How tech companies design for trans users (or don’t)

You’ve set up your Airbnb host account, spent years getting your name out there, and received stellar review after stellar review. Then you transition.

For Sophie Alpert, the transition posed a challenge for her Airbnb business. While her profile displayed a new picture, her reviews still used male pronouns and referenced her old name. At best, it was inconvenient to explain to potential guests. At worst, guests might suspect some kind of scheme. On the verge of deleting five years of reviews to start from scratch, Sophie called Airbnb in the hopes that there was a better fix. It turns out Airbnb will not only update your profile, but go through each and every post and review, updating names and pronouns to align with your gender identity. A low-tech solution for a high-tech company, but one that made all the difference. The interesting question is how emerging tech companies and services will design for inclusion in the future, or how they plan for users to update their presence beyond (at the very least) a gender toggle.

In case you were wondering, here’s an overview of how different tech companies design for updating a user’s gender:

  • Facebook – updating your gender updates all pronouns automatically (ex. “Mark updated [his/her] profile image”) as far back as your page has existed.
  • Google – can update your name and gender in your profile.
  • LinkedIn – can change your name, and all updates about users are gender-neutral. Previous comments by other users are not updated.
  • Twitter – the UI does not require people to select gender and the profile can be updated easily. Twitter also uses usernames in most contexts, which don’t usually include real life names to begin with.