Guess My Gender by clit*IT: An Exercise in the Uncomfortable

Spoilers ahead!

Go ahead, guess my gender.

Your response, like mine, may be extreme discomfort. I have no desire to “guess” anything about anyone’s identity; I am all for asking for pronouns upon meeting someone new, and the rest of it? If you want to tell me, I want to hear, but I’m not going to ask you.

There are others who do not ascribe to this way of life. People look at babies and read: pink = girl, blue = boy, other colors and no hairbow? Just ask! Or assume. “Oh what long eyelashes on your beautiful little girl!” I was once a daycare teacher to infants and toddlers. The comments made by parents about the gender and presentation of children were often appalling. So many opinions on how long a little boy’s hair should be, or what level of nudity was acceptable for a two year old girl.

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The game developer clit*IT focuses on this exact issue in their game Guess My Gender. The company, in their own words, “is a Vienna based team of two. Since 2013 they deal with digital games from a queer_feminist perspective while putting the medium itself in focus. They are convinced that digital games can provide another level of queer_feminist critique.” Their other games vary greatly. Run Muybridge, run! is a fun, simple “game” focused on the studies of Eadweard Muybridge that shows you animations of various animals and people running, the speed dictated by the movements of your phone. Pigeonwings and Fries is a strangely entertaining one-screen sidescroller that allows you to control a squirrel eating fries, slowly being taken down by pigeon poop.

They are the kind of developer I love happening across. They are stretching what it means to “game,” and what games can do for an audience. This is particularly apparent in Guess My Gender. Like the rest of their games it starts out with little to no intro, and very few instructions. Just a photo of a child and three options: “I can’t tell,” “It’s a boy,” or “It’s a girl.” The three buttons switch around on each picture so it’s easy to hit the “wrong” button. The game doesn’t tell you if you’re “wrong” or “right” after your selection, it just moves to the next photo. There are 21 photos in the first level, the completion of which brings you to the second level of 21 photos, which the completion of which brings you to the third level of 21 photos.

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Uncomfortable yet? You’re supposed to be. “Why do we need to put anybody into categories to create somebody?” the game asks at the end. “What if it would be possible to just quit gender?” When you’ve finished your three levels of gendering infants the game begins to tally up your decisions and then moves to show you the “right” answer. Which is that gender is fabricated. There’s a couple of minutes of slowly scrolling text explaining that gender is decided for us before we’re capable of making the decision on our own.

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It also proposes that we should quit gender. Or, at least, it gives you the opportunity to state that you will “quit gender.” Personally I do not plan on quitting my gender, but I do plan on having many conversations about what gender means, and who gets to define it for an individual. This game is a tool for those kinds of dialogues. Combining adorable baby photos with a tap-tap game setup might be a good vehicle to let people explore their assumptions about gender. I think the majority of gamers downloading this game are already a part of understanding gender as a spectrum, so it’s a little bit of preaching to the choir. But if there was a way to promote this game to others, to the casual phone gamers who feel comfortable declaring babies wrapped in blue “boys,” maybe this would help affect real change.

All of clit*IT’s games are available online and in the Google Play store, and all ask you to “name your own price.”

Al Rosenberg is the Games Section Editor for Women Write About Comics, a Shimer College proselytizer, and general Obsession Collector. Currently she's acquiring tattoos in Chicago in-between zine-making, Hebrew lessons and Adventure Time marathons.

Al has written 7 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. Yeesh, just because something has a stated progressive intention doesn’t mean it will be used or end up that way. There’s very little which separates this “game” from the endless “woman or man” videos on YouTube which are basically intended to provide big laughs while outing and putting down trans women (and evaluating cis women’s supposed level of ‘femininity.’) Nor is there little if any difference between this and Maury Povich’s infamous shows where the audience looks at a parade of women (most of whom are trans) and not unlike a crowd at a roman colosseum, yells out “it’s a man Maury, it’s a man!” Created for the purpose of opening dialog about gender… good for them. But that doesn’t in the least guarantee that’s how it will be used. Just because you say an app is for educational purposes doesn’t mean it provides education and might not even become a tool of oppression. Personally, I find the makers of this very clueless and naive.

