Breaking the binary

Facebook’s more inclusive approach to gender identification is a teachable moment

Published: February 17, 2014 1:43:27 am

Facebook’s more inclusive approach to gender identification is a teachable moment.

Last week, Facebook stopped forcing its users to conform to a binary gender classification, adding over 50 custom gender options that allow people to identify themselves as something other than male or female.

Suggested terms provided by Facebook include androgynous, agender, genderqueer, trans and cisgender. Facebook now also lets users choose the pronoun they prefer, offering them the option of the two gendered pronouns and one that is gender neutral, all so Facebookers can be their “true, authentic” selves, according to the company.

In embracing a more inclusive and diverse set of identities, Facebook’s move has inspired a frenzy of explainers on gender and sexuality, outlining the distinction between the two, despite the tendency to use the terms interchangeably, and several glossaries on gender nomenclature.

This is a welcome if unintended consequence of the world’s largest social network recognising how disempowering it is to be misgendered and taking corrective steps. A vocal section may have taken umbrage at this rejection of gender binaries, but there are many others who will learn about the various ways of being.

If 50-plus seems like a veritable smorgasbord of gender identities, it should be noted that Facebook has been criticised for not providing a more comprehensive list, if not a blank box that could be filled in with the user’s preferred term.

That, however, might leave Facebook unable to target advertisements nearly as effectively. Given that this move is a welcome step towards acknowledging that gender identity is more complicated than neat binaries would have us believe, and is likely to help foster greater understanding of how marginalised gender non-conformists feel, it is perhaps churlish to expect the company to also entirely discard its revenue concerns.

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