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Facebook Now Allows Users to Define Custom Gender

Facebook Now Allows Users to Define Custom Gender


Trans advocates have lauded the social media site for empowering their trans and gender-nonconforming users, even as others continue to seek change in Facebook's "real name policy."

Facebook announced Wednesday that U.S. users will now be able to write in their own custom gender on personal profiles, in addition to being able to select from the 58 gender options that have been provided since last February.

The February update also allowed users to choose up to 10 gender terms to describe themselves, and customize who is able to see a user's gender identities. The list of selectable gender descriptors includes "trans woman," "trans man," "transsexual," "androgyne," "pangender," "bi-gender," "agender, and "cis woman," among many others. Yet many trans and gender-nonconforming users felt that their personal identities were not reflected in such labels, notes GLAAD.

The shift to allowing users to self-determine their genders has been lauded by advocates as a necessary improvement, and reflects similar changes announced by Google+ in December.

"Facebook's new free-form field for gender identity is a huge step forward for transgender, gender-nonconforming, and genderqueer youth," said Dr. Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, in an email statement. "The internet is an essential source of resources, support, and community for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and one of its most important 'living rooms' now better reflects their reality and self-understanding."

GLAAD, which has been working with Facebook since 2010 to improve the safety and experiences of LGBT users, added in a statement from President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, "By empowering people to talk about their gender in their own words, Facebook continues to be a leader in its commitment to respecting and protecting LGBT users. Part of being who you are is just being able to describe yourself in a way that feels right to you."

Dozens of Facebook users, including many trans and gender-nonconforming individuals, have commented on Facebook's public announcement on its Diversity page, many of them expressing excitement or gratitude about the addition of a free-form gender field. However, many others have expressed dismay at the continuance of Facebook's "real name policy," which has seen some gender-variant users' profiles removed if their user name was not deemed "authentic." Facebook's policy states, "The name you use should be your authentic identity; as your friends call you in real life and as our acceptable identification forms would show."

The policy drew ire from several prominent drag performers and trans rights activists in September 2014, when Facebook suspended hundreds of accounts, claiming users could only list names as they appeared on legal identification. In October, a shift in policy language and formal apology from Facebook that implied a change in how the policy would be enforced appeased some, but today's gender write-in announcement has drawn out a number of users who say they are still being affected by Facebook's controversial "real name" requirement.

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Mitch Kellaway