My take on Facebook’s new gender options
By Taylor Pitt, Contributor
A few weeks back, Facebook released an update that included more than 50 new gender options for profiles, and an update to how pronouns are selected. In addition to the common “him” and “her” pronouns, there is also the gender neutral pronoun “them” available for use.
Although the change is described as a “custom” gender option, Facebook’s users are still required to pick from a pre-approved list. This list includes agender, cisgender, pangender, bigender, transgender, trans*, transsexual, two-spirit, other, and many others. For most readers, this might all seem confusing. Don’t worry—it is, no matter how much I try to understand. Here’s a very simplified rundown:
Agender means a person doesn’t see gender as the central characteristic of their identity; cisgender means a person identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth; pangender means a person identifies with all genders; bigender means a person identifies with two genders; transgender people identify with another gender than they were assigned at birth; transsexual people are trans and have opted to transition to another sex; two-spirit people originate from a Native American belief, to describe someone whose spirit is both male and female; and finally, other might mean anything else not covered by the list Facebook provided. Whew.
Honestly, I’d be surprised if that list actually cleared up any of your confusion. Modern gender theory is constantly changing, and some people even consider this list too short and the selection of pronouns to be completely unrealistic. But what needs to be changed? Should Facebook drop the pre-approved list and allow users to enter in whatever they want? Should the pronoun selection be replaced with a Mad Libs-style choose-your-own-pronouns option? While it’s true that there are some people who prefer to use other gender-neutral pronouns like “xe” and “xir,” there is a growing number of people who are making up their own pronoun lists, and quite often they try to be as unique as a given name. By that point, it doesn’t even seem necessary.
Pronouns are used to make communication between people simpler. While repeating your friend Tommy’s name may make it easier to remember Tommy, constantly talking about Tommy in this way might start to get on Tommy’s nerves. On the other hand, if Tommy wants to be referred to as a “them” because they’re a transgender male, but your other transgender male friend Julian wants to be referred to as “xir,” how likely is it that you’re going to offend at least one of them every once in a while when you slip up?
It’s important to remember that to many people these issues are not trivial—that’s why the best approach is to always be respectful. Constant reminders via Facebook of people’s gender expression could help mediate confusion, but it could also end up making it worse. After all, how many friends on Facebook do you really know in real life?