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Specifying your gender on Facebook

Just over two years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “Does a rose by 58 other names smell as sweet?” where I talked about Facebook’s attempt to allow users to specify more than just a gender binary of male or female. I also mentioned how I wouldn’t be using it as I had already subverted the system to force Facebook to use the singular “they”, “them” and “their” for me by recording a null value for my gender.

At that time, Facebook were proposing an enormous drop-list of every conceivable variation, seemingly having taken on board every suggestion from every focus group they had done. It sounded like an unwieldy mess to me.

Today I decided to revisit my unspecified gender on Facebook, and made rather a pleasant discovery – what is now on offer is actually pretty good!

At the simplest level, your choices for gender are initially presented as a drop-list of “Female”, “Male” and “Custom”. This doesn’t alienate all the cis-gender people who just want to choose from a simple list. This is good User Interface design.

Selecting Custom is where it gets interesting, as the options then expand to let you choose your gender and also the gender pronoun you wish to use.

Facebook's custom gender options

Facebook’s custom gender options

Choosing your gender is via a free text field that also accepts tags. In other words you can type what you want, but if what you are typing matches something that already exists then you can select it and it becomes a tagged value instead . If not, it stays as free text. Very flexible. This is very similar to when you tag someone in a post.

You can also specify who can see your gender on your profile. You can leave it as public, or limit its visibility. This uses the standard privacy menu that is used throughout Facebook, so you can choose from the standard options or go full custom. I chose to limit it so that only Friends can see it.

You can then specify your preferred pronoun. Currently this drop-list only has the options of Female, Male or Neutral, the latter being the singular “they”, “them” and “their” that I mentioned earlier. Facebook does not allow the use of the various gender-neutral pronouns that have been proposed and adopted, with varying degrees of success, by some. See the links below for more details on this, if you are interested.
This will be a huge shortcoming for some people but it’s a balancing act between complexity and usability and, although it is fairly limiting, I think it will be sufficient for many people. It is for me. Although, having said that, the singular “they” is rather clumsy for personal pronouns and for that I would have a preference for the Germanic hir for her/his, and zie for he/she.

So, in summary, Facebook seem to have found a good balance between User Interface simplicity, and the flexibility to let people express their gender identity. From a Design perspective, going down the route of “Female”, “Male” or “Custom” was absolutely the right thing to do.

I hate to say it, but it looks like Facebook got something right for once.

 


Further reading on gender pronouns

www.theguardian.com/media/mind-your-language/…

uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_neutrality_in_English

www.citylab.com/navigator/2015/09/ze-or-they…

apps.carleton.edu/student/orgs/saga/pronouns

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2016 in Opinion, Transgender

 

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Walking between two worlds

I was talking to one of my closest friends recently, chatting about something and she exclaimed “I’d never thought about it. I guess most people don’t really” so I thought maybe I would write about it.

As I’ve mentioned a few times over the course of this blog, I’m a genderfluid / two-spirit person and I can, and do, present as either gender. For mundane stuff like work, popping down to the shops etc., it is simply easier to present as my birth gender (‘guy mode’). For most social occasions I prefer to present as female (‘girl mode’).

This gives me an interesting opportunity to directly experience how people tend to react to each gender.

I wouldn’t flatter myself as to think I was totally passable as a cis-woman when in girl mode, but I seem to be passable enough that people have no problems with treating me, and interacting with me, as female. And something that I have noticed is that people tend to interact with me completely differently when I am in girl mode to when I am in guy mode.

I mean, people are pleasant enough to me when I’m in guy mode, but I find that when I’m in girl mode people are far more likely to smile at me, or to smile back if I smile first, or to initiate conversation. Overall, people are just generally far more open, friendly and chatty to me when I’m in girl mode.

In a similar way, I have found that women, on the whole, don’t like a guy they don’t know to speak to them. Telling a women who you don’t know that you like her top, skirt, outfit, or whatever is generally treated with suspicion and, in some cases, borderline hostility. However, in girl mode the response is overwhelmingly positive.

