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Good News Everyone!

Facebook Now Gives You Gender Options Besides “Male” and “Female”


Starting today, Facebook has about 50 different terms that one can use to identify one’s gender. And they’re also upping their pronoun game. Are these… positive feelings I’m having toward Facebook right now? I’m not used to this. What’s happening?

Gender isn’t just a matter of “male” or “female.” But you wouldn’t know it from visiting all the websites on the great, vast internet that ask you to choose one or the other when creating an account. Sometimes they let you choose “I’d prefer not to answer this question” or “other,” but that’s not the same thing as giving, for example, genderfluid or transgender individuals the option of identifying themselves as their actual, specific gender.

Starting today, however, Facebook is giving users that option, widening their array of genders far beyond the simple male/female. If you already have an account, all you need to do is click “update info” and then edit your “basic information.” Choose “custom” from the dropdown box and start typing. Agender is there, as is non-binary, trans, trans woman, trans man, trans person… over 50 options in all. Further, you can now select select him, her, or they as your preferred pronoun, which gets used when Facebook reminds people that it’s your birthday.

This may not seem like a bit deal to some, but Masen Davis of the Transgender Law Center warns us not to dismiss how important something like this is for transgender individuals, saying “we applaud Facebook for making it possible for people to be their authentic selves online.”

That sentiment is echoed by Brielle Harrison, a Facebook software engineer who worked on the project. She’s also undergoing gender transformation, and today changed her gender status on Facebook from female to transwoman. “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,” she says. “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. 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.”

(via: Associated Press)

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  • Becky Cunningham

    I think this is a super-fantastic thing, though I’ll note that you’re only allowed to choose genders from the drop-down box. You can’t type your own descriptor in there, which I can understand from a “keeping jerks from being jerks in this box” angle but is unfortunate for those of us who have a perferred identifier that isn’t available.

  • Elizabeth Wells

    With fifty options though, it’s WAY better than anywhere else

  • delia

    I LOVE that someone outside the male/female gender binary worked on the project.

  • Chris Coulson

    Brilliant! Bravo! Fantastic! I’m just going to laud Facebook all day.

  • John H

    One can also pick multiple gender terms! Sadly, there isn’t a “no preference” option for those of us for whom gender is not important in the slightest (agender, neither, non-binary, etc. tend to imply an active rejection of binary-gendered labels as opposed to indifference) and do not have an actual sense of gender ‘identity’, but I can get close with choosing both “neither” to represent my identity and “cisgender male” as how I’m usually read by others. I really wish they had just left it a blank box without needing to select from an auto-fill list, but this is still way better.

    I work in academia, and it shocks me that such a large number of e.g. sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists – who really ought to know better by now – still have survey forms with only man/woman or male/female as the demographic options, excluding a particular segment of the population from analysis while simultaneously failing to account for this erasure. I call them out every single time, and I’ve actually had extended e-mail conversations with a number of researchers around the country about why this is important (it’s not just marginalizing, it’s also bad science), as it’s usually a function of ignorance and thoughtlessness more than malice or a dedication to reinforcing existing gender norms. Visibility is still a serious issue, and social research often fails to recognize the problems of those who fall outside the normalized gender matrix becasue the research itself nearly always initially excludes anyone who doesn’t identify as male/female. If nothing else, this will help with visibility, though I certainly also think it’s important in its own right.

  • http://runt.org/ Adrian

    That’s really cool! What’s the difference between trans man and trans male?

  • John H

    One centers the social gender category “man” while the other centers the biological gender category “male”. The biological/social division is itself contested, and people identify based on their own experiences with how terms are deployed, so while one person may not consider them different, for another it might be an important distinction.

  • Becky Cunningham

    Absolutely!

  • http://runt.org/ Adrian

    Is there also a distinction between trans woman and trans female?

  • http://keveak.deviantart.com/ Kristina Viggers

    I know it’s still not perfect, that there are still many identities not included this way and that Facebook has serious issues with privacy and the like, but this made me so so so so so so happy.

    Really makes it feel like being transgender and/or non-binary is getting more visible and accepted, so so happy. ^_^

  • http://www.twopintsofmilkandapacketofteabags.blogspot.co.uk/ Heather Louise Kincaid

    Personally, I still have a bit of a problem with the fact that a lot of sites force you to select a specific gender as if it was relevant to anything – I’d prefer it if we didn’t get asked that question at every turn, but I guess this is better than nothing.

  • Laura Truxillo

    I feel like “they” has been an optional pronoun for a little while now? I’m, like, 90% sure I’ve seen facebook friends with that as their preferred pronoun.

    Either way, yay for people getting options!

  • Dust. Wind. Bun.

