Facets: Issue 20

June 4, 2016

Transitioning in the Digital Age

Jessica Lachenal
"What I didn’t expect, however, was having to take on the monumental task of going back across my entire online identity and having to filter every post, every tweet, every photo that was from a life that was no longer mine.”

When we think of the experience of coming out, we rarely think of it in a digital context. In this piece, we see how coming out ‘digitally’ is more an act of erasure; the internet still held on to a version of Lachenal that she no longer identified with, and wouldn’t allow her to erase. An excellent piece on exerting control over our digital identities (and if it’s even possible), a life lived on social media, and how to make that media a tool for expression rather than marginalization.

Passing in the Valley

Matt Hackett
"I was passing, and passing was failure...in that moment I saw being gay, out, and loud as a crucial part of my being a good manager, a good engineer, a good product-maker."

Matt Hackett’s piece begins with a moment shared with a fellow gay man at work when Hackett mentions his boyfriend; preparing for a tedious coming-out conversation turns into a genuine connection, which prompts reflection on what it means to bring queerness to tech. Hackett examines an interesting kind of luck— that of being able to appear straight by default, and the instant credibility that “passing” affords him.

Programming Violence: Under a Progressive Surface, Facebook's Software Misgenders Users

Rena Bivens
"despite the release of the custom gender project (the same one that offered 56 additional gender options), the sign-up page continues to be limited to a mandatory, binary field."

Rena Bivens, of Carleton University, takes a retrospective look at Facebook’s 2014 announcement of custom gender, and evaluates the programming decisions which led to it, as well as the ramifications of those decisions. We see how Facebook’s ‘custom gender’ selection works, programmatically, and how it misgenders— and endangers— its users in the process. Bivens’ argument is a powerful one, hinging on the fact that ‘marketable and profitable data about gender comes in one format: binary.’ This sparks an entirely new debate on what ‘authenticity’ means when we attempt to define it with code.

Transgender Means So Much More Than Changing Your Body

Cass Averill
"I was going to transition on the job in front of Symantec’s 21,000 employees, the first in recent memory.”

With striking honesty, Averill details the process of transitioning as an employee of Symantec. We see what the process is like, from the very first e-mail to his colleagues (“Cass will be taking a major step in a gender transition where he will fully assume his life’s role as a man”), to the support he received from colleagues and resource groups. However, we also see the difference in treatment that comes with a change in gender presentation, as well as just how far we have left to go.

Gov.UK's Design Patterns: Gender & Sex

It can feel strange trying to 'define' gender programmatically, and this is also true when it comes to design— how do you design openly for someone’s identity, rather than assuming it? But ‘design patterns’ around gender is exactly what the UK’s Government Service Design Manual offers here— their own guidelines when it comes to gender and their users, and how to design their services when it comes to these questions. Rule No.1? "Avoid asking about gender and sex.”

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