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in brief: new gender options made available on Facebook

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A recent update to social media site Facebook has resulted in approximately 50 different terms which users can use to describe their gender. The update signifies a move away from traditional gender binary discussion of ‘male’ or ‘female’, and aims to make the site more inclusive for the LGBTIQ members of its 159 million monthly users.

Previously Facebook only allowed users to pick ‘male’ or ‘female’. This update has now opened up options to reflect identification needs for the online trans* community. As well as being to identify as a different gender, users are now also given the option to use a menu to fully customise which pronouns Facebook refers to you as.

Whilst the changes may not affect all users, the update is a significant step in making sites like Facebook more inclusive of gender identity diversity. As Facebook software engineer, Brielle Harrison said, ‘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.’

Harrison, a self identifying trans* woman, knows all too well the difficulties that gender binaries can create, ‘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?’ says Harrison, ‘and it’s kind of disheartening because none of those let us tell others who we really are. This kind of changes that…’

The move also demonstrates how important one’s online presence has become in forming an identity. Chad Griffin, director of the Human Rights Campaign explains, ‘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.’

Facebook has added the new gender settings to their privacy help page, outlining how a user may change their settings. Rainbow flags were hung at the site’s headquarters to commemorate the decision.

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