News & Views
Facebook’s gender options make history

Facebook has taken a giant step forward by introducing a new range of gender options, enabling transgender individuals to choose from up to 50 new terms. To the majority of Facebook’s 1.15 billion active users, this will make no difference whatsoever. But to many transgender users, including Facebook’s own software engineer Brielle Harrison, this change “means the world.”

“All too often transgender people like myself and other gender noncomforming people are given this binary option, do you want to be male or female? What is your gender?” Harrison told the Associated Press. “And it’s kind of disheartening because none of those let us tell others who we really are… 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.”

Facebook implemented its new gender feature after consulting with a number of transgender advocacy groups. Among the 50 new options are terms such as “transgender”, “bi-gender”, “androgynous” and “transsexual”.

“Fifty-six sounds like a lot,” says blogger Evia Simon, “but actually a lot of them are variations on a theme.” Meanwhile, on Twitter, the news has had a tremendously warm reception, with social media trainer Amanda Webb calling Facebook “one step ahead” of its peers. Meanwhile, @blackic offered Facebook users a helpful tip: “For people trying to change gender/pronoun settings on Facebook, you have to have your language set as US English first. #psa”

Facebook’s director of growth, Alex Schultz, says there was absolutely “no debate” regarding potential implications, such as backlash from some of Facebook’s less tolerant members. “It was simple”, he says. “Not allowing people to express something so fundamental is not really cool, so we did something. Hopefully a more open and connected world will, by extension, make this a more understanding and tolerant world.”

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