    • Agreed. This gave me a bad feeling, and I would never play this “game.” Why would I even want to try to guess the gender of a bunch of babies? It’s squicky, and it reminds me of exactly the kind of things Gina mentions.

    • I feel like this is the exact opposite of those Maury episodes? Like, the point is that you’re supposed to feel gross about guessing the gender of babies based on societies rules for what gender should be. This article talked about how the game doesn’t tell you if you’re “right or wrong” after each selection, and when it does tell you the “correct” answer, that answer is that gender is a social construct. As far as I can tell, the point of this game isn’t to surprised people by tricking them into guessing the wrong gender, it’s to show them that their guessing was misguided and unnecessary in the first place.

      • Mey, my point is “the point” won’t be the same for everyone who does this and that what some people experience from guess-the-gender will be completely different than what someone else gets from it. Honestly, the entire “OMG, I’m guessing the gender of babies, I must be messed up…” reaction will only be experienced by those who likely already believe “gender is a social construct” (which, btw, I think is a huge over-simplification of what gender actually comprises) so you’re pretty much preaching to the choir. And people who want to play guess-the-gender because they think it’s funny or even gross entertainment, will give a damn about the engineered intention of the app and for those people, you’re just playing into their “spot-the-tr*nny skills.”

        • I don’t think someone who wants to play a “spot-the-tr*nny” game will find this game satisying. Without ever learning the real “answers” of who is what gender, this game is probably worthless to them. In fact, this seems like a parody of their way of thinking–especially as it includes babies without any recognizable “gender markers” and even an ultrasound. So I think it would leave most of them frustrated and offended–not amused and titilated. Honestly, I like the basic idea of the game because anything that attacks people’s practice of nonconsensually assigning a gender to babies is important in my book. I do wish it mentioned trans people though and had more of a message of individual gender self-determination as opposed to “quitting” gender. Also, I wish it had made it more explicit that what adults do is force babies to have a certain types of life based off what their CROTCHES look like, which if you ask me is just child sexual abuse that’s been normalized. Still, I like that this game attacks a harmful social practice that the vast majority of people enforce and take for granted.

  2. Interesting idea. It’s nice to see AS talk a little more about gender in this way. But personally, I do not think video games can affect real change, at least not on a widespread level, the level that’s needed. One way that can actually happen is by media inclusion of more perspectives that question society’s automatic gendering: aka, trans and nonbinary perspectives. When it comes to AS, this website has made progress on the inclusion of trans women, but I would really love to see more content relevant to or written by nonbinary folks and trans men. I get that AS was originally designed for queer women, but honestly, I feel that continuing to divide the queer community along binary gender lines is counterproductive. I’m an AFAB formerly queer-woman-identified and now nonbinary-identified person, and I still need, want, and access AS content on a daily basis. It’s still relevant to my life, but it’s alienating when every article refers to “queer women,” and when “queer” implicitly means bisexual or lesbian. I think cis gay men already have enough media that’s skewed toward their needs, but other than that, why exclude folks?

    Just my two cents and something I’ve been thinking about for awhile, and this article sparked me actually saying it. (Which maybe indicates that video games can in fact spark change. Haha!)

    • As someone who remembers when Autostraddle had trans men as writers and caught a lot of flack for it (“why are men here? do you not recognise their manhood?”) it seems like they just can’t win.

      I’m non-binary myself (albeit in a more center-of-center/what even is center way) and I have read many wonderful things on this here website about non-binary gender. Check out Whitney Pow’s writing or the Butch, Please series!

      • Just to clarify Dina… what people (including myself) were criticizing AS for was that for quite some time, the ONLY trans writer on the staff was a trans man (who did not ID as non-binary) and that the only trans or genderqueer people getting space on the site were AFAB ones. That and there was still a good deal of trans women dismissing content on the site. So let’s not say “they can’t win” when there was very legit reason for restructuring on that regard.

