Trans-Friendly Registration Forms

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Being a trans woman and a software engineer, one topic that interests me in our world of registration-based apps is how gender data is collected. So often, it is done in a way hostile to trans people — even when well intentioned. But, by keeping several things in mind, you can easily keep your app’s registration trans-friendly.

Keep it mind it is quite possible to build many apps without ever collecting any sort of gender-based data. In some use cases, it is far more important than others, such as a dating site, where other users may be searching out a partner of a specific gender.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t collect this information, but ask yourself why you think this data is important. If you don’t have a good answer, why bother collecting it?

In terms of our ability to communicate with one another, what matters more than anything is pronouns. These are not tightly coupled with gender — someone might use she/her without being a woman if non-binary.

In general, it is probably better to think of pronouns as a text field than a select dropdown or something of that sort. This enables people to have a greater degree of flexibility, including with neopronouns (pronouns other than she, he, and they) as well as pronouns in other languages — a Spanish speaker, for instance, might want to put she/her/ella.

Gender is more complex than being a man or a woman and, in some circumstances, transitioning to life as the other. People who are neither men nor women exist, and they should be accommodated by how you structure your forms.

As above, text fields are generally preferable to allow flexibility. However, if you must provide specific options, offer ones friendly to non-binary people, such as they/them pronouns, Mx. as a title, and, of course, having non-binary in gender fields themselves.

A pet peeve of mine is forms that have gender options that have “trans woman” and “trans man” as separate options from “woman” or “man.” This otherizes trans people, forcing us into a different category than the one in which we belong. On such forms, I always pick woman — which is my gender.

If it is important for your app to know if someone is cis or trans, it is advisable to make it a separate field. Being trans is about diverging from one’s assigned gender at birth rather than a part of one’s gender in and of itself. Trans women are a subset of women, trans men are a subset of men, and non-binary people are an entirely separate category of their own.

Though not part of registration per se, it is important to make sure you are not limiting someone to the gender and name information they provided at sign up. Nothing is worse than having a long-time account where you are forced to see the wrong gender or your dead name — a term for a name one shed with their transition.

As people’s understanding of themselves develops, you should make it easy for them to make their online life match with little hassle.

By being mindful of a few key things, you can easily create apps that are friendly and welcoming to trans people. This is both a moral good and an act that will broaden the appeal of your software. The more comfortable and safe your users are using your app, the more likely they will continue using it — and trans people are so often lacking in safety and comfort in our lives.

Software Engineer. NYT-Published Writer. Farmer. Trans Lesbian (She/her).

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