Facebook is opening up to LGBTQ users by allowing them to choose between some 50 different gender identities and three different pronouns: him, her or them.
Facebook launched the changes on Thursday for its 159 million monthly users in the United States. The changes will soon spread to other countries, too. For one software engineer at Facebook, increasing gender options and giving users a choice in the pronoun used to describe them is a personal mission. Brielle Harrison is currently undergoing gender transformation surgery from male to female. She was very excited about the changes.
"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 Harrison.
"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 added. "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 will continue to allow users to hide their gender identity from their profiles if they so choose. Although some organizations attacked Facebook for the changes, the transgender community has embraced Facebook's new policy whole heartedly. For its own part, Facebook was more than willing to add new gender options for its users because it considers gender identity to be part of self-expression and that is what Facebook is all about.
"Really, there was no debate within Facebook about the social implications at all," said Alex Schultz, director of growth. "It was simple: Not allowing people to express something so fundamental is not really cool so we did something. Hopefully a more open and connected world will, by extension, make this a more understanding and tolerant world."
Facebook worked with LGBTQ activists to come up with the new gender identity terms, some of which include bigender, gender fluid, androgynous and transsexual.
Those who decide to change their gender identity will only see the changes reflected in the About Me section and it won't register on their timeline as a life event. Facebook decided to make the changes this way to avoid users getting bombarded by gender-specific advertisments once they declare their new gender and preferred pronoun.