|“Interested in” and romance by gender on Facebook
||[Feb. 22nd, 2014|02:02 pm]
For many years I’ve left the “interested in” field of my Facebook profile blank. Today I switched it to “men and women.”
I don’t remember my earliest reasons for keeping it blank. It’s possible that I initially felt private and not ready to come out about it. If so, that time is long past. Changing it doesn’t feel at all like a coming out to me: I’ve been comfortable with my queerness and out to friends and acquaintances for a long time, and if there was any barrier left there then I smashed it with my National Coming Out Day Facebook update in 2013 (note to self: repost that here).
No, my reason for leaving it blank for the last several years has been different: It really bugs me that the answer to “Who are you interested in” is always assumed to answered by a gender category: “men” or ”women.” Even “both” doesn't really seem like an appropriate answer. All of these answers tacitly assume first that sex and gender are—and should be—the most important basic characteristics in getting involved with a partner. All of these answers tacitly erase people who don’t conform to traditional binary gender roles. And the format of the question doesn’t really leave a space for people who simply aren’t interested in sexual or romantic relationships. In short, I find the implicit assumptions in the question itself basically offensive.
I’m interested in passionate people. I’m interested in emotionally aware people and emotionally open people. I’m interested in people who communicate through touch. I’m interested in people who want to change the world. I’m interested in people who want to change their own lives. I’m interested in people who create. I’m interested in people who show compassion toward others and who appreciate when people compassionately hold up a mirror to them because it’s a tool they can learn from. I’d be lying if I claimed that sex and gender don’t play any role at all in my attraction, but that factor is both very complex and just not the most important one to me. And reducing “interested in” to simply “men” or “women” or both completely erases all the beauty and subtlety of attraction to replace it with—essentially—a marketing demographic and a limited sexual identity. I find that erasure gut-wrenchingly offensive, and frankly I find it a bit shocking and disturbing how readily people accept it to provide a simple and direct answer.
At the same time, I have some people very close to my heart who don’t identify simply as “men” or “women.” Some feel a bit of both at different times. Some feel our cultural stereotypes of both fall flat on them, and so they don’t like to associate themselves with either label. Others find the binary categorization itself basically problematic or even offensive and thus reject it entirely. But some of these people are among the most fascinating and wonderful people in my life, and I’m not comfortable silently projecting to the world that I’m not “interested in” them simply because they don’t settle comfortably on being called a “man” or a “woman.”
And so for years I’ve left the “men” checkbox and the “women” checkbox blank, which Facebook takes to mean I’m not interested in disclosing my preferred marketing demographics. This creates its own troubles: There are a fair number of people in the world who are simply asexual and/or aromantic. These are people who aren’t interested in sexual or romantic relationships with anyone, irrespective of those people’s sex or gender. When Facebook sees “hasn't checked any boxes” and equates this with “not interested in answering,” they erase these people entirely. These people get shoved with me into my ill-fitting “not interested in disclosing” box. Some of them, I expect, would quite like to put “asexual” or “aromantic” in their profile, but they can’t.
I should pause to mention that this post isn’t an attack on Facebook. I’m incredibly excited about their recent opening up of gender identity options, and I hope they keep moving in that direction. This post, though, is about what I’ve put on my profile, and why.
So for the longest time, for all these reasons, I’ve left the “interested in” box on my FB profile blank. If they can’t represent me accurately and without offense to my friends and loved ones, I figured, I just won’t cooperate with their question. And to be honest this stance still has its appeal.
There’s value, though, in having another person interested in “men and women” out there. More and more the world is run on data, processed by computers and analyzed by marketers and politicians picking their next ads and positions. These are the people who shape public opinion and policy. And as limited and problematic as all that data is, it’s the data we’ve got. It’s the data they’ve got. It’s the data that influences real-world decisions, and keeping myself invisible to that data and to the changes that they can subsequently create feels petty and self-centered to me today.
So for today the data that I’m one more non-straight person in the world is something that I value more than waiting for more subtlety in Facebook’s representation of non-binary romantic and sexual interest. I may change my mind tomorrow, but for today Facebook can put me in the box of people who are “interested in men and women.”