MENLO PARK, Calif. -- You don't have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore. The social media giant has added 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 launched Thursday initially cover its 159 million monthly users in the United States 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 Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison, who worked on the project and is herself undergoing gender transformation, from male to female. 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 1.23 billion active monthly users around the world, also allows them to keep their gender identity private and will continue to do so.
The Williams Institute, a think tank based at the University of California, Los Angeles, estimates there are at least 700,000 individuals in the United States who identify as transgender, an umbrella term that includes people who live as a gender different from the one they had at birth.
The change at Facebook drew some criticism, but also dozens of appreciative postings on the company's diversity website. Some posters requested the company offer relationship choices beyond son and daughter, and asked for sexual preference options.