How can I deal with diverse gender identities in user profiles?

  • I'm trying to work out the wording for (preferably) a gender dropdown in a user profile of a site I'm working on. I want to be inclusive of people who don't gender orient to either male or female ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_identity ) but I don't want to use a textbox for this field because I'd still like to have some clear demographic data about the majority of my users who would like fall under the simple male/female heading.

    If I use a text box I'd have to parse out a lot of "male", "MALE", "Man", "guy", etc. to get the clean data.

    My thought was to just have a simple dropdown for "Gender: " with the options of "male", "female", and "other".

    Is "other" an appropriate handling of this group? Is gender the right label for this field?

    ^ 99% of humankind is bi-gender? Does that mean 1% is a single gender or more than two?

    @JonasDralle Hey there. Can you help me to understand your comment? I'm new to this topic so I'm trying to listen and understand. It's true that one cannot decide what gender one has, neither in the sense of one's physical characteristics at birth, nor in the sense of one's emotional/sexual orientations. But I don't understand why that means you cannot use gender as an identifying feature. One cannot choose one's height either, but it is commonly used to identify a person in some contexts. Am I misinterpreting or otherwise misunderstanding? A link would be a fine answer. Thanks.

    @plainclothes Male and Female are a group in which most people are. There are some people who have diffrent problems but that's the 1% you can offer the option "Other" or "Dont want to say" for. I'm just saying that I'm not a supporter of this radical modern gender identity.

    I recommend you to not parse their input but rather let them decide westher they want to be called "He" or "She". This is a solution that works as well as for Male/Female-People as well as supporter of this radical modern gender identity

    @JonasDralle To help me understand: When you say "radical modern gender identity", do you mean the 'radical' proliferation of genders beyond straight male/female, or do you mean the 'radical' pruning of allowable genders into just male/female?

    I'm sorry but I dont exactly know where we are going here. I also cannot see how this helps to solve the here stated problem. I'm just saying that Gender isn't something you can decide on your own becaude you're born with it. Facebook for example removed the Male/Female/Other selection because too many people wanted to describe them as something diffrent. I cant provide exampöes but I guess they associate themself with animals or other creatures.

    @JonasDralle I'm with you. The whole topic has spiraled out of control in today's society. I would edit your original comment to "99.999%". The rest is all social confusion.

    Even if this only accommodates a small percentage of the general population it still has benefits. In some cases it can be interesting to get get information about the number of people in a large, general community who don't identify with traditional roles ALSO some communities will have a higher occurrence of non-traditional roles, so this could be a valuable thing to consider.

    Please keep your politics out of this question. The person asking wants to be inclusive of diverse gender identities. Saying that you don't approve of the idea is like answering a Mac tech support question with "you should use Linux".

    How about Male, Female, and 'It's complicated'

    "I'm just saying that Gender isn't something you can decide on your own because you're born with it", transgender and transsexual are real things. Although I suppose both of those still land you in the Male or Female category. If you want your site to support the more obscure categories like "gender-fluid" then just supply a "other" or "do not specify" category.

    @aslum I could see some people getting offended by "it's complicated", it would be like like saying White, Black, or it's complicated which can sound a little demeaning.

    @DasBeasto - that's because there are many races whereas the plumbing for males and females are different. One can change some of the outward appearances with surgery and hormone therapy but prostates and uterus remain. There is social construct and there is biology.

    @Mayo well if the question was "what genitals do you have" then the biology would apply but in this case it's asking about gender which there are more than binary male/female. According to this ABC article Facebook now gives users 58 gender choices (not the best source but it gives the idea there's more than 2 atleast). So even though you or I may think there should be more than the two there are more than 2 genders by many people's standards.

    If gender is needed (in many cases it's not) then it needs to be separate from biology. As with many things the "it depends" answer is what comes to mind. A clothing store may want to know about it's clients. They might not care whether the person is transgendered or not - only "do I buy more women's fashion or men's?" I was replying simply to the race comment. Identifying the sex (biology) of a person is simpler than identifying the race (biology) of someone.

    @mayo I see your point, my race comment was a bit of a hyperbole but I was simply saying they're are many shades of gray when it comes to gender (non-biologically speaking) and that it isn't a choice (in reply to Aslums comment) so it may offend people the same way race would if you treated them differently. But yea this very much is an it depends comment, unless you're taking a census I don't see a need to go anywhere near Facebooks 58 options.

    @Mayo: You may be surprised to learn that sex is also a grey area. There are more than two sets of sex chromosomes, and some children are born with ambiguous genitalia (though sometimes this is "corrected" by doctors who assign them to a specific sex). As I mentioned in a comment on my answer below, intersex people exist - making up ~1/1500 of the population depending on how you count. Obviously none of that is relevant to this question, but understanding that sex is not as simple as male/female may be useful in other applications.

    This question is impossible to answer because OP didn't state *why* there needs to be such a gender field in the profile. The correct way depends entirely on the purpose.

  • kastark

    kastark Correct answer

    9 years ago

    I was having a discussion with my housemate who is a data analyst by trade, and the conclusion that we came to is that there are two sensible options here, depending on the amount of work you personally want to do (we're assuming here that the collection of gender data is actually useful to you, rather than simply of interest in which case it is almost always better to leave it out).

