Facebook changes show it’s no longer a binary world


This screenshot released by Facebook shows the new gender option screen. (AP/AP)

Facebook has expanded its options for gender identification, adding 54 new ones for users to choose from, in addition to “male” and “female.” They are available for people using the site in U.S. English, and include options, such as “androgynous,” “bigender,” “cisgender” and “gender fluid.”

My Washington Post colleague Caitlin Dewey has an excellent rundown of the cultural reasons for the change, noting that it also fits well with Facebook’s efforts to be a main identity provider online.

The gender options are just the latest in a series of changes Facebook has made to how it handles demographic information to make the Web site more welcoming to the LGBTQ community. In 2011, the network added relationship options, such as “in a domestic partnership” and “in a civil union.” In 2012, it updated its marriage timeline icons to include depictions of same-sex couples.

Facebook is far from the only company that’s reworked its identification options as the national conversation and legal framework around gender identity and marriage continue to shift.

In a post at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, the group’s director, Daniel Castro, wrote that as these changes happen, there’ll also have to be a furious rewrite of plenty of code.

“Although computers store data as 1’s and 0’s, we do not live in a binary world,” he wrote.

Recent rulings at the Supreme Court have prompted changes in official payroll and human resources systems, for example, to recognize other relationships besides male-female marriages. Similar changes have taken place for other personal identifiers as well, he noted, such as the Census Bureau’s reexamination of how it classifies race and gender.

Facebook’s changes, of course, are more about personal identity than legal standing, but they, too, reflect a changing world.

If you’re interested in changing your own information, it’s a fairly straightforward process. Just follow these steps:

1. Sign in, head to your own Timeline.

2. Hit the “Update Info” link in the bottom, right-hand corner of your cover photo.

3. Click the “About” option.

4. Find the “Basic Information” section and hit the “Edit” button.

5. In the “Gender” drop-down menu, chose “Other” and start typing your preferred term. The Associated Press has a full list of the options on its Web site.

6. Users also have the option of picking the pronoun they want the networks to use in posts about them: he, she, or they. (My fellow grammarians: chill out this one time, okay?) The preferred pronoun you pick is public information.

7. You’re done!

Related stories:

The Style Blog: Facebook will now allow users to identify as trans, bi, androgynous — or any other gender they want

Follow The Post’s new tech blog, The Switch, where technology and policy connect.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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