I think part of this is social conditioning; there are less social barriers when talking to a woman than to a man. But, also, a woman feels more vulnerable and distrustful when talking to a stranger who is a man than to one who is female so perhaps there is an element of this too. And, of course, there is the small matter that the majority of people are heterosexual – the suspicion being that a guy talking to a woman could have the ulterior motive of trying to chat her up, whilst a woman talking to a woman is taken more at face value.
Of course, this is all very contextual. Under some circumstances it is far more acceptable than others. And, as an aside, writing this blog post has made me far more aware of this and I will be much more mindful whether or not to start a conversation with a woman when in guy mode in future.

None of these observations are by any means a scientific experiment and, obviously, I don’t have a ‘scientific control‘ for each situation that I find myself in. Also, maybe I just appear nicer and more approachable when in girl mode than guy mode, which would of course skew the results. Certainly I feel more open, confident, and chatty in girl mode, so perhaps it really is as much down to me as to other people.

All of this post has been to do with interacting with people I don’t know. Obviously with friends and acquaintances it is far different and more complex, and probably not something you could make an observation on.

Anyway, I just thought this was worth sharing.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2016 in Opinion, Transgender

 

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Farnham Maltings

On Saturday I popped over to The Maltings in Farnham for their monthly Maltings Market. I’ve not been to one of these before, despite Farnham not being too far away for me. But a recent advert in a magazine mentioned that it has around 200 stalls of arts, crafts, jewellery, antiques, collectables and memorabilia, and that sounded like it was right up my street.

It was a quick and easy journey and after a bit of searching I managed to find a car parking space – the car park was pretty full.

There were some sellers with trestle tables out in the car park and immediately outside the Maltings, and I started to browse them when I suddenly realised that I had come out without my wallet.

A quick search on google revealed that there was a branch of my bank nearby within walking distance, so I walked over with a view to trying to get some cash.

So without my card or any identification, and armed only with the knowledge of my account number and sort code, PIN number, telephone banking password, internet banking password, inside leg measurement, and with my mobile phone in my possession (and whose number they have on file and could ring), I asked to withdraw money from my account. The cashier said that all she needed was my signature. Which, it turned out, they did not have on file, despite me banking with them for 25 years, because they had recently gone digital and hadn’t digitised their paper records. D’Oh.

All my passwords etc. were no good to them – all they would accept was my signature which they didn’t have on file. It was all rather Last Century and it initially looked like I was out of luck. Fortunately when the manager was called, she had the good sense to ask me various questions about my account activity which I was able to answer, including recent transactions, where my monthly salary payments came from, and eventually was satisfied I was who I said I was and authorised the cashier to let me withdraw the £50 I wanted.

The fact that I was in guy mode probably helped enormously in this case as it would have complicated matters enormously otherwise, as I would have had to explain why a woman with no identification was trying to access a bank account whose account holder had a male name. I think that if I had been in girl mode I simply wouldn’t have bothered and would just have gone home.

Anyway, I walked back to The Maltings and tried again.

Once I’d browsed the outside stalls, I headed inside and discovered that The Maltings is an absolute rabbit warren. It has several halls, on several levels, and also has a large courtyard and also several side rooms. All of these were full of stalls. Some were selling the usual Antiques and Collectors Fair stuff (and, indeed, there were some familiar faces from other fairs), some were local artists selling jewellery and art that they themselves had made, there was one stall with handmade leather goods, there was vintage clothing, new clothing, art, postcards, ephemera, cakes, jams, and all sorts. And being in many different rooms and halls meant that there was quite a bit of exploration and wondering if you had found everything. I loved it and will definitely go again.

Dragonfly earrings

Dragonfly earrings

One seller had some dragonfly drop earrings which I liked. She saw me looking at them and said that she makes them herself, and without really thinking I said that I love dragonflies and butterflies, and drew her attention to the little silver butterfly stud earring I was wearing.
“So, um, are these something you’d wear then?” she asked, slightly surprised. Rather than be embarrassed or flustered at the fact that I had said something out-of-gender, I simply smiled and replied “Well, not dressed like this. I’m disguised as a guy today. But when I’m dressed in girl mode then definitely”. She didn’t seem overly bothered by this, and merely asked if I had both ears pierced to which I said I did, and she just shrugged in a sort of “fair enough” kind of way and I bought them for £9.

