly, I’m surprised by the passionate feelings engendered by a form field. Personally I am much more irritated by required Form-Of-Address fields, even ones that allow you to enter text of your choice. But that’s because as a programmer, I am aware that it serves no real purpose – especially if there is a Gender field. This last statement implies that I feel that a Gender field serves a purpose, and yes, it CAN (not does). Like the other fields in a form, it is used to gather information to be utilized in some manner, usually along the lines of reporting metrics, or for sorting. If the information is not to be used – how many of a specific gender this or that; targeting a specific gender; separating along gender lines (usually critical for social networks – “Dating Sites”) – then why have it at all? Unless it has a purpose at Diaspora (amusement is legitimate – tho it would probably be funnier and allow more varied response if it said “Sex” instead of “Gender” and people are clearly confusing the two in the comments, as if gender had anything to do with sexuality) drop the field altogether.

  • derp

    I can tell you that most users will be confused by having a text field for something that, for most people, is obviously a two-way choice. It’ll also invite people to write stupid things into a field which should really not be for personal comments. It’ll also make aggregation difficult.

    Regardless of what kind of weird ideas people have about their genders, in the end, it’s a biological thing. If they claim their gender is “genderqueer” or something ridiculous like that, they obviously haven’t understood the meaning of the word. There should be at most three choices; male, female and “other”. By far most people will fall into the first two categories, and the few quirks of nature that are left over can use the last one. If you really, really want to cater to the tiny minority, include a text box that’s only visible when “other” is selected. You know, “other: please specify”. Or just let people use the “describe yourself freely” field for that – that’s what it’s for.

    Software is supposed to be easy to use. It’s not supposed to be a soap-box for you to state your opinions on widely accepted facts.

  • k

    I’m sorry, but… what? There are two kinds of sexual organs. Male organs, and female organs. Perhaps I am ignorant on the matter but I was not aware you could have a ‘mixed gender’ individual part. If you identify as transgender or something inbetween male and female, you *don’t have a defined gender*.

    An individual can choose to identify with either or none, based on their own set of organs. They’re mutually exclusive – if you think you are somewhere inbetween, then you *don’t have a defined gender* and should simply use a blank option. That’s vaguely useful data.

    A better way to categorise this data would be to present it as a numerical continuum – considering male and female are exact opposites, and allowing users to choose whereabouts on the continuum they sit. That way you can make decisions about things like which gender pronouns to use.

  • Canis

    @derp, they’re not widely-accepted facts. I cited encyclopaedia entries to the contrary. You might be unaware of that. You might be aware of it but not like it. But nonetheless, gender is more complex than you believe. And even if we discounted all that, you write “Software is supposed to be easy to use. It’s not supposed to be a soap-box”. Actually.. it is supposed to be a soap-box. That’s pretty much the definition of what a social network is, for most people: A place for them to shout about the things that are important to them, and have their friends read it. It’s entirely appropriate to the context. Not to mention that, for many people, their page is their representation to the world, a modern-day calling card. It’s personal to them: It’s not a data-mining source for you to milk for advertising dollars by aggregation. Anything else personal to them that you wish to inflict your views on? Perhaps you’d like to insist they choose their name from an approved list of Names For Boys And Girls?

    The entitlement of some people…

    @k Uh, is there any reason other than Being Really Nerdcore for deciding that someone is, say, “30% male, 70% female”? What are you going to do with that, pick the male pronoun 3 times out of 10? Why do you even believe gender is a linear continuum as opposed to an n-dimensional Hilbert space of independent variables?

  • Clay

    The way it always has been explained to me:

    Sex is biological. Gender is a social construct.

  • Krystal

    Even though I’m concerned that the politics will turn people away from using Diaspora, I have to support more than two genders. However, not allowing people to pick “male” or “female” isn’t really fair either, and does pose the search issue.

    The best solution would seem to be the ability to check male or female with a third “other” option that would allow for those who either don’t fit perfectly into one of the two big boxes or those wanting a little extra self-expression.

  • Krystal

    Not “other” as in the static word – what I meant was that if the user chooses other, open a text field and give the option to write whatever they want. In the db you can have the male/female drop-downs generate “M” or “F” so it’s still searchable, but still have it as a text field so it allows more than that.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a social network. People should disclose what they want to disclose. You shouldn’t force them to specify anything and conversely you should not limit what they can express here. Especially for a concept as convoluted and complicated as gender.

    This was not a bad idea at all. Avery @ diaspora news was overreacting and being insensitive.

  • D

    How are users going to do gender-based searches for other users?

    Are they going to be presented with the standard M/F options? How are these freeform fields being filtered into those categories?

    It seems you either have to figure out a way to map all of these random entries back to M/F or you’ve lost the ability to search for users based on gender.

    Why would you want to lose that ability?

  • The Western, binary sexual assumption built into our society at every turn is a farce. Thank you for giving people the option to identify with the sexuality that best defines them. Bravo.

  • Jenn

    @D, Facebook, as far as I can tell, doesn’t offer gendered searches. Why would you need that ability?

  • Tiferet

    @D, aren’t most people who do gendered searches looking for people they don’t know to hit on clumsily? I could do without that in my inbox.

  • I just put together a recap of some the thinking that came before this move, what the fallout of the change has been, and how similar things are going down on the vCard specs right now (they drew from Microformats and OpenSocial’s specs to find their answers):


    If anyone knows of other projects grappling with Gender input, please comment on this post with a link to more info. Thanks!

