Facebook added 58 custom gender options for its users last February, and the social network announced No. 59 Thursday, offering a free-form field for them to populate as they see fit.
The new option was revealed in a Facebook Diversity post:
Last year, we were proud to add a custom gender option to help people better express their identities on Facebook. We collaborated with our Network of Support, a group of leading LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) advocacy organizations, to offer an extensive list of gender identities that many people use to describe themselves. After a year of offering this feature, we have expanded it to include a free-form field.
Now, if you do not identify with the pre-populated list of gender identities, you are able to add your own. As before, you can add up to 10 gender terms and also have the ability to control the audience with whom you would like to share your custom gender. We recognize that some people face challenges sharing their true gender identity with others, and this setting gives people the ability to express themselves in an authentic way.
The expanded custom gender option is available to everyone who uses Facebook in U.S. English.
Facebook software engineer Ari Chivukula was part of the team that created the new option. Chivukula, who identifies as transgender, told AP the change will lead to more widespread acceptance of people who don’t identify themselves as men or women, adding:
We’re hoping this will open up the dialogue.
Stanford University gender identity researcher Alison C.K. Fogarty told AP giving users more control over their identities is a significant step, adding:
People are still fighting to make room for gender identity within the socially constructed binary of male and female. Labels and identities are powerful in that they give a sense of community, a way of articulating one’s experience.
This helps to accelerate trans acceptance in our country. I’m excited about the future for gender identity.
The Human Rights Campaign issued a release commending the move by Facebook, with HRC Foundation director, workplace equality program and Corporate Equality Index co-author Deena Fidas saying:
Facebook has demonstrated a commitment to LGBT equality, both within the company, earning a 100 percent on our Corporate Equality Index, which measures workplace LGBT inclusion, and through these very meaningful changes to their networking platform.
HRC Foundation director of program strategies Jay Brown added:
Facebook is a place where many LGBT users can be exactly who we are, free of the legal, social and financial barriers facing us offline. Creating a free-form field for gender is a perfect solution for ensuring that gender-expansive users have that kind of freedom.
Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, supports Facebook’s decision:
Facebook’s new free-form field for gender identity is a huge step forward for transgender, gender nonconforming and gender queer youth. The internet is an essential source of resources, support and community for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth, and one of its most important ‘living rooms’ now better reflects their reality and self-understanding.
Readers: What do you think of Facebook’s new free-form gender-expression option?