New emojis released with iOS 13.2 (courtesy of the Emojipedia Blog)

Last week, Apple announced the release of non-binary options to supplement the emoji humanoid characters such as airline pilots, royalty, firefighters, and artists. Now you can communicate doing all those things without having to commit to long or short hair, or gendered clothing, or oppressively masculine or feminine eyebrows. You can be really SEEN as the nonbinary individual you are — which according to iOS 13.2, is as a person of mid-length haircut maybe wearing a touch of mascara but not definitely.

Some feel this expansion of the emoji catalogue (a move first made by Google some six months ago) is a step in the right direction in terms of shattering the oppressive and performative aspects of gender. But others feel that it inadvertently reinforces even more gender stereotypes, limiting nonbinary individuals to greyish androgynous figures defined primarily by their haircuts.

At the risk of sounding like an old man yelling at a cloud here, I’m going to argue that PERHAPS the real crux of the issue is that identifying as nonbinary represents a rejection of social constructs in a way that is so nuanced it cannot be summed up by a little cartoon character that we use in lieu of language. That some concepts actually have to be talked about and processed, and then fucked up and then practiced some more, and then talked about MORE. (Which is to say, YES you really have to accept they/them as a singular pronoun, and YES you have to stop watching porn that spurs body dysphoria, and no one should be differently compensated in terms of our labor economy — CAN WE GET AN EMOJI FOR THAT??? Someone get Google on the case, they are obviously so woke.)

So, yes, representation is important. More haircut emojis? Great, why not? Does it help with anything? No, it’s just Capitalism doing the Capitalist thing, where it co-opts identity and sells it back to a public ever-clamoring for more customized virtual experiences to shove into the void of lost human connection. We can’t even truly argue the value inasmuch as it might spark interesting conversation, because we don’t talk to each other as much as we used to — our experience is progressively limited by what can be communicated in generalized imagery like emojis and GIFs. Have you been on a dating app lately? People who identify as men often seem to think that sending GIFs is a form of relationship-building. WHAT DO THEY MEAN, GUYS? USE YOUR WORDS, this critic yelled at a cloud, before retreating to life at a convent.

All hail the gender-neutral Bowie!

The absolutely funniest part of this expanded emoji vocabulary, to me, is the new David Bowie character. Before, there was boy-Bowie and girl-Bowie, but now there is a neu-Bowie. Guys … any David Bowie emoji IS the gender-neutral emoji. The fact that you are trying to stratify the gender of Bowies is all the proof necessary that whoever is in charge of emojis DOES NOT GET IT.  

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....

One reply on “New Non-Binary Emojis Fall Short of Their Good Intentions”

  1. This is the literal definition of insanity; these are literally 1×1 pixel cartoons. What is next, decolonized emojis? Let’s just cancel all emojis, capital letters, colour, and pixels. No one is happy, ever.

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