Blog Post

THATCamp PNW 2011: Hacking Gender

One fascinating discussion that came out of THATCamp PNW this weekend (full post to come) was around gender as data online, and the ways in which gender systems are encountered, understood, manipulated, and queered by users. Comparisons were raised between Facebook (forced-choice M/F system), G+ (M, F, “Other”), and Diaspora (which gives users a blank text field).

Of course, design choices like Facebook’s are driven by the desire to aggregate and sell user data — which Diaspora isn’t trying to do. But users find ways around these requirements. For example, a Facebook hack has been circulating throughout trans* communities on Tumblr for the past year or so, which enables users to trick Facebook into letting them remain genderless rather than requiring them to identify as female or male. On this point, Jentery Sayers informed me of the practice of resisting network data analysis via giving “bad” data. How does Facebook deal with a lack of gender as data? Can “they” be useful as a product in the same way as “she” or “he”?

I’m still thinking through the implications of that conversation, but in the meantime, I’ve started collecting various hacks, scripts, and workarounds that users have developed to subvert gendered systems online. Please let me know if you’ve come across others or have developed your own that I don’t have listed.


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