    The simple option is to have three or four discrete options: Female, Male, Other, and possibly Prefer not to say. In my experience, this is the most acceptable option for gathering data while being both simple and inclusive - it acknowledges that there are people who don't fit the gender binary, allows users to select a different option, and doesn't overload your cisgendered users with lots of options. It also allows people to completely opt out if they really don't want to answer (the standard objection is that it'll negatively impact your data collection, but in practice it probably doesn't make much of a difference). Note that if gender identity is particularly important to your application, then this may not be the most sensible or inclusive option.

    The ideal but more complex option is to have a textbox and suck it up - it's a data sanitisation problem. A simple find/replace on your dataset will be able to lump your users into a group of man/male/boy responses, a group of woman/female/girl responses, and a group of assorted other responses. Crucially if you're doing demographic analysis, whatever is left over probably isn't statistically significant at an individual level so in your analysis it is acceptable to put them in an internal Other category. You can then preserve that minority data for further study should you find you need it.

    Alternatively, as noted in the comments, it may be possible to combine the two approaches. Once a user selects your Other option, you could then display a text box which allows them to specify their gender identity exactly. This has the benefit of minimising cognitive load on cisgendered users while also capturing specific minority data. The downsides are that you may still run into issues sanitising this data to make it useful, and your form must be able to handle revealing a hidden element.


    Gender is the correct label for this field, from a descriptive point of view and from a data collection point of view. You'd be surprised how many people think it's hilarious to answer Sex: with "Yes please".

    If you choose to go with the simple dropdown/radio button approach, then Other is probably the most appropriate label for the third group. It is easily understandable, and non-exclusive in terms of what it might represent. Transgender is probably not an appropriate label here unless you include additional ones because it excludes people outside the binary who are not transgender or who do not view the label as appropriate for them, and it doesn't actually tell you the respondent's gender (transgender just tells you their gender is not the same as their assigned sex at birth). The problem with the use of the word "other" is that it is exclusionary and can potentially feel like the user is being shoved into a box of leftovers - not an ideal experience! For that reason, a text box is probably preferred if you want to make sure you're being inclusive.

    Think Outside The Box mirrors these recommendations and has some other interesting guidelines for form construction.

    +1 for the "Yes please" response, do it every time. People should get their damn labels right. :D

    Ehhh the text box is a pain in the butt not only for you but for your users (if any actually care to read the Gender box). It's more than a data sanitisation problem, and it's not a sanitisation problem that's possible to solve 100%.

    @BenBrocka Maybe a text box with auto-completion for M'ale and F'emale?

    @TC1 I know you're joking, but actually sex is a perfectly valid label. Sex and gender are not the same thing. Sex is biological, gender is more psychological. Male and Female and Intersex are sexes, Masculine and Feminine are genders, as are gay, bi, etc. All that said, I'd question very strongly why you're even collecting this data. Unless it provides a direct benefit to your users (say, if you're running a site providing sex advice support to people) I'd argue that intrusive personal questions like this should not appear.

    Yea, I think that gender (rather than sex) is what I'm looking for. It's more relevant for my data to look at what people identify and live as.

    @PeterBagnall Gay and Bi aren't genders, they are sexual orientations. Neither are masculine or feminine, which are characteristics or traits. Male, Female, Agender, Genderqueer and so on are examples of genders.

    @BenBrocka to reduce load on your cisgendered users you could probably have the textbox appear only after you selected Other.

    @dhmholley, my source for that was http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/ I would argue that sexual orientation is part of someone's gender identity, but I can see why it might be better to separate those terms.

    @dhmholley yeah, I was thinking an "other" with a text field could work

    @PeterBagnall generally when sites put "gender" on forms they mean "sex" anyway, or they don't know/care about the difference. Orientation is rarely relevant outside of dating sites or *very* open social sites.

    @Ben I completely agree. Sex is the right term in 99% of cases. And like you say, gender is typically none of their damn business ;-)

    Actually, you guys are hilariously wrong. If you're collecting data on sex/gender for demographic purposes, you're typically doing it so you can make predictions about what the groups do, or get insights into their behaviour. In this case it's unhelpful to ask about sex over gender; since sex is more physical than psychological, it is a strictly worse predictor of behaviour than gender is. This doesn't even begin to touch on the fact that telling a transgender person that their gender doesn't matter and that their biological sex is the thing you care about is both dehumanising and backwards.

    Even if you don't buy the idea that gender is a better predictor of behaviour (and I think you'd be at best misguided to say it isn't), you're supposed to be UX people. Think about the users.

    What would be wrong with a dropdown that creates a textbox if someone says 'other'? This would be like a tiny % of your responses, probably 90-99% would just choose M or F.

    The funny thing is, that there are only 2 diffrent answers to sex but you can basically answer anything when asked about your gender because gender also includes your mental state about this topic. You mighz not identify yourself with your own Sex and thus have a diffrent Gender but not a diffrent Sex.

    That is not technically true, as intersex people exist (making up ~1/1500 of the population depending on how you count). The key thing to remember when discussing issues of sex and gender is that it's probably more complicated than you think, and you shouldn't make assumptions.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM