I first learned of this story from Dr. James Joyner, who apparently had little to say beyond… it’s complicated. In the short version, web giant Facebook is constantly trying to create a more helpful user interface for all of the people employing the service. One aspect of that concerns the various profile options you can select when identifying yourself, specifically your gender. It seems that the boring old two choices of Male or Female weren’t enough for today’s quickly evolving world, so they added a few more.
You don’t have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore. The social media giant has added a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them.
Facebook said the changes, shared with The Associated Press before the launch on Thursday, initially cover the company’s 159 million monthly users in the U.S. and are aimed at giving people more choices in how they describe themselves, such as androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or transsexual.
“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,” said Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison, who worked on the project and is herself undergoing gender transformation, from male to female. On Thursday, while watchdogging the software for any problems, she said she was also changing her Facebook identity from Female to TransWoman.
By way of full disclosure, I don’t have a Facebook page. I did briefly back in 2010 when I’d read about it being an effective tool for campaign management, but it quickly turned out (for me) to be a tiresome time sink with shockingly invasive tendencies and little value to me, so I deleted it. (Which took a lot more effort than I had originally imagined.) I barely have time for my twitter account.
Still, I’m having a bit of trouble imagining how you can get anywhere near fifty for a number of gender selections, and that’s ignoring the fact that I’m an old fuddy duddy. Even assuming the default of two isn’t enough, I guess you’d have some sort of crossover category, but where do you go from there? In any event, there are clearly some people who are really excited about this.
“I love that I can choose Gender Neutral,” said Debon Garrigues of Asheville, N.C., who is transitioning from female to male. “I’m going to change it immediately.”
Garrigues also appreciated the opportunity to change pronoun preferences.
The idea of expanding gender choices percolated at Facebook for about a year and started to come to fruition during an in-house brainstorming four months ago, project manager Lexi Ross said.
Transgender activist Nori Herras-Castaneda, a spokeswoman for the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose, said her community has been waiting for this to happen for a long time.
“We always talk about how gender is a spectrum,” she said. “I can see a lot of people being extremely happy about this.”
A … spectrum. Well, Facebook is clearly a full service outfit, you’ve got to say that for them.