50 shades of gender

Quench’s LGBT+ editor Emrhys Pickup discusses Facebook’s recent addition of over 50 gender identities and a new pronoun option to user’s basic info.

Facebook requires five things from you when you sign up – your name, email address, a password, your birthday and your gender; with gender being presented to you as a tick box option between male and female. Most non-binary trans* folk do not feel comfortable being represented by either male or female all of the time, as non-binary identities consist of those who are genderfluid (flowing between genders), agender (a lack of gender) and many others, but up to recently they have had to.

As trans* rep for Cardiff Uni one of the tedious but important tasks I complete is making a note of any forms I see with a simple male-female tick box for gender. I myself take to scribbling them out and writing ëagender’ in big letters by the side – however this is not possible online. It’s like completing one of those stupid character quizzes where you hate all the answers but have to choose one knowing full well that one answer will change the whole outcome and not accurately tell you which Disney princess you are. I recently made my programming lecturer aware of non-binary identities and my dislike for his use of gender as a binary example – to which he replied saying he would change the notes for next year; result!

So when Facebook finally accepts, acknowledges and provides for such identities – what more can we moan about? With the choice of 57 genders to choose from and the option to select as many as we wish to describe ourselves as well as an extra gender neutral pronoun option, everyone’s happy! Surely? (As a side note – the extensive list of the genders does in fact also include cisgender identities, so it is not just for trans* people – specifically non-binaries – I am just aware that this is the cross-section most in need for the addition.)

lgbt editor looks at facebook's addition of over 50 gender identities
Photo Credit: <a href=>Courtesy of HTSABO</a>

I feel as a non-binary trans* person I have a lot more patience than many other NBs I have interacted with – especially those on forums. I understand and feel the discomfort that comes from being mispronouned or placed into boxes which I don’t fit, so one just needs to be patient with such matters. And patient we have been; and how it has paid off! Facebook now fully recognises us! Though surprisingly the non-binary community, despite taking advantage of the safe space to complain about the struggles we face, seemed rather non-plussed by the amazing addition of all these options and gender neutral pronouns. Whether this is because they believe Facebook should have had it all along or just that we’re a hard bunch to please I don’t know!

I mean, try and find a student that doesn’t use Facebook? It’s a pretty big deal! With such a massive company continuing to support LGBT+ rights (following on from the addition of ëin a civil union’ and the option to express interest in both men and women) we can’t go far wrong! Trying to persuade people that such identities exist is something many NB people face on a day-to-day basis, but this simple addition will be buried somewhere in the subconscious of all those using Facebook – waiting for the moment someone next presents as non-binary to them.

One of the most accepting things someone has said about my gender is telling me that he knows he is pansexual (rather than bisexual) because of me! Now, how would he accurately express his sexuality on Facebook? He could tick both the ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ boxes under the ‘Interested In’ section – but then does this mean no-one can possibly fall for people who are NB? I sure do hope this isn’t the case else my relationship is screwed! So maybe now that Facebook has acknowledged other genders exist it will also recognise people can also like us – as crazy as that may sound to some!

But the question that remains is – why should we have to reveal our gender to all those on our Facebook? The truth is, we don’t – we can put anything and just hide it from our friends, safe in the knowledge that only we will ever know whatever option we chose. But the option is there for those people who do want people to know and are proud of their gender – as everybody should be, no matter how they identify.