Facebook gender options represent an inclusive shift, some at Ohio State say

February 25, 2014
Facebook offers its users 50 options for gender now,  as well as the chance to specify which pronoun a user wishes to go by. Credit: Screenshot of Facebook

Facebook offers its users 50 options for gender now, as well as the chance to specify which pronoun a user wishes to go by.
Credit: Screenshot of Facebook

Facebook users have been given the chance to identify their gender more accurately, a change some Ohio State students and faculty say is a shift toward a more inclusive culture.

The social media website recently added more than 50 gender identity options including “transgender,” “cisgender” and “intersex.”

Facebook posted a statement about the change Feb. 13.

“We want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self. An important part of this is the expression of gender, especially when it extends beyond the definitions of just ‘male’ or ‘female,’” the statement read.

Executive director of the OSU Office of Diversity and Inclusion Tayo Clyburn said she was not able to accurately self-identify before the inclusion of more gender identities.

“I’m trans-identified and to me, that means that my gender identity — it feels very dynamic and it shifts and is very fluid, and Facebook didn’t really allow that opportunity to present that part of myself,” Clyburn said.

She heard about the change as soon as it happened from her friends.

“I have a lot of Facebook friends who were very excited and everybody was posting about it, so I was very, very happy,” Clyburn said.

Angie Wellman, intercultural specialist at the OSU Multicultural Center and liaison to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students, said the inclusion of more gender options is important.

“Facebook is a place of community building and connection. For people who have gender identities beyond the binary system, this is the first opportunity they have had to express their whole selves on this platform,” Wellman said in an email. “It is significant that Facebook has provided an opportunity for people to be authentic in their description of self. It is a significant change in the communication of valuing Trans and gender-non-conforming people.”

Linchi Liang, a fourth-year in communication, said some of his friends have changed their gender identities. He said the variety of options shows movement toward equality.

“Nowadays people are more open minded about the gender options, so I think it was the right time to do it,” Liang said. “It is better late than never.”

Brian Derrick, a third-year in public affairs, said he became aware of Facebook gender identity options through a petition circulated by an organization he interns for called All Out, which focuses on equality for those who identify as LGBT on a global level.

“Basically what (Facebook) is doing is they’re legitimizing people’s authority to identify in how they choose, and I think that really has to do with empowerment,” Derrick said.

Facebook also allows users to customize who can see their gender identity as well, something Wellman said is key.

“Everyone should always have the freedom and ability to decide what information someone else can have about them,” Wellman said.

Clyburn said there might still be more gender identifications that weren’t included, so Facebook should keep updating the list.

“One of the challenges when you’re trying to be inclusive that it’s very hard to be all inclusive, but I think that as Facebook learns about different identities that are out there, that it should remain dynamic,” Clyburn said.

Erik Krause, the treasurer of Sigma Phi Beta, a gay fraternity at OSU, said although the Facebook change is significant, there is still more progress to be made.

“It is a learning process for everyone, even for me as a gay man. I think it’s a learning process finding out about all these different identities, and I think that’s reflecting on the changing times in understanding a lot more identities,” said Krause, a third-year in marketing.

Wellman said before the inclusion of more gender identities, some students on campus had expressed frustration in not being able to self-identify themselves.

“This change has been exciting for many students in that they can more honestly and accurately be online in congruence with who they are in day-to-day life,” Wellman said.

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