If you're gender nonconforming and pretty much any flavour of queer, online dating presents a problem right at the start. Sign up, and the second thing you're going to be asked for after your email is your gender. Not an issue if you're a lady or a gent, but kind of a big problem if you're not.
Next, you're going to be asked how you identify. Not a problem if you're straight, gay, or bi, the three options usually available, but an issue if you lie elsewhere on the spectrum of human sexuality.
Which is why the changes that OKCupid has just started rolling out to users are revolutionary: For a few fortunate subscribers, the site now provides an expanded list for both gender and sexual orientation. Users can choose options like "hijra," "intersex," and "bigender" along with "queer" and "heteroflexible."
This isn't about special snowflakeitiveness, though some might cast it that way -- and for those who do, well, sorry, at least now you can sort out the "special snowflakes" so they do not offend thine eyes. Your gender identity is a pretty intimate part of who you are, and an especially important aspect of how you relate to intimate partners; you want to date someone who respects and understands your gender, and who is attracted to people of your gender. Not being about to describe and define your gender means missing out on matches when people perform searches by "gender," and it requires you to add an awkward note to your profile about your gender, which makes you stand out as an oddity, something peculiar, instead of a normal human being.
It's a problem on the other side, too. If you're a gay or queer woman, for example, you wouldn't want to look at men, but you might be interested in genderqueer or agender people in addition to women. But there's no option to sift for that if the gender choices are "male" and "female," unless the dating service or your account offers advance filtering features so you can search for, say, "genderqueer."
The changes will make it easier for users to find people they mutually identify with, and they will also make it easier for people to express their sexuality more correctly, and articulately. Sexuality is an important aspect of human identity and thus, it also belongs on a dating site -- not least because, again, people may sort by sexual orientation and knowing that someone won't be attracted to you is a big bonus when you're trying to decide who to message.
These changes are about respecting users for who they are, and creating a better service. OKCupid joins a slowly growing group of sites who are showing a better awareness of gender, sexuality, and sex in order to make users feel more comfortable, which is a positive sign not just on the Internet, but socially. These are issues many people were not aware of ten years ago, or even five.
Now, they're so mainstream that Facebook has a gender dropdown list inviting people to select the gender that most accurately fits them. This is huge. OKCupid, a major dating site, has just laid down the gauntlet when it comes to inclusivity for its users; not a big surprise from a site that has already taken the lead on LGBQT issues, but a good sign for the rest of the industry.
OKC has always been a bit of a scrappy, peppy upstart in the online dating world, with the endless list of alternately whimsical, useful, and terrifying user questions to help people refine matches, along with the more conventional profile and quick details. The site has also been ahead of the curve when it comes to identifying areas where its users might benefit from site changes -- though it also tripped up significantly with its revelation earlier this year that it had been experimenting on those very users.
However, it took a while for OKCupid to come around to the problem of gender, in part, the site's developers said, because of the binary nature of its very programming. As seems inevitable in the days of Change.org, a petition was even launched to push the site into changing its gender and sexuality options -- but it still took a year and a half to roll out those changes.
Though it may have taken longer than users would have liked for OKCupid to change its options, Facebook, too, took a long time to increase the spectrum of choices for users (I wrote about their dubious gender settings in 2012 and it wasn't until 2014 that they changed). Social change takes time, and these two trendsetters may be the beginning of a domino effect that forces other social networking and online dating sites to follow suit if they want to stay relevant to their users.
There's one thing about this change that's particularly exciting, aside from the chance to finally identify as yourself, and to seek out people who share your orientation: It's going to make it much easier to identify transphobic and intolerant users so you can block or filter them out. The "unacceptable answers" section of the questions already allows users to do this to some extent (regrettably, the "required" option is no longer available, thus forcing users to manually click over and sort if they want to avoid, for example, fat-phobic anti-feminist dillweeds).
Having better sexuality and gender expressions, however, will make this easier. While some users may find themselves targets for abuse because of how they identify (because humanity is awful), abusive users can helpfully be reported, and ideally, being able to seek out other gender nonconforming people and those along the sexuality spectrum will allow users to find like-minded and more tolerant people.
Not that every agender person, or genderfluid individual, or grey-A is a model of tolerance and perfection, but it's a good start. Chances are much higher that your gender and sexuality will be respected if you're meeting other gender and sexual minorities, because people have a better sense of your identity and what you've experienced.
For a significant majority of users, these changes may not have any real effects (aside, possibly, from allowing them to filter out users they are not interested in viewing). But for GSMs using OKC, they're going to make a huge difference in how they interact with the site and other users, and that is pretty darn awesome.
So high five, OKC. You just did a chunk of your users a solid.