SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

February 14, 2014

New gender options for Facebook users

MENLO PARK, Calif. — 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 people can use to identify their gender, as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them.

Facebook said the changes, shared with The Associated Press before the launch yesterday, 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.

“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. Yesterday, 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.”

Facebook, which has 1.15 billion active monthly users around the world, also allows them to keep their gender identity private and will continue to do so.

The change to the gender selection option is seen as a major step toward acceptance for people who don’t self-identify as male or female, but the high-profile development seemed senseless to those who believe in two genders, no more.

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