There’s not much to say about this but I expect a lot of people will be very excited to learn that, starting today, the benevolent gods of your social media existence at Facebook have now granted you the privilege of identifying your gender using words other than “male” or “female.” I’ve already seen fawning and praise for Facebook’s über-“inclusiveness.” I’m not excited.

facebook-custom-gender-option-screenshot

The reason I’m not excited is because this isn’t very well done. The Facebook field for Gender now looks like this, a drop down menu that gives you an option of “Custom.” Choose that, and you’re presented with what appears to be an open text field, but what is actually a strictly “validated” set of certain terms. I described an open text field for gender years ago in my post “Gender Is A Text Field“:

The binary coarseness with which our technology encodes this information should serve as a humbling reminder to anyone arrogantly proclaiming humanity’s superior intelligence; if your laptop’s screen can display millions of colors, why can your Facebook profile only display one of two options for gender?

Today’s standard for such things is defined in the International Organization for Standardization’s specification titled “Information technology — Codes for the representation of human sexes,” referred to as ISO 5218. This worldwide standard, most recently updated in July 2004, defines 4 mutually exclusive options: “male”, “female”, “not known”, and “not applicable”. It’s a simple scheme that takes a total of 2 computer bits to record.

That’s woefully inadequate—and we can do better.

So again, while the user interface Facebook is presenting to you looks like a text field, it’s actually a bunch of pre-determined boxes behind the scenes, not a true open text field. In other words, “LOOK! MORE BOXES!” Instead of “dude, frak these frakking shitty boxes.”

Diaspora, the open source, distributed Facebook that I’ve been enjoying for a while, already uses a truly free-form text field. There’s absolutely no reason Facebook can’t do the same. Except a profit motive, of course.

This move by Facebook will doubtlessly appease a lot of people who should fucking know better.

For what it’s worth, I’ve already created the Preferred Gender Pronouns for Facebook app, which will let you enter and then display not only your gender but also your pronoun (which Facebook still only lets you choose from “she/he” or, as of today, “they”), with whatever text you want, to you and your friends who also use the app. Check out some screenshots, or this list of gender identity terms being used right now in the app that Facebook still won’t “allow,” and share it with your friends if you like it to make sure people know Facebook, like all the other social networking corporations are still purposefully doing it wrong.

For more on this topic, see my video presentation, “Gender and Technology.”

For more on why Facebook’s utter domination over this is a huge social problem, see “On Having Birthdays in an Oppression Culture.” (It’ll make sense if you read the post, promise.)

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