Facebook took a big step forward today when they introduced 56 additional terms to their gender menu, which until today only included male and female. These new options, available to users in the United States are an effort by the social network to help people identify or self-express beyond the gender binary. You don’t need to limit yourself to one, either. You can pick as many terms as you feel describe you.
“All too often transgender people like myself and other gender nonconforming people are given this binary option, do you want to be male or female? What is your gender? And it’s kind of disheartening because none of those let us tell others who we really are,” said Facebook engineer Brielle Harrison, who describes herself on her profile as TransWoman. “This really changes that, and for the first time I get to go to the site and specify to all the people I know, what my gender is.”
This is excellent news to trans advocates. According to UCLA’s Williams Institute, there are some 700,000 people in the U.S. who identify as transgender.
Speaking with the Huffington Post, the Human Rights Campaign called Facebook’s decision supportive. “Over the past few years, a person’s Facebook profile truly has become their online identity, and now Facebook has taken a milestone step to allow countless people to more honestly and accurately represent themselves,” said its president, Chad Griffin.
â€œIt may be hard for some people to understand the importance of having the ability to select from multiple genders online,” said Masen Davis, executive director of Transgender Law Center. “People who do not fit narrow gender stereotypes may have complex identities that they wish to express. Many transgender people will be thrilled to learn that Facebook now has a tool to ensure the appropriate pronouns are used across the platform, including third-party interactions. We applaud Facebook for making it possible for people to be their authentic selves online, and we are honored to be in the Network of Support that will continue to help Facebook improve this functionality.”
Facebook uses gender to determine how to target advertising but following this change, the network will be targeting content based on the pronouns people choose for themselves. Currently, there are only there are only three pronoun options: she, he and they.
You can select whether you want your gender to be viewable to the public, friends of friends, friends, friends except acquaintances, only yourself, or customize the group who is allowed to see this (like specifying a Circle on Google Plus).
I always rag on Facebook for chasing Google’s taillights. It seems a lot of changes at Facebook recently reflect the things people are coming up with at Plus, such as Autoawesome-style photo compilations, comment and post editing, etc. Indeed, when the competing social network launched almost three years ago, they had three options already in place: male, female and other. But including “other” is only a vague acknowledgement, a baby step at best. What Facebook has done here is push forward in a way mainstream networks rarely do. That’s amazing. I really hope that the rest of Silicon Valley takes note and chases their taillights.
Facebook has stated they won’t be releasing a comprehensive list of available terms, but Will Oremus at Slate went through every letter of the alphabet on the input field and compiled a list for those who want to have a look at the options. Keep in mind that Facebook has vowed to continue working with educators and activists to expand this list, so it may need some updating from time to time.
If you are unfamiliar with gender terms beyond male and female and want to know more, check out The Gender Book, a brilliant, full-color guide that unpacks our views on gender and imparts some of the basics of gender theory. Caitlin Dewey also has a list of terms used by Facebook and their meanings at the Washington Post Style blog.
Header image from The Gender Book.