It’s not just “male” and “female” anymore.
In a long-overdue acknowledgement of the full gender spectrum, Facebook users don’t have to identify as “male” or “female” anymore. The social networking monolith just announced that as of today, the site will offer a “custom” gender setting, with about 50 new options people can use to describe themselves, including “Transgender,” “Intersex,” “Androgynous” and “Gender Fluid,” among many others. To go with the new identity options, Facebook will also let users to specify their preferred gender pronoun — either he/his, she/her, or they/their (for now). And the site will let you define exactly who gets to see your gender settings, so you don’t have to share everything with every estranged aunt and coworker if you don’t want to.
The changes — made under the advisement of various LGBT activist groups — are a major step. “There’s going to be a lot of people for whom this is going to mean nothing, but for the few it does impact, it means the world,” Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison tells the AP. And Harrison is among the first to take advantage of the new settings: today, she changed her Facebook identity from Female to TransWoman — “for the first time,” she says, “I get to go to the site and specify to all the people I know what my gender is.” That matters for Harrison, but it also matters for everyone: as Mason Davis, executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center put it, the new setting options help make it possible for everyone to “be their authentic selves online.”
But while Facebook has come a long way, commenters on the site’s Diversity page point out that the site could have gone — and still could go — even further. One parent points out that “there is still no option to identify my relationship with my queer/genderqueer child without selecting Son or Daughter.” Other people wonder why you can’t just write in your preferred gender identity — while there are vastly more options now, you’re still selecting from Facebook’s approved picks. And since the feature only works for people using the site in U.S. English, it doesn’t do much for folks abroad yet.
Overall, though, the response has been positive — and deservedly so. “Not allowing people to express something so fundamental is not really cool so we did something,” explains Facebook’s director of growth Alex Schultz. Good job, Facebook.