Here's What the New Facebook Gender Options Mean

You no longer have to be just male or female.

(Photo: Facebook)

Feb 18, 2014· 3 MIN READ
Stephanie Mercado is a journalism student at Cal State-Fullerton and formerly worked at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

In what may be Facebook's most pivotal profile edit, the social media platform is expanding our options when we publicly declare our gender, and it is opening the conversation about what we identify ourselves as.

Which has a lot of people wondering: How did we jump from two genders to 50 Facebook gender options overnight?

The newly developed "custom" fill-in box under the traditional “male” and “female” options is providing for a population previously unrecognized on social media platforms. As you type, a long list of gender-specific identities appears in an auto-complete drop-down menu.

The list includes Pangender, Gender Questioning, Trans Female, Transmasculine, Cis Man, Intersex, Two-Spirit, and Neither, among others. (Scroll down to see explanations, if you're not sure what some of these mean.)

Within hours of the announcement, Jay Brown in Cheverly, Md., made the click from Male to Trans Male. In San Francisco, Marilyn Roxie, went from Female to identifying as three: Androgynous, Transgender, and Genderqueer.

“When you come to Facebook to connect with the people, causes, and organizations you care about, we want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self,” it is written on Facebook Diversity, the site's pro-diversity page. “Moreover, people who select a custom gender will now have the ability to choose the pronoun they’d like to be referred to publicly—male (he/his), female (she/her) or neutral (they/their).”

People describe themselves as many things—but to include such detail in gender identification has many expressing gratitude.

One user commented, “You have made me feel like a real person and I cannot tell you how much that matters.”

"Users from across the country have been asking for the ability to reflect their gender accurately, and today Facebook showed they have been listening," Allison Palmer, former GLAAD vice president, said.

GLAAD was among the leading LGBT advocacy groups that helped Facebook develop the “custom” option.

"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 transitioning from male to female.

"For me, this is about much more than a button on a monitor," said Debon Garrigues, who made the switch from Male to Neutral. "This encourages people to think outside the binary spectrum. It means I don't have to try to fit in the wrong boxes."

Definitions of terms:

  • Agender is a person who is internally ungendered or does not have a felt sense of gender identity.
  • Androgynous is a person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor woman, presenting a gender either mixed or neutral.
  • Bigender is a person whose gender identity is a combination of man and woman.
  • Cisgender is a person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender/sex-based expectations of society (also referred to as “Gender-Straight” or “Gender Normative”).
  • Gender Fluid is a person whose gender identification and presentation shifts, whether within or outside of societal, gender-based expectations.
  • Gender Nonconforming is a person who doesn't conform to society's expectations of gender expression based on the gender binary, expectations of masculinity and femininity, or how they should identify their gender.
  • Genderqueer is a person whose gender identity is neither man nor woman, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders. This identity is usually related to or in reaction to the social construction of gender, gender stereotypes, and the gender binary system. Some genderequeer people identify under the transgender umbrella; others do not.
  • Gender Variant is a synonym for "gender diverse" and "gender non-conforming"; “gender diverse” and “gender non-conforming” are preferred to “gender variant” because variance implies a standard normativity of gender.
  • Intersex is a set of medical conditions that feature congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system. That is, intersex people are born with "sex chromosomes," external genitalia, or internal reproductive systems that are not considered "standard" for either male or female. The existence of intersexuals shows that there are not just two sexes and that our ways of thinking about sex (trying to force everyone to fit into either the male box or the female box) is socially constructed.
  • Pangender is a person whose gender identity comprises all or many gender expressions.
  • Transgender (sometimes shortened to trans or TG) people are those whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. An umbrella term for transsexuals, cross-dressers (transvestites), transgenderists, gender queers, and people who identify as neither female nor male and/or as neither a man nor as a woman. Transgender is not a sexual orientation; transgender people may have any sexual orientation. It is important to acknowledge that while some people may fit under this definition of transgender, they may not identify as such.
  • Transsexual refers to a person who experiences a mismatch of the sex they were born as and the sex they identify as. A transsexual sometimes undergoes medical treatment to change his/her physical sex to match his/her sex identity through hormone treatments and/or surgically. Not all transsexuals can have or desire surgery.
  • Two-Spirit refers to American Indian/First Nations/Native American persons who have attributes of both men and women, have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes, and are often involved with mystical rituals (shamans). Their dress is usually a mixture of men’s and women’s articles, and they are seen as a separate or third gender. The term “two-spirit” is usually considered specific to the Zuni tribe. Similar identity labels vary by tribe and include “one-spirit” and “wintke.”