    Since you work with people who have to do demographics and such for their research, can I ask you a question? I totally get why people need to not have their identities erased – I mean, of course – but I’m struggling with this from a strictly statistical point of view. With Facebook’s 50 categories, or going to a ‘create-your-own’ category, I feel like this could make doing any sort of demographic analysis really tricky, as you now have too many groups with too small of samples in each to be able to get statistical significance out of the data. (I’ve wondered about the same thing in regards to race/ethnicity categories as well.)

    Now obviously, it’s more important to treat people as people than it is for your demographics analysis to work, but do you have any suggestions or experiences of ways to successfully do both?

    I’m picturing creating groups of similar identities depending on what you’re trying to look at (like, if your research is about something that might find performance of gender significant, maybe you group all the male-presenting identities together, the female-presenting together, and all the both/neither identities together) but as I’m a rhetoric specialist not a quant, I know there’s got to be more to it that a quantitative specialist could suggest.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Yeah, I never specified a gender on my profile because I don’t want ads catered to me based on what they think goes with my gender. It defaults as they/their. So glad Facebook instituted all these options. It’s huge.

  • Lenitas

    See, and I think that

    a) whether or not a website wants to run demographical analysis is not the individual end user’s problem and, more importantly,

    b) I question the usefulness of demographical analysis by gender anyway. We’re all very different, with massively faceted personalities, of which our gender is one (1) aspect out of many, almost all of which would be more useful to know if you want to market towards a target demographic (intro- or extrovert? generalist or specialist? etc.)

    Out of the things I like, I like most of them BECAUSE I’m an extrovert, a generalist, etc.. and I like none of them BECAUSE I’m a woman.

  • Lenitas

    I agree. If we HAVE to specify, I think the answer that most reflected the way I feel about my gender would be “Who gives a shit?” or “Why are we still talking about this?”… sadly, these are not options.

  • Anonymous

    I disagree. I think places like diaspora (if anyone used it) are better because they have a text field where you can type whatever you want. (Because it’s not associated with gendered text on the site they can get away with it.)

    And places like tumblr and twitter are also arguably better because they don’t prompt users for this information in the first place. (You’re free to play with gender representation however you wish, particularly to the extent you wish.)

  • Anonymous

    This is really cool. :-D
    Hopefully they’ll eventually allow more options for sexual orientation too. The “preference” selection is a little outdated, and doesn’t allow for much nuance.

  • Sanjay Merchant

    Now if only those of us don’t fit neatly into single, dating, married, divorced, or widowed could get something more specific than “It’s Complicated”.

  • Anonymous

    It has been, yes, if you don’t specify your gender. But it’s cool that facebook is recognizing people’s identities—I have a friend who’s over the moon about it, even though they were already using their preferred pronouns.

  • Sean Robert Walker-Milne

    I’m really glad they did this. Personally I find it annoying that FB asks me for a hometown constantly and I don’t have anywhere that fits into that box. My issue is so trivial as to be a non issue and it still annoys me. For them to have done this for folks for whom gender has been neglected is just great. Good on you Facebook. :)

  • Dessa Brewington

    This is good, but Facebook still tolerates hates speech directed toward trans people. I found one public post where someone has posted before an after pics of somebody (without their permission, apparently), and the comments were pretty gross (mostly squicked transphobes acting like babies). One comment in particular stood out to me: “Kill it with fire.”

    Okay, that advocated murder. Even if it was a joke, we’re talking about people that face a staggeringly high murder rate. Many of us face high odds of being murdered. So I reported it. I get the message back that naaaaw, this doesn’t violate Facebook’s standards (Which read: “Facebook
    does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and
    humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas,
    institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or
    groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin,
    religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical
    condition.”)

    Haha, funny. Kill it with fire. Total joke because this isn’t something somebody actually might do… Right?

    I organized a mini-campaign on Facebook and got dozens of people to report that comment, and all the reports got rejected. There seems to be no way to actually contact Facebook over this matter either.

    So, like The Mary Sue, if you have contact with Masen Davis or Brielle Harrison, could you kindly pass along the message that jokes about real life acts that are highly likely to happen really, really need to be moderated?

    The link to the post, if anyone was wondering: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=612896192079641&set=a.199617830074148.42778.186916048010993&type=1

  • http://adornyourhearts.tumblr.com Xomyx

    Facebook lets you to remove your gender, at least after sign up. I did it a while ago, but then got bombarded with top surgery ads XD

  • http://adornyourhearts.tumblr.com Xomyx

    I took my gender away and the ads seemed to assume that meant I’m a trans man because I started getting ads for top surgery and such.

  • http://adornyourhearts.tumblr.com Xomyx

    I reported it and it really seems like Facebook assumes you’re being hypersensitive in the form you have to fill out, geez.

    And I hate the “distinguishes between serious and humorous speech”. What humorous about joking about killing transwomen? Why does adding “haha” after hate speech make it okay?

