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My friend +may may recently pointed me at a post about agender (http://www.labcoatlingerie.com/2011/06/10/transplant/) as a followup to a long discussion we had (https://www.noisebridge.net/pipermail/noisebridge-discuss/2009-September/thread.html#7996) about issues of gender and technology.

It is indeed fairly interesting, as are some of the links from it. For instance, a post about how gender is handled on Diaspora (http://www.sarahmei.com/blog/2010/11/26/disalienation/) makes me wonder whether/if Google+ could switch to textfield gender plus a dropdown for pronouns. (+Frances Haugen has already done a great step in that direction by getting gender made to have the same privacy settings as anything else, and of course G+ already allows 'other'.)


UX aside: My suggested flow is this. Start with a blank dropdown, options "Female", "Male", "Other…". Selecting "Female" or "Male" has it work as now.

Selecting "Other…" has it show a focused short text field allowing arbitrary text input, to the right of which is a dropdown labeled "Pronouns:" with the options "Androgynous", "Female", "Male", and "Full name only" (same as +Randall Munroe's Bucket Gender, http://wiki.xkcd.com/irc/Bucket_Gender), defaulted to "Androgynous". (I exclude "inanimate" because AFAICT that's intended for bots, not humans. Anyone who identifies as inanimate or prefers the pronoun "it", please comment as I'd like to know more.)

Permissions would be kept as is and applied to the pair (so eg if someone can see it, they see both the text description and the pronoun preference).

This flow shouldn't interrupt those with normative binary gender or cause any software problems with references, while simultaneously supporting people with other genders to express themselves better.


I think that something that trips me up sometimes (like recently…) is that I in many ways I tend to assume agenderedness in a world that is still overwhelmingly culturally gendercentric (and male dominated). +Autumn Tyr-Salvia once commented on this (noting that I seem to lack the difference in manner of address when talking to folk of different genders that most people do), as have +Audrey Steever and +V R (noting that whatever gender I am, it's something unique, and I'm a bit oblivious to that).

I think most liberal folk would like for the world to just not care about gender, orientation, etc. except inasmuch as particular individuals care to express their identity and have that expression respected. However, especially for people who are actively trying to promote a future of equality, there is this catch-22: in order to talk about it as an issue made by others, one necessarily makes it an issue. The term "post-gay" also comes up in this context as ambiguously valenced — on the one hand, it's nice to have one's orientation not made an issue of; on the other, it's still true that a lot of people in the world do have an issue with it, and having allies to fight back is also nice.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with profs at UChicago about their activist pasts, about how actively engaging with the political issues of their day actually helped to propagate the dispute (much like the whole evolution/creation "debate"), and thus they decided to take… orthogonal methods.

This balance between sensitivity to ongoing issues, and moving beyond them to a kind of neutrality where gender, sexuality, etc are simply nonissues except where they're actively embraced as an aspect of someone's identity, is hard for me. I also wonder how much my perspective on this is influenced by being fairly agendered myself — after all, what I see as the future is a bit too conveniently agender-by-default for me not to be suspicious of a bias on my part.
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Well said, Sai. I've nothing to add right now except for another pointer to a recent article I had published in a new sexuality documentarian's pocket magazine, SsexBbox. It's called "Gender is a text field" and relates to this discussion insofar as finding practical ways to allow the importance of gender be something the user controls, rather than the system: http://maybemaimed.com/2011/06/30/ssexbbox-gender-is-a-text-field/
 
Added detail to post re my suggested flow for textfield gender.
Brian B
 
Would you care to provide sources on people who identify as androgynous? I'm not quite sure I understand how that could be possible. I can understand, to a point (meaning insofar as one can understand something not personally experienced), trans identity, but proper androgyny is a newer concept to me (ignoring the fashion androgyny a la 80s music)
 
+Brian B: I identify (most closely from amongst male/female/androgyne) as androgynous. I specifically don't identify as trans; I'm perfectly fine with my current body, my (somewhat idiosyncratic) gender presentation, etc.

+may may does also, I think. I can think of several other people who do who are reading this, but as I'm not certain that I've seen them post publicly about that aspect of their identity, I won't call them out.

If you want a more academic source or a review, I'm not really good for that (it's not really my domain), but +may may or +Autumn Tyr-Salvia may be, or should at least know who is.
Brian B
 
So, if you are fine with body and gender presentation, why "androgynous" not whichever gender is physically existent/presented?
 
