Facebook offers 56 new ways of being You

How ironic that a company reliant on a binary code rejects the binary reality of male and female.
Kelly Bartlett | 25 February 2014
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Facebook is a powerhouse of social media that not only reflects our culture but leads it. “Friend” used to be a noun until Facebook turned it into a verb. Getting "tagged" has a whole new meaning. Now friends aren’t assessed by what they have in common or how much they like each other; they are simply numbered and measured by what they “Like.” Getting an account on Facebook is a rite of passage for many 13-year-olds. And when your young teen registers, he now has 56 “custom gender” options to choose from to present his “true, authentic self” to the world.

Facebook explains on its Diversity page:

When you come to Facebook to connect with the people, causes, and organizations you care about, 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.” So today, we’re proud to offer a new custom gender option to help you better express your own identity on Facebook.
We collaborated with our Network of Support, a group of leading LGBT advocacy organizations, to offer an extensive list of gender identities that many people use to describe themselves. Moreover, people who select a custom gender will now have the ability to choose the pronoun they’d like to be referred to publicly — male (he/his), female (she/her) or neutral (they/their).

Options include: agender, bigender, cisgender, genderqueer, and neither as well as several trans options, with and without an asterisk.

Although users can choose from 58 gender labels, advertisers are interested in the three key pronouns: he, she, or they. It doesn’t matter whether you write “Trans female” or “Trans* Male,” they’ll base their marketing on your pronoun of choice. Every connection made by the 159 million monthly consumers in the US gives Facebook another opportunity to connect with the bank.

The trans community welcomed Facebook’s catering to virtual diversity. ABC News reported:

"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 Facebook 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.

Indeed. Can you hear the yearning in this comment someone wrote regarding Facebook’s new terminology?

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have made me feel like a real person and I cannot tell you how much that matters.”

This person needs a custom gender on Facebook to “feel like a real person”? What are we doing wrong? Why does he or she not feel real already?

With 1.23 billion users worldwide, Facebook knows a thing or two about connecting people. Society is trending towards tolerance, unity and equality with the intention of breaking through stereotypes. Everyone wants to feel special and be treated as a unique individual. But will offering 56 new labels on social media advance this goal? Or will extra layers of labels simply fence us in different corrals? For people who don’t like to be boxed in, why would a different box be better?

And if you think 58 options for gender are sufficient, think again. How will Facebook translate these gender options for their global users who speak a foreign language? And what about the consumers urging Facebook to offer corresponding variations for their “Relationships.” One commenter wrote: "Now Facebook needs to fix how they handle sexual orientation!" Instead of settling the matter, Facebook opened up Pandora’s box of myths.

Piers Morgan found out the hard way how tolerant the trans community is to people who don’t speak their language. The Independent reported:

Piers Morgan has claimed to be the “victim of cisphobia” after several members of the transgender community blasted his ignorance on Twitter.

The social media row was sparked after the CNN host aired an interview on Piers Morgan Live with transgender advocate Janet Mock last night. Mock had agreed to appear on the show to promote her new book, Redefining Realness. During the interview, one of the subtitles that appeared on the screen falsely read that Mock “was a boy until age 18″. Morgan’s sensational line of questioning also suggested that Mock had misled a number of people she’d previously dated about her gender identity. After watching the interview back, Mock was incensed at how the programme had been edited. Tweeting at Morgan, she wrote the following: "Was a boy until 18." @PiersMorganLive get it the f*k together.#redefiningrealness

Morgan responded with several tweets of his own including this:

“A lot of very irate people accusing me of 'transphobia' because I devoted a third of my show to @JanetMock 's inspiring story. Weird.”

If adult authors hurl “phobia” slurs at each other online after discussing transgender issues, how will your 13-year-old newbie know how to navigate the transgender quagmire of political correctness on Facebook? The Los Angeles Times offers a mini tutorial: “How Piers Morgan should have handled transgender author Janet Mock.” Their three pieces of advice are:

  1. Don’t focus on secondary sexual characteristics or on gender reassignment surgery.
  2. Don’t tell a transgender woman, “You used to be a man.”
  3. Keep your titillation to yourself.

“The Transgender Culture Wars” recounts another moral tale of someone else who got the transgender conversation wrong:

“It has become heretical even to suggest that we should not be celebrating the transgender movement. Most recently, a faithful Catholic friend of mine posted a casual observation on Facebook, suggesting that a television cooking show called “Chopped” might not be the appropriate venue for a discussion of transgender issues. The host of the show lauded one of the participants on the program for being transgender. My friend casually—and respectfully—mentioned the television program in a Facebook post. He was immediately suspended from Facebook.
It is clear that Facebook is not a place that allows debate on what has now been defined as the biological origins of gender-identity disorder. Facebook shut down that debate at once. [Emphasis added]
But, fortunately, there are still safe places—like Catholic World Report—where we can ask a question such as: What about people—many of them psychiatrists, psychiatrists, and sociologists—who think that gender-identity disorder may have a psychological or a sociological basis, rather than an entirely biological basis? In the past it was possible to ask this kind of question.”

Will teenagers bypass these crucial questions as they manipulate their personas online and create their own virtualities? Or if they do pose the question, will they also be immediately suspended from Facebook? How inclusive will Facebook be to the folks who don’t buy into the anti-binary box? How comfortable will users be who want authentic identities to correspond with reality? Will Facebook welcome those who think Redefining Realness is Doublespeaking Fantasy?

The creation of Facebook was made possible by the marriage of the Internet and computers, which are built on the binary system of ones and zeros. How ironic that a company reliant on a binary code is rejecting the binary reality of male and female.

We don’t need to reject the duality of male and female. We need to help each other accept reality and our biological sexes. We don’t need 56 virtual ways of boxing in beautiful people. We need 700,000 new ways of loving them and helping them to embrace their true, authentic selves and sexes.

Next time you go on Facebook, don’t just “Like” your friends. Love them with truth and reality no matter what they claim their genders are.

Kelly Bartlett has been practicing life, love, and marriage for decades, hoping to improve her game. She writes from Vermont. She blogs at Home Griddle, where this was first published. 

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