          • Nope. Not at the same time. Sebastian first, then later Annika. And Sebastian quit AS because he had his own issues about writing on a women’s site. But I’m not sure I get what this has to do with the app?

        • “That and there was still a good deal of trans women dismissing content on the site.”
          Hey, I know we’re going off on a tangent here, but do you recall anything specific w/r/t this? I ask bc I remember this time period, but I don’t remember anything like that. I’m cis, so there’s a good chance that I would have looked over something that would be blaring to someone who isn’t.

          To me, one of the most mind-boggling parts of consistently working to be a better ally is reckoning with all the problematic to downright damaging shit I’ve perpetuated or witnessed without a second thought–even when I thought I was doing pretty good… But seeing that is absolutely key to the process, so if you remember, I’d appreciate being clued in.

      • Hey Dina – I know there have been some things relevant to nonbinary folks on AS. But the Butch Please series was 2 years ago, and I can’t find anything for an author named Whitney Pow when I use the search function. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. But it’s also not just about content; it’s the way language is used on the site that assumes all the readers are of binary gender identity and date other folks of binary gender identity (example: Lesbosexy Sunday. I am not a lesbian, I am not a woman, I am not dating anyone who id’s as a woman; this language excludes me).

        It’s not the biggest deal in the world for me; but it’s starting to feel more and more exclusive as I get comfortable being out as nonbinary, and it bums me out. I love AS and want to feel like I’m part of this community and reflected in the articles that are being published NOW, not years ago.

  3. Although I do kind of question the, uh, ‘effectiveness’ of this game’s ability to make users seriously rethink their attachment to the world of gender, I also think that there’s a lot of value in being made uncomfortable with gender. We should be uncomfortable with the idea of gendering infants! It’s a deeply weird idea!

    • Yeah, it’s so weird to me when my friends with babies get SO MAD when someone inadvertently guesses their infant child’s gender incorrectly.

      Like, the baby isn’t offended. Gender isn’t part of its understanding of itself yet. It is an adorable squishy human ball of sensation and need. It doesn’t have any secondary sex characteristics. IT’S A BABY.

  4. I can’t think of why anyone would want to play this tbh. The appeal of a guessing game lies in confirming your own ability to guess right and here there are and can be no “right” answers, so I guess to very existence of the “game” itself is make you question your assumptions but at the same time it seems like more effort went into it than necessary for that point.

    It does however remind me of my favorite story from my babyhood, which I’ll share because people are weird: I’m a cis woman but had very little hair on my head for a long time as a baby and this caused a lot of people to think I was a boy for some reason. My mom got annoyed at comments about her “son” and eventually started using Karo corn syrup to stick a bow to my head. And this is why one of my grandfathers called me Karo for the rest of his life.

  5. Yeah, I get what they were going for, but I think the people that this is going to make uncomfortable the most are trans people, like me, who have to deal with this discomfort on a daily basis. I mean, in a time when gender reveal parties are becoming more and more common, I don’t think something like this will do much good. I guess maybe it could help someone in queer circles who is currently blinded by privilege, but does actually have the capacity to change when presented with new information. But your average person, nah.

    Also, their insistence on quitting gender bugs me. Like, if you’re non-binary, more power to you. That’s great. But there are trans women and men who have to fight their families, friends, society as a whole, and even themselves to proclaim and own their true gender. And too often, they lose that fight.

    So, yeah, not feeling this.

  6. The developer’s site does say they’re coming from a queer_feminist perspective, but I’m not interpreting this game as considering trans* issues at all. Rather, I think they were focusing on the pointless genderization of childhood and infancy, and how that’s all so unnecessary and harmful.
    Kids are just kids, babies are just babies. There’s no need to go with society’s bent that a kid’s gender is the first and most important thing you need to know about them.

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