New gender options for Facebook users

Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison demonstrates Facebook's expanded options for gender identification Wednesday at her company's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. Facebook is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them. Harrison, who helped engineer the project, plans to switch her identifier to "Trans Woman."
Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison demonstrates Facebook's expanded options for gender identification Wednesday at her company's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. Facebook is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them. Harrison, who helped engineer the project, plans to switch her identifier to "Trans Woman." Noah Berger/AP Photo

Menlo Park, Calif. - You don't have to be just male or female on Face book anymore. The social media giant is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them.

Facebook said the changes, shared with The Associated Press before the launch on Thursday, initially cover the company's 159 million monthly users in the U.S. and are aimed at giving people more choices in how they describe themselves, such as androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or transsexual.

"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 Face book software engineer Brielle Harrison, who worked on the project and is herself undergoing gender transformation, from male to female. On Thursday, while watchdogging the software for any problems, she said she was also changing her Facebook identity from Female to TransWoman.

"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 said. "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, which has 1.15 billion active monthly users around the world, also allows them to keep their gender identity private and will continue to do so.

The change seemed senseless to some.

"... here is the bottom line: It's impossible to deny the biological reality that humanity is divided into two halves - male and female," said Jeff Johnston, an issues analyst for Focus on the Family, a national religious organization based in Denver. Some say "there are an infinite number of genders,' but just saying it doesn't make it so."

That said, we have a great deal of compassion for those who reject their biological sex and believe they are the opposite sex."

Masen Davis, executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, said it may be hard for some people to understand the importance of having the ability to select from multiple genders online. But he said many transgender people will be thrilled with the change.

"We applaud Facebook for making it possible for people to be their authentic selves online," he said.

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