Sunday, 16 February 2014

Call yourself what you will on Facebook

That's interesting. I saw a BBC News online item titled Facebook allows users to customise gender - see it at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-26177050 - and had a look.

Well, well! Somebody at Facebook has thought of a new wheeze to make the website frendlier, more individual, and more expressive of one's true identity. Users now have 50-odd ways to describe their precise gender status. It won't affect anyone acrimoniously divorced from Facebook, such as myself. But (as the Facebook spokesperson said) it will mean the world to some.

For the moment, this gender choice is confined to users who opt for 'US English', but surely that is bound to be extended.

I can imagine some people in Brighton and elsewhere leaping at this - basically organisers, committee members, artists, film-makers, writers and poets - people who are involved in flying the LGBT flag, or specifically the Trans flag, in a prominent (and perhaps even official) capacity. But I am bound to say that were I to rejoin Facebook, I would not myself describe myself as anything other than 'woman', the self-description I always use in day-to-day situations. Or 'female', in an official or medical context. The range of natal female types is so diverse that I don't feel I need to particularise further. I'd even say that drawing finer distinctions would tend to confuse ordinary folk who simply want a general idea of what one is, so that they know without doubt how they ought to behave on meeting. Declaring myself as a 'woman' or 'female' gives me all the recognition I need. So far I'm perfectly content with the responses.

That said, it will be meaningful for some to be thoroughly particular, and indicate a shade of difference that they feel is important. In their own circle, it will be understood and saluted.

I do however confess (going off on a tangent!) to a growing irritation and impatience with much gender-related language. Take 'queer' for instance. When I was very young, this word simply meant 'odd', 'strange', or 'very unusual.' You could apply it to something that had happened, or to an ornament, or to words spoken, or even to a smell or taste. Then an underground meaning, 'homosexual', became the main meaning. And then for a long time 'queer' was an Older Generation word for 'gay'. But in recent years, the meaning has shifted, and become much vaguer. It can now signify simply that the person describing themselves as 'queer' regards themselves as non-standard in some way. Possibly because of some gender issue, but nobody can know without closer enquiry.

Perhaps 'queer' is a mild example. At least the essential meaning of the word ('different' or 'not like most others') is easy to apprehend.

What about words like 'cis' though? It's not, as one might think, a piece of made-up, specialist cant or jargon. Cis is a Latin word (used also as a prefix) meaning 'on this side of'' (see http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cis-). But it's an obscure Latin word or prefix that I for one wish had remained buried. Where is the advantage of saying 'cis' or 'cis-gendered', when short phrases like 'ordinary people' or 'non-trans people' will do instead? You can't possibly use the word 'cis' in ordinary speech - while chatting in the proverbial bus queue, for instance. Nobody will understand what you are talking about. It's a word for insiders when they communicate between themselves, not caring whether an outsider understands or not. Not my sort of word.

4 comments:

  1. It should be M F or C, male, female and 'can't make up their mind'!

    Shirley Anne x

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lucy, what is a bus queue? Sounds like a place for interesting conversation...

    There is a whole spectrum of gender expression and added confusion for those trying to get from one assumed position on that spectrum to another, can't make up mind is not quite right. For a few years extra boxes might have been useful...

    Farcebook gets ever more nasty and since almost nobody reads terms and conditions they have no idea what they are signing up to and a few months later they and the settings you thought you had chosen to remain safe have been changed without warning. I, being stubborn did read the terms, it took an age. The site was even worse than I had imagined and I wished that I had ignored the goading to join, sadly it has sucked away long term bloggers!

    I am sure that many of us dinosaurs are frustrated that useful words from our past have become unusable since they have been hijacked, a queer turn of events as I had hoped to gayly use those hard learned words for my whole life...

    ReplyDelete
  3. The C can also mean confused!

    Shirley Anne x

    ReplyDelete
  4. In Newquay there used to be a women's clothing shop called Gay Gowns, and very 'gay' it was too - in the old meaning of the word, that is.

    ReplyDelete

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