Another seller was selling older stuff, and was playing 1930’s music on a period gramophone. It surprised me just how much volume it was managing to kick out, despite appearing to be purely mechanical.

Necklace

Necklace

Amongst the stuff he was selling was a necklace which caught my eye (pictured). It was unusual not just because of the shape and decoration, but because it was the same on both sides. Usually necklaces have a show side and a back side, so if they turn themselves round whilst you’re wearing them then they don’t display properly.

I asked the price, and he said £25 and that the chain alone was worth that. I asked if he’d take £20 and he said that he couldn’t budge at all on price. And he didn’t – I couldn’t get him to drop even a penny, which is quite unusual as you can usually get something off. But I decided to buy it anyway.

I had a good wander round all the stalls and whilst there was some nice stuff, there was nothing else I wanted to buy, and eventually I headed home.

I will definitely visit the Maltings Market again next month and this time I will make sure I don’t go out of the house without my purse or wallet (delete as appropriate).

 

 

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Does a rose by 58 other names smell as sweet?

Facebook recently vastly expanded the gender option you can select for yourself on your profile, adding a bewildering 56 additional gender declarations to the more traditional “male” and “female”. Well, for users of US English anyway; those of us who use proper British English (and variations thereof) they are not yet available.

As a transgender person who considers themselves “gender fluid”, you’d think I would be very happy about this. But the truth is, I am completely unmoved by it. As a programmer, I know that if I offer methods on a “light bulb” class called “Illuminate”, “Incandesce”, “Turn On”, “Activate” and “Energise”, users will quite rightly ask what the difference between them is and which one they should use. And even if I was to assure them they were all equivalent, there would still be continuing confusion.

I know that cisgender friends have initially been even more confused than me about these new options, perhaps perplexed by the fact that “male” and female” appear not to be listed (but “cis female”, “cis woman”, “cis male”, “cisgender female”, “cisgender woman” and “cisgender male” are, although giving people the option to state this seems counter-productive to me). For the record, though, these are additional options; the existing “male” and “female” remain.

I believe that you can give people too much choice, though. Why do we need these 56 new options when a majority of them are synonyms or subtle differences to the point of hair-splitting? My experience is that transsexuals who want to transition from one gender binary to the other will want to identify as their chosen gender. And transgender people like me will simply want to say “other” or “gender fluid” or “none of your damn business” (or whatever). Basically, 99.9% of people will simply not want to split hairs the way Facebook is offering.
I rather suspect that Facebook had a number of Focus meetings, or otherwise garnered suggestions, and then just accepted every single suggestion.

I had a look on Flickr and Google+ to see what they offer, and I think their approaches are far more sensible.

Flickr gives you the following options:

Flickr Gender options

Flickr Gender options

and Google+ is even more streamlined

Google+ gender options

Google+ gender options

Personally, I like what Google+ is offering because it does not scream “I am different” like Flickr’s does. But I suppose that depends on how “in your face” you want to be about your Gender Identity. I suppose that if you are completely militant then you may love Facebook’s approach, but personally I think it is pants. It’s a case of going from one extreme to the other.

Fortunately, for me, a good while ago I subverted Facebook by recording a null value for my gender in my Facebook profile. Not only does this give me the gender ambiguity I desire, but it also leaves Facebook’s targeted advertising at a loss as to what to deluge me with, And that suits me just fine. Let’s not prevaricate about the shrubbery here folks, Facebook wants you to to choose the granularity it is offering so that it can fire targeted advertising at you. Facebook wants to know you are cis-female or trans-female so it knows whether or not to deluge you with adverts for feminine hygiene products (for example). It has absolutely nothing to do with freedom of expression or being “right on” with the LGBT community.
Personally I am going to stick with my subverted value and remain genderless to Facebook and leave them scratching their head as to what gender-specific adverts they should vomit forth to me.

