Until now Facebook users have had to choose “male” or “female” as a gender when signing up for an account, but starting Thursday for U.S. users, Facebook will allow users to select from approximately 50 alternative gender options as well as 3 possible pronouns: “His,” “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. They 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.
“All too often transgender people like myself and other gender nonconforming people are given this binary option, do you want to be male or female? What is your gender? And it’s kind of disheartening because none of those let us tell others who we really are,” she said.
“This really changes that, and for the first time I get to go to the site and specify to all the people I know what my gender is.”
Masen Davis, executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, said it may be hard for some people to understand the importance of having the ability to select from multiple genders online. But he said many transgender people will be thrilled with the change.
Facebook announced the change on the company’s Diversity page, and says that it worked with “a group of leading LGBT advocacy organizations” to compile a list of gender options. Users can change their gender settings by clicking “About” and selecting the edit icon in the upper-right hand corner of the “Basic Information” tab.
There, users can set their genders to “Custom” and then select from a long list of specific gender options. New option includes transgender, bigender, cis, and gender questioning, among many others, Mashable explains.
Reaction on social media Thursday was largely positive, although some people joked they would need a dictionary to look up many of the gender-identity terms.
The company said that the changes would initially be rolled-out to users in North America, but as of this morning Facebook accounts in the UK were also able to access the new gender options. University of California think-tank The Williams Institute estimates that 700,000 people in the US identify in some way as transgender.
The Human Rights Campaign last year found that 10 percent of the 10,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender youths it surveyed used ‘other’ or wrote in their own gender terms, reports the Daily Mail.
“Over the past few years, a person’s Facebook profile truly has become their online identity, and now Facebook has taken a milestone step to allow countless people to more honestly and accurately represent themselves,” HRC President Chad Griffin said.