If you don’t identify as a male or female, it can be hard to navigate every day situations. Gender nonconforming people are often misgendered and misunderstood. We haven’t built a social structure that is good at dealing with gray areas in gender identity, but we’re getting better.
How do I know? Facebook has added a slew of new gender options. Not only will you be able to identify as transgender, genderqueer, intersex, etc., but you’ll be able to specify what gender pronouns you want to be referred to as. You can choose between the gendered he/his and she/her, or you can choose the neutral they/their.
Previously, Facebook users were required to select either “male” or “female” in the gender identification field. Users now [have] the option to select “Custom.” Once users select custom, they will have the ability to enter up to ten identification terms (e.g., transgender, androgynous, genderqueer, etc.) to better express their gender identities. Users who use the new custom gender options will also have the ability to choose the pronoun they’d like to be referred to publicly and select which groups of their Facebook friends they feel safe sharing their gender field with.
Not everyone is accepting of genders outside the binary, so this type of privacy setting is necessary for safety. In an email, Facebook publicist Will Hodges said:
We also have added the ability for people to control the audience with whom they want to share their custom gender. We recognize that some people face challenges sharing their true gender identity with others, and this setting gives people the ability to express themselves in an authentic way.
For most people, this change isn’t a big deal. But for everyone else, this is huge and awesome. For the first time, Facebook users have the option of accurately reflecting their genders.
The cynic in me can’t help but think that this information will help Facebook generate ad revenue. It changes the way ads are targeted in some instances. According to the Associated Press:
At this point, Facebook targets advertising according to male or female genders. For those who change to something neutral, ads will be targeted based on the pronoun they select for themselves. Unlike getting engaged or married, changing gender is not registered as a “life event” on the site and won’t post on timelines. Therefore, Facebook said advertisers cannot target ads to those who declare themselves transgender or recently changed their gender.
This isn’t the first time Facebook has made LGBT-friendly changes to the site. Three years ago Facebook added “civil union” and “domestic partnership” to the list of relationship statuses. Last year, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and 700 Facebook employees marched in the San Francisco Pride Parade.
So it makes sense that Facebook didn’t really take into account any potential backlash to the change. According to Facebook’s director of growth, it was just the right thing to do.
At Facebook, staffers said the expanded options were never questioned, from CEO Mark Zuckerberg on down.
“Really, there was no debate within Facebook about the social implications at all,” said Alex Schultz, director of growth. “It was simple: 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.”
Whether you “like” Facebook or not, it’s hard to deny that they’ve done a good thing.
Image credit: mkhmarketing via Flickr