By Shawn Gakhal
Facebook announced on Feb. 13 that it would add at least 56 custom gender options to its popular social networking website in the U.S.
U.S. users can now choose from options such as “non-binary,” “gender questioning,” “two-spirit,” “androgynous” and “neither.”
“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],” Facebook said in a statement.
Facebook’s landmark announcement was praised in the LGBTQIA community.
“This new feature is a step forward in recognizing transgender people and allows them to tell their authentic story in their own words,” GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement.
The decision by Facebook to add custom gender options was spurred, in part due to a petition by the LGBT rights network All Out, which urged Facebook to acknowledge third genders.
Currently, Pakistan, Nepal, Australia and India are the only countries that legally recognize third genders.
Despite the rampant celebration for Facebook’s pro-transgender decision and message, there has been a bit of criticism from family rights groups, such as Focus on the Family.
“Of course Facebook is entitled to manage its wildly popular site as it sees fit, but here is the bottom line: It’s impossible to deny the biological reality that humanity is divided into two halves — male and female,” said Jeff Johnston, an issue analyst for Focus on the Family, in an interview with the Associated Press.
Lucas Barnhill, former RU Proud president at Roosevelt University, praised the move.
“I believe it’s more so based upon my experiences as someone that is gender variant than my past experiences as RU Proud president, as my gender identity is ever present in my daily life,” Barnhill said. “I was ecstatic. … The fact that Facebook is willing to acknowledge so many gender identities is a pretty big step towards creating visibility for the transgender and gender variant communities. Personally, I believe that visibility and education are the two most important steps we can take towards creating a society that is accepting of various gender identities.”
While Barnhill was excited at the progressiveness of the social networking site, he also said that there could be ramifications, as well.
“Honestly, I think the only drawback to having so many options are the ignorance that most Facebook users have about the options that are available,” Barnhill said. “I’m not remotely surprised by the ignorance. …There has, in general, been an uprise in positive transgender press, and the new gender options only help create more visibility for and education about our community.”
While the announcement appeared to be a monumental step forward in transgender relations in the U.S., there were a few Facebook users who were confounded by the plethora of custom gender options that the website made available.
“I may sound ignorant, but I honestly would have just assumed that it’s ‘female,’ ‘male,’ and then ‘transgender’,” Sophomore Yvonne Valdez said. “It’s crazy. … I just thought ‘male’ and ‘female’ was the gender, and then I thought ‘transgender’ would fall more into an orientation category.”
Valdez does admit that the ability to identify oneself is beneficial and ultimately, crucial.
“If [someone] can identify themselves with one of [the choices], then yeah,” Valdez said. “I feel like it shows more acceptance to more people than usual.”
Though Facebook attempted to expand upon the ever-changing definition of gender, many still argue that there is more that the social networking site can do to remedy this in the future.
“The reality is that there is an infinite amount of ways that someone can identify their gender, and no matter how hard Facebook tries, there’s always going to be someone left out, as long as you have to choose from options,” Barnhill said. “I’m not saying the new options aren’t progress and a wonderful step forward. [I’m] just explaining that by only allowing a certain number of options, [it] can be alienating to those that don’t fit the options that Facebook has listed.”