By Lauren Maier
Facebook has disrupted the gender binary. Whereas before Facebook’s only gender options were male, female and an anonymising other, one can now choose from over 50 options including trans woman, trans man, agender, pangender, bigender, genderfluid, androgynous, neutrois (a variation on agender), and even gender questioning. A person also has three options in their preferred pronouns: she, he and their. These can be chosen independently of one’s gender. Thus, a genderfluid person can still use female pronouns, and a cis woman can change her pronouns to be gender neutral if they so wish.
In an interview with the Associate Press, Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison, a trans woman, noted, “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.”
Indeed, the change has been largely celebrated in the LGBT+ community because it does finally allow those outside the binary to honestly represent themselves online. For those who are afraid that selecting a particular gender identity will indiscriminately out them, Facebook has included the option to control who can see a person’s custom gender identity. With the inclusion of cisgender woman and cisgender man, Facebook has also made it easier for members of the LGBT+ community to connect with potential allies.
This is not to say that Facebook’s work is done. The custom gender option is only available to Facebook’s English-speaking communities. Furthermore, the “Interested In” category is still restricted to men and women in monogamous relationships, and familial relationships are still defined in binary terms like son, daughter, niece and nephew. The social media website’s staff have reassured their users that they are working on changing these options in the future.
Although there’s more work to do, this change is huge. When a social media platform like Facebook actively takes a stand to be more inclusive and accepting toward those who do not adhere to the gender binary, the reality of their existence can no longer be ignored. Sure, there are those who are angry about the change, citing religious texts and claiming that God only made two genders, but it seems like their outrage is being eclipsed by western society’s gradual push toward sexual and gender diversity. Now that Facebook has joined that push, other social media platforms are sure to follow suit.