Representatives from social media site Facebook have announced that they are adding several new site options, which will allow users to effectively customize their gender.
This action was taken after Facebook employees consulted members of 5 leading gay and transgender advocacy groups.
There will now be around 50 new options, including ‘bi-gender’, ‘transgender’ and ‘androgynous’. It will also be possible for users to choose whether the site refers to them as ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’.
Facebook engineer Brielle Harrison told the press that, “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,” However, as of 2011, there were an estimated 700,000 transgender adults in the US, so this decision is likely to positively effect a sizeable amount of people.
Gender is not the same concept as sex, or even sexuality, yet the general public erroneously considers all of them to be interchangeable. Whilst a person’s sex simply refers to their sexual organs, the term ‘gender’ actually describes their social role within a broader cultural context.
For example, a person who considers him/herself to be bi-gender can often feel trapped when forced to conform to a culturally enforced ‘male’ or ‘female’ gender role. Bi-gender people generally exhibit traits indicative of multiple sexes, or occasionally create alternate personas for both their male and female sides.
People who describe themselves as transgender feel that a sex-based description is an incomplete one. They do not appreciate the rigid definition of ‘male’ or ‘female’ being thrust upon them and prefer instead to define themselves. This is, of course, totally independent of a person’s sexual orientation. It is possible for a heterosexual male to identify as a female (and vice versa).
For another example, intersex individuals are people born with a variation in their sex characteristics, making them neither male nor female in terms of biology. Often, these people find our cultural enforcement of gender roles to be stifling and deeply emotionally unsettling.
As of this week, Facebook’s English-speaking users will have the option to define themselves by these, or a multitude of other gender-based characteristics. The decision will allow users “to express themselves in an authentic way” according to Facebook.
This move reflects the growing exposure that LGBT groups and individuals are getting within contemporary culture. The Transgender Law Center in San Francisco stated that they were “thrilled” by the news. They are likely not alone.