The technology that I want to design is a peer-sourced location-based mobile application that catalogues binary gendered spaces and provides a safe anonymous place to share experiences in those spaces with a community made up primarily of others who are more able understand these experiences. The target user of this application is an individual with a non-binary gender identity, with the specific intention of being useful to those who suffer from anxiety. 39% of non-binary individuals presented anxiety symptoms in a 2014 study as opposed to 28.8% of the general population (Budge, Howard, & Rossman, 2014).
89% of non-binary individuals have reported “some discomfort” when encountering binary gendered rest-rooms (Factor and Rothblum, 2008). The app would allow users to know in advance whether a location has binary gendered restrooms, whether there is a non-binary option, and whether that option is still labeled using binary language or imagery (many unisex bathroom signs are either the “family bathroom” with a depiction of a traditional family or a have a sign depicting a male and female symbol separated by a line). The user could also deliberately seek out facilities that provide non-binary options (with details about how) in addition to simply viewing information about all facilities around them. This logic could be applied to other facilities including locker rooms and dressing rooms which are often segregated according to binary gender.
In cases of other potentially binary gendered spaces, like clothing stores, the app would provide the user with information about these spaces in their immediate vicinity. This includes what kind of binary gendered language and/or imagery they may encounter and reports from other users about the environment they encountered in the space. The user can then make informed decisions about spaces they will enter and allow them to cope with exposure to spaces which can be distressing by providing advance knowledge. By being able to read about other user’s experiences (submitted anonymously) users can, for example, avoid spaces where others have experienced discrimination. Of course not all experiences are negative. Users can also share good experiences and can choose to favor spaces where others have had good experiences.
The ability of users to share their experiences is important in creating a social support element in the app. Social support refers to “‘support accessible to an individual through social ties to other individuals, groups, and the larger community’” (Lin et al., 1979, as cited in Ozbay et al., 2007). This network is most commonly made up of “family, friends, neighbors, and community members” (Ozbay et al., 2007). These are essentially the people who an individual feels they can trust and who can provide help for them. The app would seek to extend this network to other users of the app by allowing the user to be in contact with and safely share feelings and experiences with other users. Ideally users would also be able to interact, replying to posts. A voting system where negatively scored posts are taken down and reviewed could help to make sure the function is used in a constructive manner despite anonymity.
Social support has an important effect on mental health. Among non-binary (genderqueer) individuals higher levels of social support (or a stronger network) have been linked to lower levels of both anxiety and depression, but in the case of anxiety it was also linked to an increase in healthy emotional coping (“facilitative coping”) methods which in turn are linked to lower anxiety (Budge, Howard, & Rossman, 2014). The function of the app in providing a medium for social support is of increased importance considering that non-binary (genderqueer) individuals have been found to receive less social support from their families (a key part of the social support network) than binary gendered siblings (Factor and Rothblum, 2008).
Therefore the app could increase perceptions of social support for users and possibly lead to lower levels of anxiety, but also could encourage “facilitative” coping in other areas of life which could lead to further lowered anxiety levels. Facilitative coping is “when an individual seeks psychotherapy, becomes open to learning new skills, attempts to positively adapt, and are open to other/additional avenues of happiness” (Budge, Howard, & Rossman, 2014). By this definition, the app not only could encourage healthy coping in other areas of life, but actually itself qualifies as a method facilitative coping by providing resources to help users positively adapt to their surroundings (by empowering users to make informed decisions).
Budge, S., Rossman, K., & Howard, K. (2014). Coping and psychological distress among genderqueer individuals: The moderating effect of social support.Journal F LGBT Issues in Counseling, 8(1), 95-117. Retrieved February 12, 2015, fromhttp://www.tandfonline.com.libproxy.temple.edu/doi/full/10.1080/15538605.2014.853641#abstract
Factor, R., & Rothblum, E. (2008). Exploring Gender Identity And Community Among Three Groups Of Transgender Individuals In The United States: MTFs, FTMs, And Genderqueers. Health Sociology Review, 17(3), 235-253. Retrieved February 14, 2015, from http://go.galegroup.com.libproxy.temple.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE|A188159176&v=2.1&u=temple_main&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&authCount=1
Ozbay, F., Johnson, D., Dimoulas, E., Morgan, III., C., Charney, D., & Southwick, S. (2007). Social Support and Resilience to Stress From Neurobiology to Clinical Practice. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 4(5). Retrieved February 21, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921311/#B14