+Brian B: Androgynous is the gender physically existent/presented. :-P (Philosophical counterexample: what would it look like if the sun rose in the east vs the earth rotated around the Sun? Answer: almost exactly the same.)

Gender to me is primarily a matter of how I identify (or fail to) — which is why "agendered" is closer than "androgynous" really — rather than a matter of what genitalia I happen to have, if I have secondary sex characteristics (eg a beard), if I wear pants or a skirt (I actually usually wear a kilt or wraparound pants, neither of which are gendertypical of anything in the US), etc. Given that my presentation is not very typical of either Standard Binary Gender, that makes me (by default) androgynous or some other variant.

Again though, +may may is way better at expressing this than me. ><
Brian B
 
I suppose I'm having more an issue understanding the basic premise this is based on: the separation between biological sex and gender identity. Not sure I completely agree they are separate, but that's (of course) pending further research and arguments.
Brian B
 
I mean conceptual issue, not moral (just to be clear). Prima facie, it seems a denial of basic biological fact of science and so likely involves more of a cultural/psychological (in the literal sense, again not a moral "something's wrong" sense)
Brian B
 
Interesting (if somewhat poorly argued) article. It's a rather huge leap to go from "there are instances of non-binary genetic sex" and trans to "mass production" of same-sex marriages under anti-same-sex marriage law. Especially the line that runs something like "create same-sex marriages that would be impossible" without the laws---they would still be same sex whether the laws were there or not.

It seems, though, that deciding "there is no binary sex" because we cannot determine it and there are exceptions seems also to be a poor argument. It's similar to saying "there is nothing that is really skin color" based on albinism and hyperpigmentation. (Skin color is not race, just to avoid that whole issue). And on large scale, international issues like the olympics, sometimes you have to shoehorn exception into a paradigm that in the majority of cases works.

The problem, ultimately, is a widely cultural desire to, not only have, but /rigidly/ declare and hold to binary classifications and not provide for further checks (the olympic issues could, it seems to me, have been fixed if they did more comprehensive testing---the issue was they presumed an answer in their tests instead of testing for possibilities, which may partly have been technological in the older cases, but should largely be alright now that we know about most of the exceptions.)
 
+Brian B: Skin color is continuous though, not discrete. You're trying to assert not merely that gender is discrete but that it's binary. Your argument there works against you. Nobody's claiming that gender doesn't exist, nor that the "standard two" aren't common — just that it's actually multivariate and continuous, and to describe more than just the majority of people, you have to acknowledge that.

Testing more doesn't actually solve the problem; they had that option. :-P

Thing is, for gender (rather than _sex_), variation from the "standard two" is rather more common. Speaking strictly in terms of biological sex, I am, AFAIK, a standard XY male with no salient hormonal unusualness. I am not, however, particularly male-the-gender. The two are in many ways unrelated.

Gender is about identity, social roles, presentation, etc; sex is about biology.
Brian B
 
My analogy worked because the claim is gender/sex, like skin color, is continuous. Its point was to show why, in the case of gender/sex, it doesn't quite work (practically, though it may be, and indeed seems to be, true in a more real sense, ontologic truth I suppose) and that's because generally speaking, it is discrete, so trying to fit, as a rule, a gradient to it would be impractical. To stick to the analogy, we would be arguing over which point the color would put someone into the yellow/white/black/other olympics instead of male/female. (For the sake of argument, let's assume that all other biological features for color are equal, it's just pigmentation). It's really an issue of logistics, not anything ontological, as much as humanity tries to make everything ontological even when the difference is merely a symptom of neural wiring).
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Some resources for distinguishing between sex and gender are as follows:

For understanding why biological sex is not a binary, see: http://www.ted.com/talks/alice_dreger_is_anatomy_destiny.html
For understanding the same as above from a trans experience: http://tranarchism.com/2010/11/26/not-your-moms-trans-101/
A more stereotypical/mainstream trans counterpoint that discusses sex and gender differentiation: Transgender Basics - Gender Identity Project (GIP)

As for androgyny, have a look at: http://followsthesun.com/having-it-all-a-gender-post-with-pictures/
This author coined the term "additive gender," which is the counterpoint to androgyny: http://sexpositive.wikia.com/wiki/Additive_gender