  • Jason

    I’m not about to stick my nose into the beehive that is the general topic of gender, however, for the sake of discussion….

    There *is* a legitimate use case for a gender-based search other than finding someone to “hit on clumsily”. Like it or hate it, there are social gatherings that are “girls-only” or “men’s-night-out” type events. If you want to send out an invitation for such an event, it would be useful to be able to automatically send a notification to all of your friends of a certain gender without picking each one manually. Whether or not that is a sufficiently useful function to include in Diaspora is for wiser minds than I to decide.

  • Just FYI, further trolling comments along the lines of “there are only 2 genders” will be summarily deleted. We had that discussion, and you lost. Let’s talk about something more interesting.

    Carry on!

  • Gwen

    Thanks for this Sarah – I’m appreciating the discussion (as well as the box itself).

    As I understand Diaspora, that sort of sub-group invitation would still be possible. You’ll be sorting contacts into groups called “aspects” anyway – anyone who cares to can make aspects for gender. Sorting someone into that aspect would be no harder than tagging them a “work” friend; then you can make a photo, event, etc. visible to all of your “male” friends. You’re the one who decides which aspects apply to which of your contacts.

  • SunshineDuk

    You are so wonderful. Thank you so much. I’ve been busy fighting deviantArt over this same issue (in reverse), so it’s delightful to see someone with their head screwed on right. :]


  • […] Internet take note: gender as a text field. Pure […]

  • Tristan Crane

    Wow. I’m astounded by the hue and outcry against this.

    It reminds me of the argument against gay marriage – that it will somehow make heterosexual unions less ‘meaningful’. No one is taking anything away from people who identify as ‘male’ or ‘female’, but it’s holding true to what a social network ought to be – truly reflective of the people who are participating in it.

    Also? The argument that an extra text field is somehow trashing a user experience is nothing more than a smokescreen for developer laziness. This is an awesome change, and I hope it sends a message to other social sites to be more inclusive.

  • Adam

    From a technical/usablity point of view, i would suggest using an auto-complete tag system for that field (like facebook tags).
    This way the user is free to enter whatever they like, but are still limited to things that make sense and that are spelled the same.

    I’d have the developer community maintain the list, making sure its big enought, and gets updated often enough.

    This is important, because most people:
    1. Still need guidance. Especially non-English speakers.
    2. Might not get the idea behind this, and use the field for jokes (“Klingon”, “mud-blud”, etc).

    Also, once you need to use that feild’s value for anything, (off the top of my head – advertiser targeting) you need some consistency.

    Other than that, love the idea, glad were moving forward.

  • Hmm

    So you’re also going to allow us to be “in a relationship” with more than one person at a time, right? :)

  • About sex : this is great not to be forced to choose between two things. That would be also great to have the possibility to be categorized for people needing or wanting to be categorized. Even though the developpers of this software don’t want to use this software for dating or something like that, certainly many, many people would like to use it for this.

    About gender : sure, in english gender is a synonym of sex, but in romance (latin) languages every single noun has a gender, feminine or masculine, that does _not_ mean female or male. So the language itself is syntactically gendered.

    This guy is a scum : in french, the word “guy” is masculine but the word “scum” is feminine.
    This individual is a lady : the word “individual” is masculine and the word “lady” is feminine. (a “person”, however, is feminine word)

    The word “frog” is feminine even if the frog can be a male, a river is feminine, a “fleuve” is masculine (in french, a “rivière” is a river that flows into another river, a “fleuve” is a river that drows directly in sea or ocean (btw sea is feminine, ocean is masculine)), “death”, “year”, “day”, “evening” and many other have synonyms, one masculine, one feminine, that can be used depending on the sonority or the context, pronounceability of the sentence etc.
    There are also some words which gender change with number : love is masculine in singular, and feminine in plural.
    The “moon” is a feminine word, but depending on legends or story, moon can be a man (for example the spanish song “hijo de la luna”)
    etc. etc.
    The declination of adjectives totally depends on the gender of noun, it’s why in romance language, people need to know the gender of something for being able to talk about this thing.
    In romance languages dictionnaries, we can see :
    – Table : feminine word, …[definition],
    but never
    – Table : feels more masculine than yesterday,… [definition]


    Why is gender such important information to those who want to pigeonhole it into two, mayyyyybe three (AS LONG AS IT’S CALLED “OTHER!” to highlight the fact that they’re NON-HUMAN BECAUSE ONLY HUMANS HAVE MALE/FEMALE AND THERE ARE ONLY MALE/FEMALE)??

    Why do our genders and that information need to be aggregated? Why do you need to collect and disperse that?

    And for those who continue to pull linguistics into it: THERE ARE LANGUAGES THAT EXIST WITHOUT GENDERED PRONOUNS OR GRAMMATICAL GENDER. Look it up, huh?
    Also, linguistics is just more proof that gender is a social construct because it appears in languages without a concept of gender after thy’re colonised/taken over by a culture whose language is gendered.

  • parker

    i love this! a blank space in no way precludes people from typing in exactly what they’d see in a dropdown, so i’m very confused about why there’s so much outrage.
    i’ve been doing this in all forms i create for years, and i’ve never seen anyone type anything other than m, f, male, female, or blank, and no one has ever said anything about it.

  • […] Auslöser seines Entschlusses sind Sarah Meis Code-Beitrag und zugehöriges Blog-Posting “Disalienation: Why Gender is a Text Field on Diaspora“. Sarah Mei hat die übliche Geschlechtsauswahl in Diaspora von einer Dropdown-Box in eine […]