Should gender only be two options in a software application?

Sometimes when you are developing software (yes, we’re back) – especially software which you’re trying to localize for a global audience – you can find yourself challenging your assumptions by¬†asking rather existential questions about elements of the software design process you’ve always largely taken for granted because almost everyone else has spent years operating to the same assumptions.

Today’s existential question concerns gender, and specifically it is should there only be two in a software application such as nextSIS? Do we limit to ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ or allow other options to be added? Now in an ideal world of course everything within our application would be designed to be flexible, but on the other hand pull-down menus aren’t always as visually appealing as a checkbox – so if we’re happy to limit gender to ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ then the checkbox may well be the way to go.

But it seems that the checkbox approach would merely be enforcing the tyranny of Western heteronormativity, and if we are to think globally we have to support the ability to specify a third gender, and quite possibly more. And in fact, this isn’t merely an academic question, as some quick research into the subject reveals that from 2011 Australian passports have apparently allowed a third ‘X’ category for transgender people on their passports. Google – if you’ve ever noticed – allows you to specify your gender as ‘Other’, without getting into the specifics of what ‘other’ means.

So it quickly becomes clear we have to support multiple genders, and as a default perhaps provide ‘Male’, ‘Female’ and ‘Other’ while leaving the system open to the possibility that if someone really does want to define themselves as ‘genderqueer‘ or anything else, their nextSIS database administrator can ultimately support it.

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