March 07, 2014

Why Facebook's 50 Gender Options Matter

People often ask me how I “knew” I was transgender. Some of my fellow trans folks have told me a few stories from childhood that answer this question- their parents once catching them wearing makeup, never wanting to play with dolls, etc. But the majority of transgender friends I have will tell me something different.

I was assigned female at birth. I grew up wanting to be a princess. I had (and have) a glorious collection of teddy bears. The first indication that I was queer came when, at eleven, I suddenly proclaimed that I was a lesbian. What followed was months of confused teachers and parents and my sixth grade self trying to wade through it all with my pride intact.

I ended up on a forum for queer youth sometime that winter. I forget the name of it now. It was only when I was filling out my profile that I discovered the function to customize my gender. I could be a boy, a girl, or genderfluid. It wasn't the most cohesive set of options but the inclusion of that one word - genderfluid - piqued my interest.

A few hours later I had searched through the deepest corners of the internet to find out everything I could about genderfluidity, but also general knowledge about transness and gender variance. I had known the acronym LGBT for years, I had heard the word “transgender”, but I hadn't dwelled on it for more than a moment.

After that day researching transgender identities, I could never look at myself the same way. I had never thought that I was unhappy as a girl, but I didn't think I was supposed to be happy with it- I thought I just was a girl and that was what life was going to be for me. I was always going to be called a girl and she and my birth name and I had no choice in the matter. Seeing the vague option for being anything but a boy or a girl awoke a desire in me I had never felt before, a desire to be the person I wanted to be.

That’s why when I heard of Facebook’s new gender options, I had to reread the news release several times before it sunk in. It was real, and it wasn't just three options like on that dinky site from five years ago, it was fifty. Fifty identities with which a person making their profile can align themselves. Fifty different opportunities for someone to feel at home in their gender presentation, when they had never had that option before.

I am ecstatic, not only for all the trans people who can now properly list their gender on this popular social network, but for all the people across the United States who have yet to find that term that encompasses who they are and get to be exposed to these choices and start asking- who am I?

There are issues, yes, with the roll out of these new gender options for Facebook. The othering of trans people; the minimal pronoun options beyond “he”,”she” and “they”; and the inherent risk of identifying oneself as trans on such a public platform, are just a few. But this step Facebook has taken is momentous, and a beautiful start. Even within many transgender communities the inclusion of non-binary people is ignored, and I expect that the options will be expanded as time goes on and become more comprehensive for all types of people. 

Aiden is a member of the Transgender Student Rights Advisory Committee.

Ikaika Regidor

About Ikaika Regidor

Ikaika is the Youth Programs Associate at GLSEN. His focus areas are: Ally Week, Day of Silence, heritage months, Transgender Student Rights, Jump-Start and Students of Color Organizing student leadership teams, and GSA engagement. // @_politikai // pronouns: he/him/his & they/them/their

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