Gender More Than Just Male and Female


Leave it to Facebook to remind everyone that gender is more than just male and female, but 50 possibilities? Who knew? Some folks are at least aware that a basic difference exists between “sex” and “gender.” According to the World Health Organization, “sex” is about biological and physical characteristics. For example, the male body usually has more bone mass than the female body, among other purely physical differences.

“Gender,” on the other hand, is about roles, activities, and behaviors that a particular society deems appropriate for one sex or the other. For example, worldwide, women do more housework than men do and in most countries, women earn less for the work they do.

Still, from tax forms to insurance applications, most of the time when a person is asked to specify, the only options are “male” and “female.”

This week, Facebook announced that it is offering their nearly 160 million US users more options — about 50 of them, in fact.

Working with several lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups, Facebook added dozens of options using a drop down list to allow users to expand answers to gender questions on their profiles. Among the new choices are “bigender” and “gender queer.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, shows that LGBT groups are doing a good job of educating Americans. Pointing out that transgender people must still cope with bullying, harassment, disrespect, and violence, she hailed Facebook’s action as a significant sign of progress.”

Oddly, for some transgender people, more options may make choosing more difficult because they may prefer to be referred to simply as male or female regardless of their sex determination. The problem, according to Carrie Davis from the LGBT Community Center in New York City, is that the words are loaded. A transgender person may want to be more open with some people than with others.

The idea that gender can be more than just male and female is itself troubling for some people. Jeff Johnston, analyst for the Colorado based Focus on the Family, muddled the distinction between sex and gender stating that humanity is divided into male and female, and saying that an infinite number of genders exist does not make it so.

So far, at least the public comments about the new Facebook choices have been at least accepting, though occasionally with some reservation. One person complained that as soon as a person makes a declaration, they have restricted themselves. Others indicated that they do not mind the choices, but were a little uncomfortable with just too much information.

Nevertheless, it seems that Facebook has taken a courageous leap.  The idea for expanding options has been in the works for about a year and Facebook worked closely with a variety of community groups to before making the move.

At the very least, Facebook has made non-conforming gender people welcome to its online family. More importantly, it has taken a step that will, no doubt, help younger people who often feel isolated. Opinions on the matter aside, gender is more that just male and female and for those who find themselves outside the norm, choice is important.

Editorial by Sharon I. Fawley


World Health Organization
Dallas News
Headlines and Global News

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