By: CECELIA ROEDER
For 10 years, Facebook users had two options when it came to selecting their gender: male and female.
However, Facebook announced Feb. 13 that U.S. users now have the option of a “new custom gender option to help you better express your own identity on Facebook.”
Facebook explained in a post on their Facebook Diversity page that they had collaborated with LGBT advocacy league Network of Support to create and offer “an extensive list of gender identities that many people use to describe themselves.”
Users can now choose from a list of over 50 options to describe their gender (see list below).
In addition to additional gender options, users can now choose their preferred pronoun: male (he/his), female (she/her) or neutral (they/their).
Facebook also added the option for users to choose who can or can’t see their 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,” the announcement stated.
Most reactions online have been overwhelmingly positive. A handful of pundits cracked off-color jokes about the change, but they’re in the minority. The most notable criticism came from Jeff Johnston, an issues analyst for the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family.
“Of course Facebook is entitled to manage its wildly popular site as it sees fit,” he said, “but here is the bottom line: It’s impossible to deny the biological reality that humanity is divided into two halves, male and female,”
Reaction on the change at IU South Bend appears to be largely supportive. Freshman Jonah Jaworski said that while he hadn’t taken a look at the new options firsthand, “I’m glad Facebook is accepting of diversity.”
Jaworski also thought that the new pronoun option ‘they’ was also positive. “I think using something like ‘it’ would be just offensive.”
IUSB student Liam Wilde also liked the expanded options.
“As a genderqueer person, I often feel very alienated from a lot of the mainstream world, as if I don’t really fit into “normal” spaces,” Wilde said. “It was really exciting to see Facebook implement these changes not only because it expands the choices of our gender markers on our personal pages, but because this kind of modification to the gender signifiers points to a larger social shift. I’m excited that gender is being seen as a spectrum, and that the generation after us is growing up in a social environment that supports that.”
Alec Hosterman, senior lecturer in communication arts at IUSB, thinks the change is “a significant” move for Facebook.
“[Facebook is] moving from the traditional binary of male or female to a more inclusive representation of our contemporary society,” he said.
Hosterman said the change also reflects a move towards having our digital selves match our physical selves.
“We personalize our pages with profile pictures, colors, text and information, having it represent all that we are and want to be to others. To have a more accurate descriptor of our gender or sexual identity helps us communicate a more authentic self to everyone,” Hosterman said.
It’s unclear if Facebook’s new changes will spark changes among other sites. While Google+ already offers an “other” option for gender, so no other notable sites have moved to change their gender settings. Hosterman said that while he doubted all apps will begin to offer these options, he could see more popular apps adding additional options in the near future.
Some, like Wilde, see the new options as an opportunity for those who identify with traditional gender identities.
“I think it’s rad that cisgender men/women (people who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth) have an option, further breaking down the idea that there is a ‘normal’ kind of gender,” Wilde said. “I’d really encourage cis folks who haven’t yet to change their profiles to reflect that.”
Available gender options on Facebook as reported by Slate on 2/13/14:
• Cis Female
• Cis Male
• Cis Man
• Cis Woman
• Cisgender Female
• Cisgender Male
• Cisgender Man
• Cisgender Woman
• Female to Male
• Gender Fluid
• Gender Questioning
• Gender Variant
• Male to Female
• Trans Female
• Trans* Female
• Trans Male
• Trans* Male
• Trans Man
• Trans* Man
• Trans Person
• Trans* Person
• Trans Woman
• Trans* Woman
• Transgender Female
• Transgender Male
• Transgender Man
• Transgender Person
• Transgender Woman
• Transsexual Female
• Transsexual Male
• Transsexual Man
• Transsexual Person
• Transsexual Woman