  • Dessa Brewington

    I can’t think of a more literal example of hate speech that isn’t also a threat or incitement to violence (Which is covered by a different facebook standard, as well as the the law).

    The funny thing is facebook is very good about removing posts with racial and sexual orientation slurs that aren’t even half as openly aggressive is this.

  • http://adornyourhearts.tumblr.com Xomyx

    I just got a notice saying its not in violation. I sent feedback explaining how very fucked up that is.

  • http://www.twopintsofmilkandapacketofteabags.blogspot.co.uk/ Heather Louise Kincaid

    Does it? I know it let’s you hide it, but that’s not quite the same as removing it. But maybe mine’s just stuck in the past. I don’t seem to have acquired the 50 new options yet.

  • http://www.twopintsofmilkandapacketofteabags.blogspot.co.uk/ Heather Louise Kincaid

    Exactly! I mean, you’re not forced to specify your race or skin colour on everything you sign up for – sometimes it appears as a question on certain forms, but it’s always optional. Why should gender be any different?

  • Joanna

    “Good guy” and “Facebook” are two things I thought I’d never put together.

  • Elizabeth Wells

    Then to be fair, let’s say it’s better than most other sites that makes you specify.

  • Dust. Wind. Bun.

    Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t clear. I was talking generally, not about Facebook. I just meant in the realm of, like, social sciences doing research. I agree that this kind of thing isn’t useful for marketing/preference stuff because who cares what gender likes something, you care what (other) kind of people like something – better targeting.
    I’m thinking, like, (and this is a boring example) if you were doing a study on, say, income levels as compared to location or something – you’d have lots of demographic categories into which to break it down to see if there’s any meaningful differences. You might try testing if race, education level, industry, marital status, etc show any significant differences, and gender could be one of those categories. I’m just interested in (and would prefer to hear people’s experiences rather than read a report on) what people feel are best practices for this kind of analysis that respect identity without losing possible meaningful analysis. (Like I said, I’m rhetoric, not quant, so I don’t have any hands-on experience.)

  • Dessa Brewington

    Funny, I deleted this comment in favor of reposting a self-moderated version, and then it shows up, presumably because it got approved?

  • Infophile

    Well, it depends on the sample size. If the sample is small enough that you can’t get data from every bin available, then the best way to get at least some useful data is to lump bins together. For instance, for gender you can cover 99% of the population under “cisgender male” and “cisgender female” combined. You can then combine the remaining people into a third category “trans*,” or perhaps “trans* AMAB” and “trans* AFAB,” as there are broad similarities in the life experiences of the people in each of those groups.

    And yes, of course there’s variance across these groups. But the point of statistical analysis like this is to look at similarities, answering questions like “Are their trends in how male-identified people treat people they perceive as female in job interviews compared to how they treat people they perceive as male?” Erasing individuality through a large sample size is the only practical way to answer these questions, though it is quite understandable that being shoehorned into a category you don’t feel you fit isn’t comfortable.

  • Dust. Wind. Bun.

    Awesome, thanks! I thought that might be the way, but I’m glad to hear from someone who actually knows this stuff rather than my amateur guesses.

  • Anonymous

    That I can concede.

    Although, Facebook still pales in comparison to this site: http://www.yaygender.net/pages/gender.pl

    =)

  • Anonymous

    Did they rescind this? My dropdown still just says Male / Female.

  • Fiona

    This is the first time I have actually felt respect for Facebook, seriously. This doesn’t mean that I’m now going to get a Facebook, but I’m definitely REALLY happy that they did this. I’m really excited to go back to school and tell people what this means, because there are now going to be questions, which means it’s the perfect way to educate people about non-binary genders.

  • Mrimm

    The new gender options are only available if you have your language set to English (US). Living in Canada, I had my language set to UK, but I switched it for access to the custom gender options. I believe they are planning on rolling it out to other countries/languages, but obviously that’s a lengthy process.
    You do still have the option of not listing your gender. Instead of saying something like no preference, the field is simply missing from your About section.
    I think it’s neat how many cisgender options are available! I’ve switched my gender to cisgender woman, and it’s prompted a lot of interesting and (hopefully) educational conversations.

  • Mrimm

    They actually do have a few more options now! I noticed them a few months ago, I don’t know how long they’ve been there. They’ve got things like civil union, domestic partnership, and open relationship. Still not a huge amount of choice, but it’s not too bad!

  • Sanjay Merchant

    They’ve had those things for almost as long as I’ve been using Facebook, but thing is, civil unions and domestic partnerships are, for social purposes, effectively marriages (obviously, when it comes to legal and tax considerations, there’s an enormous difference). And “open relationship” doesn’t even begin to address a lot of the different arrangements out there. Just being able to list multiple people, if that’s what you’ve got going, would be great. Not that we’re going to see that anytime in the next half-century….