Facebook is changing yet again, but this time the change may be fairly insignificant for many users and incredibly valuable for many others. In an effort to include and recognize trans identities and encourage users to express themselves fully, Facebook has implemented a feature that allows users to either select from the existing gender options – male and female – or to input a custom gender and decide who they want to be able to see it.
Transgender inclusiveness is a wide issue that several online companies have already addressed in simple ways, such as Google+ adding a third “other” option in the gender selection categories, but Facebook takes this inclusiveness to a whole new level.
The company allows users to decide their gender based on a myriad of pre-entered suggestions, or to simply be able to enter their own.
The new gender options also come with the ability to select which pronouns the person would like to be addressed with, however. Due to the complex nature of so-called “gender neutral pronouns,” and the ongoing debate surrounding them, the only options given are masculine pronouns, feminine pronouns, and neutral pronouns – in this case the singular form of “they.”
Furthermore, on top of being able to enter a custom gender, users can enter multiple things into the gender field to really accurately describe how they identify.
For the new custom gender option, Facebook worked in collaboration with trans activists and transgender people, including Facebook’s own team member, software programmer Brielle Harrison, who is a trans woman currently in the process of transitioning, in order to bring a wide array of identities into Facebook’s new feature.
One of the important features in this update, says Harrison, is that users can customize who they want to see their gender identity. Previously, gender was a necessity for a Facebook profile to be activated, and it was not able to be hidden. Now, with this new ability to customize your gender and who sees it, transgender people who have not yet started transitioning or have only come out to a handful of people can implement the privacy features to protect themselves, or lift the veil completely once they are ready.
The last major update for Facebook in a similar vein as this was back in 2011, when the company overhauled the relationship status section to include a wide array of possible romantic connections in order to reflect the true ways that people, including those in the LGBT community, are entering into relationships with one another. The update was hailed as a major step forward in the normalization of same-sex relationships. Similarly, this update is being praised by LGBT advocates and trans activists for bringing to light the faults in the accepted gender binary system and helping to normalize all gender identities.
For people who identify as trans, intersex, agender or otherwise outside of the gender binary, this new ability to customize their gender on Facebook is invaluable. Could an overhaul of the “Interested in” options to include identities outside the gender binary be in the works as well?
by Robin Syrenne