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encoding the gender binary into today’s social networking sites

Like many of you who’ve been around since before the internet was but a twinkle in Al Gore’s eyes, I recall the good old days of the ‘net.  Back when you hopped on your AOL account, punched in your screenname and password, and were greeted you warmly every time you signed on.  In the mid 1990’s the internet was like one giant anonymous playground, filled with GIFs of dancing hamsters and slow-loading pornographic websites.  And chatrooms.  Oh, man.  Chatrooms.

Back then all you needed was a screenname like tweetybird22 and you’d be sure to make plenty of “friends” in chatrooms right away.  “if ur looking for a good time, im me”.  Oh yeah.  Sure, you might be a 40 year old guy in Omaha, but when you sign in as xX_californiagurl_Xx what fratboy420 doesn’t know can’t hurt him, right?  Right?

And we were all forced to be "friends" with some asshole named Tom.

Yep, everything was fine and dandy until one day, from the depths of hellfire and damnation, spawned a little thing called Myspace.  Suddenly, the internet started transforming from a land of anonymity into a world of people.  People with…  Faces.  And genders.  And really terrible taste in music.

But the real trouble here was that one little letter.  Are you an M or an F? It’s a simple question.  Come on.  You know this one.  a/s/l!

It was all downhill from there.

Now, to be fair, the initial dawn of Myspace was long before anyone came up with term “social media” or before Mark Zuckerberg became an industry heavyweight, bent on selling your personal information to the highest bidder.  But it was the beginning of the end for the casual anonymous user.  The internet was turning into a place where people used real names and showed their actual faces.  It was a whole new arena in which people could use your appearance and perceived gender to make judgments about your character (just like in real life!)

As a gender ambiguous person who enjoys remaining ambiguous, I’ve had my fair share of run ins with social media networks.  I’m a notorious user of sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, you name it (except Myspace, forget that shit).  And they do not appreciate it when you refuse to choose a little M or F.

I even had an interesting exchange with a friend’s wife.

And I’m not the only who has had issues.

In December of 2009, transman user Dominic Scaia’s Facebook account was disable because he posted photos of his brand new, post-surgical male contoured chest.  Photos of shirtless men abound on Facebook, so why were Dominic’s photos pulled?  The blog “The Bilerico Project” notes the following in a post they made about the incident last year:

Dominic lists his gender as “male” on Facebook, looks male in [his] photo, and doesn’t have breasts. There are cissexual men who are overweight who have bigger chests than Dominic does, and I haven’t heard about their photos being pulled.

You can read a follow up on Dominic’s struggles with Facebook in another article by The Bilerico Project here.

Admittedly, the internet has provided a great resource for many questioning and queer persons, young and old, over the years.  LGBTQ folks have been able to build great communities and support networks through it.  However, a lot of the stipulations involved in using the increasingly popular social media and networking sites of today seem to be taking us a step backward as far as expressing ourselves free of gender is concerned.

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