Friday, February 14, 2014


Facebook now has 58 gender options. How this is better than the two expected choices plus a write-in option (or the option of not providing any) may not be immediately obvious, but presumably the idea is, male or female will no longer be the default. And it will become known to many not educated in these matters (who may well be questioning such things about themselves without quite knowing what they're asking) that other possibilities are out there.

Once there are 58 options, there will be criticisms. It's simultaneously too many and too few. I've already seen, on Facebook, an objection to the absence of "butch" and "femme." Which led me, in turn, to wonder: are those gender identities in the same way as female and male? As in, wouldn't someone who identifies as one of those generally identify as a woman, and that's just gendered description above and beyond? No one's entirely feminine or masculine. There's not a name for the exact breakdown of every individual, but if someone identifies as a woman and goes by female pronouns, wouldn't "female" suffice? Wouldn't anything else, in most contexts, be potentially offensive? (As in, let's say you meet a new person, and you're recalling this event to another friend. Would you say, "I met this really cool femme woman the other day"?)

Meanwhile, it looks like there are some gratuitous repeats. Are "Cis" and "Cisgender" different? How is a "Cisgender Female" different from a "Cisgender Woman"? Is this about underage users? I take it there's justification - if an obscure one - for "trans" both with and without the asterisk, but again, how is a "Transgender Male" different from a "Transgender Man"?

And will these categories also apply for the "interested in"?

And finally, is it or is it not the proper etiquette for those of us whose gender matches what we were assigned at birth to now switch over to "Cisgender" in one form or another? On the one hand, it normalizes the possibility that one wouldn't necessarily be that, and thus avoids situations like where someone might say "a man" to mean "a white man" but "a black man" to mean "a black man," if that makes sense. Just putting "female" makes it seem, maybe, like you think there's just one authentic way to be female.

On the other, it's my understanding (in part from a commenter here, but no way to search the comments that I'm aware of) that some trans men and trans women simply identify as men and women, respectively, and aren't particularly thrilled to have a distinction made between the men and women who were assigned their genders at birth and those who were not. Meanwhile, I don't see it as particularly relevant, in most situations, that I was assigned "female" at birth. What's relevant, gender-identification-wise, is that I'm a woman.

'It's not about you' is the obvious - and perhaps appropriate - answer to this last question, but it kind of is about all of us, given the 58 options, and that if you have the option of being more or less polite, you may as well go with 'more'.


Alyx said...

oh man I have a lot of thoughts on this. (and I didn't see it until yesterday! blah.)

Um, well as you guessed (since I think I'm the commenter you mentioned?) I'm... not really thrilled with this development. I mean, gender-neutral pronouns are nice (were I on facebook, I'd probably be tempted to use them myself while I'm in this awkward transitional period since "he" makes me flinch but "she" seems... presumptuous) and I suppose I could see the case for having Male/Female/Other/Prefer not to disclose or Male/Female/Both/Neither or something similar as options, because why not.

This whole 58 options thing, though... I really don't like how your "gender identity" is being treated as though it's some special, customizable thing that must reflect specifically who you are as a person. And frankly a lot of the current discourse surrounding trans issues is... pretty sexist. Like: according to trans activists of the sort who pushed for this change, feminine men and masculine women might identify as "trans" (or trans*, *eyeroll*) which is... ridiculous for so many reasons. Honestly, it's hard not to feel like there's a degree of... I guess appropriation going on here? Like, for those of us who experience actual sex dysphoria being trans is a pretty crap experience and it's difficult not to feel as though a lot of people are treating it as though it's some sort of game or cool new way of identifying yourself. (Especially when these people become activists and start talking about how you don't need to medically transition to be trans which, while technically true even if you're only defining "trans" to mean "transsexual"-- obviusly someone who is dysphoric but doesn't seek treatment still has the underlying condition-- is damaging because it makes it seem as though medical intervention is an option rather than a necessity.)

But, on the other hand, it's clear that some of the individuals expressing these third-gender type identities are sex dysphoric and are using them to cope with their intenal disconnect as best they can, so it's tough condemn their usage across the board. Maybe it's not about me, either. Like, I'm transitioning at a (relatively) young age, and the odds of my having to be open about my history for the rest of my life are pretty slim. (I hope!) But it seems that (for example) the Facebook employee who spearheaded this effort doesn't have that option? So I suppose I can understand how identifying specifically as a "Trans Woman" might make more sense to her.

But on the other hand (too many hands!) making "Cis" an option in any capacity is just... dumb. Especially when cis people who want to be "allies" or whatever are encouraged to identify that way, which is what's happening in activist circles. Like, the go-to comparison is identifying as hetero/homosexual, but it's a bad one, because being gay is not a maladaptive abnormality that requires medical intervention to cope with. I mean: yes, posing it as "female/male" vs "trans female/male" does kind of imply that there's only one way to be male or female, but... that's sort of the point. I "identify" as female because having a male body is (was) a profoundly alienating experience: if it were true that there's "no right way" to be female then I doubt I'd be experiencing this. Plus, like you said, having the cis/trans distinction only underscores the difference between those who transitioned and those who didn't; in a world where cis people openly identified as such trans people who transitioned and wanted to get on with their lives would be stuck feeling like they had to either lie and claim to be cis or forever broadcast to the world the fact that they transitioned.

Alyx said...

oh wow that was a much longer comment than it seemed like in the text box. Sorry! I guess the tl;dr is that I think I'm the commenter you mentioned and you're right, I'm not really thrilled with the idea that people should identify as "cis", and also that the 58 different gender options are a bit much and also I think the sort of trans activist mindset behind the move has a lot of issues not least of which is that it's kind of sexist.

So yeah. Sorry for the giant post!

Phoebe said...


Thanks for commenting - yes, you were the commenter!

In terms of snowflake gender identities vs. born-in-the-wrong-body level seriousness... a (flawed!) analogy that comes to mind is celiac vs. trendy gluten-avoidance. On the one hand, the trendiness of not eating gluten makes those who medically can't eat it seem as if they're trying to be hip. On the other, the widespread acceptance that it's possible not to eat gluten raises awareness and reduces the amount of explanation necessary for those who truly must avoid it.

Because that would seem to be where trans acceptance needs to go - awareness that... this is a thing that exists in the world. I mean, that letter to Dan Savage from a teenager who may or may not be trans was a reminder that this isn't even a phenomenon many people know exists. Which is a problem for those who don't know how to articulate what it is they are, and for those whose intolerance may come from incomprehension.

Point being...I can't speak for the global cis community, but I suspect that many of us don't so much actively identify with the gender we were assigned at birth as take it for granted - see it as a neutral non-negotiable, if that makes sense. So it does need to be spelled out that gender doesn't always match up with sex. Maybe snowflake gender identities help convey this, maybe not.

Alyx said...

ooh actually I really like the celiac/trendy gluten avoidance analogy. I'm definitely going to steal that.

But yeah, I do agree that more awareness in the general sense is conceivably good... but the problem is the snowflake narrative and the language surrounding it can actually obfuscate things for people who are actually transsexual. Like, I don't actually actively identify as female either, and I never did, at least not in an affirmative sense. So the talk of identity and such didn't really seem to apply to what I was experiencing; it was actually several years after I first heard about trans people in the political/movement sense that I figured out what my own situation was. It wasn't until I came across transsexualism framed in a clinical sense of, like, "here is how it works and here is what the symptoms generally are and (most importantly for me) here is what can be done about it" that I was able to go, oh, wow, okay, this makes sense and applies to me. Before that I was just hearing a lot about identifying and queerness and such and it didn't really resonate with me at all.

I mean, obviously I'm speaking only from my perspective (and to be fair I was also avoiding confronting my situation to some extent), but I have seen many other younger trans people express similar sentiments. So, I guess I do think some more awareness that transsexualism is a thing that happens and there are ways of dealing with it would be beneficial, but I'm not convinced that the current dialog is the best way to go about it.