Androgyny is also not a very well-defined term. What most people mean when they say it is actually "negative androgyny," or the absence of a gender characteristics/presentation/etc. However, there is also "positive androgyny," which is more closely related to "additive gender." Here's a discussion of the difference: http://www.whatisgender.net/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=147&t=997

And here's an oft-cited paper that discusses them: http://www.springerlink.com/content/r86511tp5012l83w/

Further, googling "gender is not sex" gets you a ton of articles with that very title. Hope this helps.
Brian B
 
I'm aware of the difference between the two terms. I'll look at those sources when I'm more awake than I am now (just off work) cause what I don't have an understanding of is the, apparently, highly multivalent nature of it.
 
The "full name only" option doesn't really internationalise well, since there are many languages where grammatical gender gets used for a lot more than just pronouns. In some cases the androgynous case may only be expressible by listing both options ("Sai вывесил(а) ссылку"). This is also a practical problem with "gender is a text field" and other open-ended ways of letting people pick their own pronouns and grammatical gender in detail. Do you expect them to understand the issues and options in every supported language?
It's really unfortunate that something like gender is so tied up in language, but sadly it is and Google+ has to communicate in languages as they currently exist.
 
+Alexander Rapp I know it's hard; I've studied 8 languages and speak 5 more or less fluently (including Russian, which you give an example of). I'm well aware that English is one of the simplest languages when it comes to grammaticalization of gender. :-P

But it still is possible. Grammaticalizations do need a finite set (e.g. +Randall Munroe's androgyne/female/male/neuter). Which is why I proposed that 'other' be a combination of a finite-set dropdown for pronouns etc., and a free form text field for self-expressive purposes.
 
The finite set varies by language though. In French and Spanish your only options are basically "masculine", "feminine", and "both with parentheses/slash". In other languages there might be a neuter option, but people will have varying feelings about being referred to like inanimate objects. There is sometimes a gender-neutral plural option but it might be perceived as more awkward and less acceptable than singular "they" in English, and so non-native-speakers might have difficulty deciding whether it's better or worse than writing both singular gender options with a slash. Given the finite set needs to apply uniformly across all supported languages, I think "masculine feminine other" might be the best Google can do (where "other" is implemented as the most widely accepted gender-neutral presentation Google can manage in the given language).
(There's a separate issue of whether grammatical gender should be independent of the gender listed on your profile. This seems like a reasonable and correct idea but I don't think I personally know anybody who would use it now that one can set profile gender non-public. Not that the set of people I know personally should constitute an argument for anything.)
 
+Alexander Rapp No, the realizations vary. The set I gave should be sufficient to encompass the majority of languages. Of course the mapping will be different; English androgyne (3p pl) vs French (3p slashed) vs Japanese (some word choices) vs etc will vary.

The choices aren't 1:1 to grammatical terms, they're just "get as close as you can to this".
 
In that case Google's system is already male, female, androgyne. You could add inanimate/neuter but you excluded that in your original post (I do know people who prefer it but they find androgyne tolerable, and in some languages the two would be equivalent anyway). I don't see how you could internationalise "full name only" in a way consistent with its title.
 
+Alexander Rapp "First name only" isn't a thing, anyway. What you mean is "informal name", and that's something you can guess and then confirm.

Google's system doesn't allow customization of display. For many people, female/male/other are not adequate for self-expression, even if they are adequate for pronouns.
 
Err, I didn't say anything about first names, I was referring to xkcd/bucket's "full name only" option.
I agree a free-form profile field for "gender" (or a field letting those who pick "other" specify in more detail) would be nice to have. Though at least the status quo doesn't force actively incorrect things on people the way the naming policy does/tries to. :P
 
I know someone who uses 'it' pronouns, and another who was considering doing so.

I don't see why people can't specify arbitrary pronoun sets. It isn't actually that difficult from a UI implementation point of view. The alternative of providing a fixed list is either more difficult if you do it properly (asking non-binary communities who use each language what pronoun sets are commonly used), or is Anglocentrism if you only do it for English. Of course you should still provide the translations of 'he', 'she', and singular they sets for each language. But 'other' is not a particularly respectful way (usually, unless they specifically identify as such) of referring to the gender of people who use singular they.
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