Disalienation: Why Gender is a Text Field on Diaspora →

August 10, 2017 •

It was early 2011 when I first read Sarah Mei’s “Gender is a Text Field” pull request. While I thought this post-structuralist idea was an interesting differentiator for the budding open source social network Diaspora, I wondered if it was overkill. Was skipping the gender field or lying about your gender really that hard? As a straight white Protestant male, my perception of gender was pretty simple and I don’t think I really understood the issue.

Over the years as this post stewed in my brain. I would revisit the post every couple years because it always stood out as a bold design decision. Slowly the article chipped away at some of my preconceived notions. Eventually I came around to the idea that making people choose their private parts or identity in a <select> box is pretty fucked up.

Not only is demanding to know someone’s gender an unnecessary invasion of privacy, the assumptions and implications we make based on information about your private parts are pretty fucked up as well. Have a penis? You like SPORTS. Have a vagina? Babies, lipstick, makeup, hair! Have a penis? You can be CEO! Have a vagina? Expect to earn 77¢ on the dollar. Womp womp.

Just last week I saw this come across my Twitter feed about Pandora’s gender-based ad targeting…

Realizing how inexact and potentially harmful binary gender roles can be it made sense to deprecate them in my brain. Maybe we need more than two buckets to put all of humanity in? Maybe we all exist on and traverse a spectrum of cultural gender stereotypes? Or (more likely) unless individuals plan on smushing private parts it shouldn’t really matter… especially on a website.

I don’t know Sarah Mei but I want to say thanks. I think it’s neat that blogging and humbly sharing ideas can over time influence someone’s perception on important issues.