Facebook announced in February that those people using the site in US English will be able to choose a ‘custom’ gender, filling in the field as the person likes, as well the option to choose a custom audience for this gender and choosing a preferred pronoun.
“We want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self,” Facebook said, publicizing the change. “An important part of this is the expression of gender, especially when it extends beyond the boundaries of just ‘male’ or ‘female’....We collaborated with our Network of Support, a group of leading LGBT advocacy organizations, to offer an extensive list of gender identities that many people use to describe themselves.”
The Transgender Law Center, a member of Facebook’s Network of Support, applauded the move, saying in press statement, “It may be hard for some people to understand the importance of having the ability to select from multiple genders online. People who do not fit narrow gender stereotypes may have complex issues that they wish to express. Many transgender people will be thrilled to learn that Facebook now has a tool to ensure the appropriate pronouns are used across the platform, including third-party interactions.”
Facebook engineer Brie Harrison adds that while the change may only affect a small number of people, “to them it’s the beginning of something that makes a world of difference.”
Facebook now offering more than two gender options is the latest example of progress made in the past decade in public recognition of transgender individuals. In fact, Facebook actually is following in the footsteps of a small-but-growing number of nations that now allow some recognition of transgender on birth certificates or passports.
Last November, Germany announced that parents of babies born with both male and female characteristics can now mark birth certificates with ‘X’, rather than being forced to choose male or female, as had previously been the case. This third gender option will now also be extended to passports.
The intent behind the shift in policy is, in the words of the New York Daily News, to remove “pressure on surgeons to perform sex-assignment surgery on newborns to make them either male or female.”
The German decision made the nation the first in Europe to allow a third gender on official documents, but not the first in the world.
For nearly a decade Indian passport applicants have been able to choose male, female, or E as their gender—the E standing for ‘eunuch.’ India has roughly 25-30 million transgendered people, though not all of those may identify as eunuchs.
In 2007, following a court case pushing the issue, passport applicants in Nepal have been able to choose a third gender. As World Policy explains, “The third gender in Nepal is an identity-based category for people who do not identify themselves as either male or female. This may include people who want to perform or want to be presented as a gender that is different than the one which was assigned to them at birth, based on genitalia or other criteria. It can also include people who do not feel that the male or female gender roles that their culture dictates to them match their true social, sexual, or gender role preference.”
Though the move is a victory, as of 2012 only a handful of Nepalese citizens have applied for passports and have chosen the third gender option.
Rounding out the list of nations officially recognizing gender identities other than male or female are: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Australia, and New Zealand.
© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies