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I am co-organising a retreat in which participants will share rooms in groups of four. I expect that some participants care about the gender of room mates, so I need to ask for participants for their gender and room-mate preferences in the registration form. I also expect that many participants won’t care, and I can use this for a more efficient room usage.

My problem is how to ask for this in a way that is accessible, inclusive, and actually gives us the information we need to produce a satisfying room-mating. The best I came up with so far is:

Someone who cares about room-mate gender will likely categorise me as:
  ❍ male
  ❍ female
  ❍ other
(Select exactly one.)

I am willing to share a room with people who, in the previous question, selected:
  ❏ male
  ❏ female
  ❏ other
(Select one to all.)

My thoughts on this are:

  • Rationale: I cannot simply ask for somebody’s self-identified gender, because this might not lead to satisfying room-matings. For example, somebody who doesn’t care about gender might select other in such a question but present as male (due to not caring). Somebody who did not choose male in the second question probably won’t like them as a room mate.

  • Concern: Asking participants how their gender is usually perceived might confuse, alienate, or offend them.

  • Concern: The questions are somewhat unusual, rather complicated, and might be misunderstood. The participants are educated (university degree), but most are not native speakers of English, which is the lingua franca.

  • Non-concern: I don’t expect silly choices such as male in the first question and only female in the second. (I might even code some logic into the form that excludes them.)

Is there a better way to do this?

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  • I suggest run a test with the some variations on a sample of your target population. An impromptu survey in the hall, or commons might work. See what framing: 1) is most understandable, and 2) makes the most people feel comfortable with their potential pairings. Nov 27, 2022 at 21:51
  • 1
    Why would you exclude male/female as silly when you ask the two questions? When you ask the two questions you're suggesting, then it's a valid option. If you only want to allow same-sex pairings, then you only need the first question.
    – allo
    Dec 2, 2022 at 15:19
  • @allo: Just to be clear: I was referring to somebody choosing male and choosing only female in the second one, i.e., somebody who only wants opposite-sex pairings. (I edited to clarify.)
    – Wrzlprmft
    Dec 2, 2022 at 15:26
  • @Wrzlprmft That's what I thought. But if you ask both questions, that's a valid pairing. If you only want to combine male/male female/female other/other you only need to know how people identify themself (or think others would identify them) and then choose the same sex for the second question.
    – allo
    Dec 3, 2022 at 16:05

1 Answer 1

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There's two important things to keep in mind when approaching gender inclusivity:

Asking people "what do other people think your gender is" adds another layer of complexity. At the end of the day, people want to choose to room with people they feel safe with. Someone's gender (as opposed to what other people think their gender is) is probably a more direct approach to this.

Because this is a complicated question with many facets, it may be good to allow for a comment field too, in case people want to provide context or nuance to their response for consideration.

A more inclusive approach would be to ask—

  • What is your gender identity? (select one)

    • Man
    • Woman
    • Non-binary / not listed
    • Prefer not to say
  • Who are you comfortable sharing a room with? (select one or more)

    • Men
    • Women
    • Non-binary people / people with gender identities not listed
    • People who prefer not to disclose their gender identity
  • Do you have additional comments or concerns when it comes to room assignments? (free response)

Regardless, this is a good topic to research further. You may come across a a more inclusive solution proposed by someone who isn't cisgender.


Update: I've changed the suggested options based on guidance from this recently published article by Neilson Norman Group: Why and How to Use Demographics in UX

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  • Asking people "what do other people think your gender is" adds another layer of complexity. At the end of the day, people want to choose to room with people they feel safe with. – Sure it’s more complex, but that’s actually to account for the fact that people feels safe with others based on what they perceive and not how others identify – the people in the second sentence are also the people in the first sentence.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Dec 2, 2022 at 10:22
  • Of course. But what if you have someone who really wants to appear feminine, but they're struggling to do so? Do you require them to acknowledge that they appear masculine? And I don't think it's safe to assume that people care more about someone's appearance than they do about their gender identity.
    – Sean
    Dec 2, 2022 at 15:29

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