If you have a Facebook profile and think about gender often enough to be reading this blog, then you’ve probably heard about the shiny new “custom” gender feature that Zuckerberg ‘n Friends rolled out recently. Much like everything Facebook has ever done, this development is somewhat of a mixed bag. Let’s take a gander.
On one hand, it’s pretty fantastic that words like “cisgender,” “genderqueer,” and “trans*” have been introduced to the whole wide world via such an influential social network. It’s inspired important conversations about the gender spectrum, a whole lot of huffing and puffing on Fox News, and (I imagine) millions of Google searches. At its core, I think Facebook’s move is a good one for queer and trans* visibility. Unfortunately, on the other hand, the Powers that Be (Collecting Your Profile Data to Sell to Advertisers) don’t seem to believe that my gender identity – butch – exists.
Now, I’m not sure which edition of Webster’s Dictionary Facebook consulted for this project, but last time I checked, “custom” did not mean “choose from this pre-determined list of options.” In fact, I’m fairly certain that it means basically the opposite of that. So I was more than a little miffed when I tried to type “butch” into my little gender box and found that it wouldn’t save. I didn’t make the list, folks. And all you wonderful self-identified femmes? Got some bad news for ya: You also do not really exist. But hey, at least you have plenty of company here in Imaginary Gender Land.
Please note that there are at least 10 variations of “cisgender” on Facebook’s official gender list. Thank goodness, because cis folks have for so long suffered from a lack of representation!
Facebook has claimed that it developed its list of 50 gender identities by consulting with LGBT advocacy groups, and I do believe them. I can’t, however, help being disappointed in any such group that would neglect to include butch and femme – two identities with deep roots in queer history and civil rights battles – in that list. It makes me wonder if, as is often sighed across bar room tables and butch-femme message boards, we really are dying breeds. Is it just not hip to be us anymore? Or am I overthinking this whole thing?
(Warning for remainder of post: Here There Be Feels)
I feel like I must mention that my navel-gazing reaction to Facebook Genderpalooza 2014 may be a result of my ongoing funk (in the mood sense; I like to think that I smell rather nice). I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression since, well, before I really allowed myself to claim those words. With the support of some very dear people in my life, I entered therapy back in the fall and have been on anti-depressants since November; both have resulted in some improvements, but nothing close to miraculous. But Rome wasn’t psychoanalyzed in a day, right?
In addition to all that head stuff, my queer community – something that I leaned on perhaps a bit too heavily – has become a lot smaller. Most of the organizations I was once involved with have dispersed since last summer, including ButchBoi Life, the social and support group that I co-founded for masculine queer women. It sounds a bit melodramatic, but the loss of these networks has been really devastating. I feel increasingly isolated from my community and cut off from resources that I once took for granted. I rarely speak with, let alone hang out with, other butches now, and that makes me very lonely. In a way, I’ve returned to the level of desperation I was at before ButchBoi Life existed, when I was so very starved for interactions with people that walked in my same worn boots and reflected back to me my own reality as a butch dyke.
The combination of this queer social isolation and health problems both mental and physical have created the Perfect Storm of moping around, woe-is-me-ing. I’ve been neglecting things I was once passionate about (clearly, blogging being one of those things). And let’s be honest: the Northeast’s transformation into a Jack London-inspired frozen tundra for the past three months hasn’t exactly alleviated my desire to spend every day in bed, rolled up in a blanket burrito and staring at my ceiling.
(End of feels)
Well, that’s about enough head shrinking from me for now. Anywho, if you want to see “butch” and “femme” join Facebook’s list of Genders You Are Allowed to Be, you can let them know what’s up at the Facebook Diversity page. Tell ’em Bren sent you. And if you like processing gender stuff and getting caught in the rain, leave your thoughts on this whole social media hullabaloo in the comments.