MENLO, PARK CALIFORNIA – You don’t have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore. The social media giant is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms that people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: “him,” “her” or “them.”
Facebook said the changes, shared with reporters 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.”
Facebook plans to take it global after working with activists abroad to come up with terms appropriate in other countries.
“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 undergoing gender transformation from male to female. She said she was 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.”
Facebook, which has 1.23 billion active monthly users around the world, also allows them to keep their gender identity private and will continue to do so.
The Williams Institute, a think tank based at the University of California, Los Angeles, estimates that at least 700,000 individuals in the U.S. identify as “transgender,” an umbrella term that includes people who live as a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth.
The growing transgender rights movement in the U.S. has been led by veteran activists and young people who identify as transgender at younger ages. 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.
“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. “Facebook’s action is one that I hope others heed in supporting individuals’ multifaceted identities.”
At this point, Facebook targets advertising according to male or female genders. For those who change to something neutral, ads will be targeted based on the pronoun they select for themselves. Unlike getting engaged or married, changing gender is not registered as a “life event” on the site and won’t post on timelines.