Dear Facebook: Please Update Your Gender Settings

I’m not a “decline to state” or “it’s complicated.” I’m more than happy to state considering I write about it all over the Internet: I’m genderqueer.
Publish date:
October 5, 2012
social media, facebook, gender matters

Hey Facebook, how’s it going?

I realize I’d know if I could check your status, but, see, the thing is, I can’t sign up for you. I’d really love to, because all my friends use you, and people are basically constantly asking me if I have an account with you. For that matter, people are always sending me links to things that are only accessible to your members, and it’s really annoying; for that reason alone I’d probably create an account, because it’s super-irritating to be, say, invited to a party only to find that I can’t actually access any of the details.

So, the problem here is that when I go to register, you ask me for my sex (by which you really mean my gender, I suspect, so I'm operating under that assumption). Which, you know, I get. You’re a big company who makes huge profits from user demographics, and gender is a big one. Advertisers want that information. The issue is that neither of the options you provide is actually accurate for me, in terms of gender or sex, and you won’t let me go forward without selecting one, which forces me to either lie (shitty!) or just not register.

I’ve spent a lot of time staring at the registration page. Sometimes I think about lying and just picking one of the two options at random. And then I think about the ramifications of that -- how it would make me feel internally, and also how confusing it would be for pretty much everyone to see my gender identified incorrectly on a large and very prominent social network. So I navigate away, with a sigh.

I’m not the only genderqueer/gender-variant person who’s identified this problem. 17-year-old CJ went ahead and signed up anyway, but doesn’t like being identified as a woman and wishes it was possible to be clearly out to friends and followers. A petition was recently started to ask Mark Zuckerberg, your CEO, to meet with Nepali Member of Parliament Sunil Pant to talk about adding another option to the gender categories at signup.

I get that as a business issue, this is hard. You want accurate demographics for your advertisers. Well, genderqueer people, and other gender variant people, are a demographic, and we count too. It’s also important for us to be able to accurately identify our genders so we can engage fully with your community; kind of hard when we have to include caveats in our profiles to provide a pretty basic piece of information, you know?

What should the gender options look like? In my ideal world, users would just have a blank box they could fill with the most appropriate gender descriptor, but I understand that’s not very workable; you’d have jokers who would stick inappropriate and weird things in there, and that would be a frustrating nightmare. A dropdown list with a lot of different options (PLEASE not “male” “female” and “trans” because “trans” is not a gender, thanks) is certainly one way to do it, with the caveat that people should be able to petition for additions to the list, because gender is a complex thing!

The world doesn’t consist of men, women, and genderqueers; lots of people identify under the nonbinary (not male or female) trans umbrella (which includes some genderqueers among people of other genders) as I do, but others do not. Some people are intersex, agender, neutrois, third gender, bigender, genderfluid, two-spirit, and more. Those are all distinct gender identities, and people should be able to use them when they’re connecting on social networks.

I’m not a “decline to state” or “it’s complicated.” I’m more than happy to state considering I write about it all over the Internet: I’m genderqueer. And I’m not complicated. I’m just me. You’re the one making things unnecessarily complicated for me here, Facebook, by insisting that I lie (incidentally violating your terms of service) to sign up to use you, or walk away from your services.

Sure, we may make up a pretty small percentage of the population so we probably aren’t your biggest priority, especially since so many people who aren’t men and women use Facebook anyway and come up with their own workarounds for dealing with the gender problem. But it would be awfully nice if you could throw us a bone here and let us sign up as who we are. Why not do one better than, say, your rival Google+ by actually allowing us to openly identify on our profiles instead of forcing us into a vague, nebulous category that doesn’t reflect our genders at all?

I know it's hard when so many of the terms we use to describe relationships are gendered: sister, son, girlfriend, uncle. You'd have to do some substantial reworking, but it's long past time for that reworking to happen. We live in an era when gender variance is more visible than ever before. We're here, we're not cis (that means we don't identify with the sex and/or gender we were assigned at birth), get used to it.

As for pronouns, well, I feel ya there, Facebook, because pronouns can be a real minefield. Have you considered just not using them? I’ve been leaning that way myself lately because I hate all the available options with a flaming passion. And I'm not a “they,” so the workaround of not showing my gender on my timeline (and why should I have to hide it?!) doesn't work for me.

I guess that’s all. Hopefully I’ll see you around!

-- s.e.

P.S. The suspended chair thing on your front page right now? Kinda tacky, given. You know. Uhm. Yeah.