Facebook has gone way beyond allowing people to declare that they are in a relationship and their sexual preference in a partner. Users can now click on the basic two gender options or add more than 50 other choices. Does it really add clarity to offer so many gender options, or confusion?
Facebook has always allowed its 1.5 billion active users to keep their gender identity private and continues to do so. Now, the social network site offers an extensive list of gender identities that many people choose when describing themselves. A pull-down menu has also been added for those selecting one of the new gender options to indicate a preferred pronoun by which they prefer being addressed publicly: female (she/her), male (he/him) or neutral (they/them). There is a privacy setting that lets users control to which audiences they want to show their gender information.
The company explained on its own Facebook page that people come to the site to connect with causes and organizations they care about. So the company added the options to help them feel comfortable expressing who they are.
Facebook representatives said that the decision to allow users to change gender options for clarity on their preferences did not happen overnight. The company talked with a variety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy groups and activists before making the changes.
Alex Schultz, the Facebook Director of Growth, indicated the company had no qualms about the implications of allowing so many options. He said the intent was to allow people to express something fundamental and create more understanding and tolerance.
A software engineer who worked on the project, Brielle Harrison, explained that the availability of 50+ options will not mean a lot to most people, but is important for those it does impact. For Harrison, it is personal. The engineer is in the process of transitioning gender from male to female and reportedly switched her Facebook identity to Trans Woman. She explained that too often transgender or gender nonconforming people are given a male or female choice that does not let them tell others who they really are.
The Facebook gender choices are confusing to those not familiar with gender identification differences. For example, there is such specificity as cisgender, a person who identifies with a gender assigned at birth, or agender, someone who does not identify with any gender. Other options that have been identified include Trans Male, Gender Questioning, Bigender, Androgynous and Two-Spirit. There are also a variety of Transgender or Transsexual categories that allow people to indicate whether they view themselves as Male or Female versus the gender assigned at birth.
The reception has been largely positive to the changes. However, some comments on the company’s own Facebook page point out that other areas of the site are still binary in gender choices, such as son/daughter or interested in male/female.
The new gender clarity options on Facebook can only be added within the U.S. right now. The company does plan to eventually introduce similar changes worldwide.
By Dyanne Weiss