How did I do this? Well, I’ll leave it to you to google that as it is a constantly changing thing, but basically it involves using web developer / debug tools to inject a bad value into the appropriate field that Facebook uses so that it is interpreted as “not set” or “invalid”. And when that is the case, Facebook reverts to using “their” instead of “her” or “his” which suits me just fine.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2014 in Opinion, Transgender

 

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A little more real

I’ve had quite an epic long weekend!

I’ve had friends over since Thursday evening, staying over till mid-morning Monday, and I have been in girl mode for that entire time, which is the longest continuous period I have done that for.

I’ve learned several things. Firstly, it’s a bit of a palaver and I think if I were to go full-time, I’d probably be one of those girls who wears minimal makeup a lot of the time. But, also, I’ve found that I don’t actually need a lot either. Just my wig, my bewbies, and a little bit of mascara makes me look very feminine. Certainly feminine enough not to break the suspension of disbelief round the house at any rate.
However, I have also found that the wig really starts to bug me when I get tired. I can’t wait to get it off by bedtime. It’s also pretty warm.

I’ve also found my voice is all over the place at the moment. According to my Voice Coach that’s to be expected, but it’s quite frustrating especially as it’s hard to recapture my feminine voice when it goes. Particularly more so when I get tired. However, it’s been good practise and I feel very comfortable when ‘out and about’.

But this is not the reason for this post’s title. No, the reason that things have got a bit more real is that I have finally got my ears pierced. Now, I realise that is no big deal to many people, but it is to me. It is the first thing that I have done that is a permanent change that will be noticed by all, including my colleagues. Yes, I have been having the laser hair removal and I have long and well-manicured nails, but frankly those are things easily overlooked by colleagues (especially male ones). However, pierced ears are less easily overlooked, especially as getting your ears pierced at my age screams “mid-life crisis” in guy mode for those people who don’t know about me being transgender. Fortunately I’ve just finished my current job and am looking around for new work, so this seemed the perfect time.
I confess I very nearly bottled it, but two things caused me to go through with it. One was my lovely friends Nina and Tasha who encouraged me very gently; not enough to be coercion (I should stress) but enough to give me that little bit of encouragement I needed.

The other was this absolutely gorgeous necklace, earrings and bracelet set that I bought in Debenhams. I absolutely fell in love with it and realised how much I want to be able to wear earrings. Of course, it will be a while before I can wear them because I have to wait 6-8 weeks before the starter studs can come out, and then after that I can only wear simple post earrings for a while. However, it’s something to look forward to.

So, anyway, that’s my little step further along the path I have chosen. How exciting!

 
 

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Gender roles

A little while ago I discovered The Advocate, with some of the articles really making me think and some of them blowing my mind, such as the one that suggested that the fundamental flaw in being transgendered and trying to pass as a women is that it is a game where the only time you are succeeding is when people do not realise you are succeeding. And If they become aware that you are succeeding, then you have just failed.

However, I’m not full time and moreover have no intention of becoming so. I’m not interested in transitioning from one society-approved binary state to the other. I think both genders have their advantages and disadvantages, and I’m greedy enough to want to pick and choose the best from both, just like I do my sexuality. An unpopular choice from the people who think I should “make my bloody mind up”, I guess. But why should I?
(Edit: Although, yes, when I am out in girl mode I most definitely do want to pass convincingly as such, so I guess that in some ways it does apply).

So when I read this article, I can kind of understand where the author is coming from. I can understand that a completely gay man could find that upsetting or annoying, but to me it sounds like heaven!

Funny old world. isn’t it?

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2013 in Diary, Opinion, Transgender

 

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Apparently sane

Happy

I had a very productive session with the Counsellor today.  Mostly it just confirmed what I already knew and had already worked out; that perhaps you don’t need to have a destination in order to enjoy a journey. And if I’m happy, and enjoying the ride, then what’s the harm?

One thing that I did take away that helped a lot was about the upset I feel about my mum’s “it’s only dressing up” comment. As if dressing up is some kind of worthless, childish, irrelevant thing. But I have long been of the belief that people who have “grown up” have lost something. There is an emptiness in them left by losing their sense of childish fun, which is something I have never done. My philosophy is “Growing older is mandatory but growing up is optional”. So I came away holding onto some wise words the Counsellor said. It was along the lines of “Even if it is dressing up, then so what? What’s wrong with that? It isn’t a negative thing”. I derive great pleasure and vain pride in looking good and dressing well, and if it gives me pleasure then who is anyone else to judge me on that? But, of course, it is way more than ‘just’ dressing up because this is me. I’m a girl and I love being one.

Here’s a few more pics from today.

Apparently sane In your face Independence of the Seas

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Diary, Opinion, Photos, Transgender

 

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Ma heeed

I’ve got an appointment with a Counsellor who specialises in Gender Identity issues this Saturday. Probably no prizes for guessing who they are since it’s a very small world.

I’m not entirely sure why I made the appointment, to be honest, but it’s mostly to do with the fact that sometimes I wonder why I’m doing all this; the clothes, the make-up, the shoes, the Voice Coaching, the laser hair removal, the everything. My parents are fairly unsupportive of me and my mum told me “it’s all just playing ‘dressing up'”. Although I know she is wrong I suppose the seeds of doubt inevitably take root. Since I made the appointment I have come to realise that I love the clothes and everything so why the hell not, but it’s an awful lot of money that I’ve been spending and I suppose I have to question what my final goal is in all this. Once I have a convincing female voice and a hairless body, then what? What am I going to do with it? The journey is all very fun, but what is the destination? Am I really just playing ‘dressing up’ after all?

I guess it doesn’t help that I have a birthday coming up. Another year older, another year closer to the grave. And, of course, the inevitable musings on what one has achieved and whether the year that has passed has been of any worth. Also I have learned today that a good friend and ex-colleague has recently been found dead, very likely suicide (the title of this post is a dedication to him as it is a little joke we used to share), so I suppose my head (or ‘ma heeed’ as we used to call it) is not in the best place right now.

Ho hum.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in Diary, Opinion, Transgender

 

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More than a woman

The BBC published a very good article on transgenderism on the News Magazine area of their website entitled Richard O’Brien: ‘I’m 70% man’

Credit: BBC / Tommy Candler

The article, written by Jo Fidgen, quotes Richard O’Brien (of Rocky Horror fame) as talking about the gender spectrum, and how he sees himself as maybe 70% male and 30% female.

However, one part of the article really surprised and struck me. It said:
“O’Brien’s idea of a gender spectrum may sound far-fetched to many, but there is scientific research that backs up his position.”

I’m really surprised that in this day and age, where people readily acknowledge the concept of bisexuality, that the idea of a gender spectrum could be considered ‘far-fetched’. Certainly the idea of a sexuality spectrum is well established, encompassing gay, straight and bisexual. And even then, bisexual doesn’t automatically mean you fancy men and women equally. Surely then, the idea of a gender spectrum can come as no real surprise and is equally logical? One only has to look at the concept of a girl being a tomboy, or describing herself as “not a girly girl”, to see that it is so. And, despite being less socially acceptable to say it, the same is true of men too. However, men have far more pressure (in Western society at least) to conform to a gender stereotype.

Having said that, I read on the news today of Maria Toorpakai; The Pakistani squash star who had to pretend to be a boy. In the area of Pakistan that she lives, it is completely socially unacceptable for a girl to play such sports, or wear shorts, or be a tomboy. She was forced to pretend to be a boy (with her father’s consent and support) and won several tournaments before being ‘outed’. Since then she and her father have had death threats and persecution, just because she doesn’t conform to a gender expectation. I’m both heartened by her and her father’s courage, and dismayed by the actions of their persecutors.


(Please note that the links in this article are to the BBC website and may not be available to you if you are outside of the UK)

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2013 in Opinion, Transgender

 

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