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Transgender individuals and transsexuals

Part 1
2014-FEB: Facebook permits members to define
their gender identity: 2 options become 50:

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2014-FEB-13: Facebook enlarges the gender options on its site from 2 to 56:

In the past, Facebook only gave its members two options regarding gender: to identify themselves as male or female. On FEB-13, just in time for Valentine's Day, Facebook announced changes on its diversity page. It now gives U.S. members 50 to 56 gender identities from which to select. Their members in the rest of the world will remain at 2 for a while.

Facebook posted a note 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 [gender] 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).

We also have added the ability for people to control the audience with whom they want to share their custom gender. We recognize that some people face challenges sharing their true gender identity with others, and this setting gives people the ability to express themselves in an authentic way.
" 1

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Expected reactions to Facebook's decision to recognize gender identities other than the female-male binary system:

There is a sharp division of opinion over the nature of gender identity, as there is for sexual orientation. The following is copied from our transsexual/transgender menu:

  • Essentially everyone from the LGBT community, religious liberals, mental health therapists, human sexuality researchers, secularists, and some others:
    • Refer to transgender persons by the gender with which they currently identify which is typically different from their birth-assigned gender.

    • Believe that a person's gender identity is fixed, The success rate of therapy to change a person's gender identity has been reported as zero.

    • Believe that, for those who qualify, hormone treatments and/or gender reassignment surgery (GRS) has an excellent success rate to at least partly harmonize their appearance with their gender identity.

    • Strongly support protections for transgender persons from hate crimes, discrimination in employment, etc.

Transgender and transsexual persons have come to an understanding of their gender identity as a result of their own personal experiences, and perhaps partly from counseling. Mental health therapists, human sexuality researchers, secularists, and some others have come to their understanding via gender identity studies.

  • Many religious and social conservatives:
    • Refer to transgender persons by their birth-assigned gender.

    • Believe that a person's gender identity can be changed through therapy and/or prayer.

    • Regard transgender persons as being "gender confused."

    • Regard GRS as a form of body mutilation that is offensive to God.

    • Strongly oppose legislation protecting transgender persons from hate crimes and from discrimination in employment.

    • Use the terms "religious freedom and liberty," and "conscience clauses," to justify using religious beliefs to discriminate against transgender persons.

Their beliefs are largely derived from their interpretation of the Bible or other Holy Book. They believe that males and females have very rigidly defined and complementary roles in the family, in marriage, at work, in church, etc. that are assigned by God. Many reject the concept of a person identifying their gender as different from their birth-assigned gender.

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Actual reactions to Facebook's decision:

Within 24 hours, Facebook's diversity page had accumulated about 5,500 "likes" and 2,700 "shares."

  • The fundamentalist parachurch group, Focus on the Family appears to be the first conservative Christian group to react to Facebook's decision. Jeff Johnston, an issues analyst for Focus, said:

    "Of course Facebook is entitled to manage its wildly popular site as it sees fit, but here is the bottom line: It's impossible to deny the biological reality that humanity is divided into two halves -- male and female. Those petitioning for the change insist that there are an infinite number of genders, but just saying it doesn't make it so. That said, we have a great deal of compassion for those who reject their biological sex and believe they are the opposite sex." 2

Johnson seems to be promoting two conflicting ideas simultaneously:

  • In his second sentence, he talks about transgender persons creating "an infinite number of genders."

  • In his third sentence, he talks about transgender persons having a biological sex, but identifying themselves as being of "the opposite sex." He appears to be implying that transgender individuals recognize only two genders, and that they are transitioning (or have transitioned) between male and female. That is, they were identified as one gender at birth; they identify themselves as the other gender today.

Actually, as noted above, Facebook consulted with their Network of Support and came up with far fewer than an infinite number of gender identities. They ended up with about 50, of which many are near duplicates: e.g. Transgender, Trans, Trans Female, Trans Woman, Transgender Female, Trans Person, and Transgender Person. The vast majority of transgender persons and transsexuals identify themselves today as being either male or female. Even the minority of transgender persons who identify themselves as being both male and female, or or identifying themselves as having neither a male nor female gender define themselves in terms of two genders. More details.

  • Brielle Harrison, a Facebook software engineer who worked on the transition, is herself a transgender person undergoing a transition from male to female. She said:

    "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. ... 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. 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." 3

    She now defines herself on her Facebook page as TransWoman.

  • Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign -- a large LGBT-positive organization, said:

    "Over the past few years, a person's Facebook profile truly has become their online identity, and now Facebook has taken a milestone step to allow countless people to more honestly and accurately represent themselves. Facebook's action is one that I hope others heed in supporting individuals' multifaceted identities" 3

  • Jon Le Breton at Illawarra, Australia said that the Facebook change will eventually be seen by its 1.15 billion active users, and that this is a positive step for recognition of the LGBTIQ community. He commented:

    "It’s about the world being more inclusive. We were only given two options to choose, but some people don’t fit into those labels any more. [The new options] ... acknowledges what people feel about themselves. It creates awareness for the LGBTIQ community, and lets them represent themselves online the way they want to, not just the way they are told to." 4

  • Nori Herras-Castaneda, a transgender activist and spokeswoman for the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose, CA said:

    "We always talk about how gender is a spectrum,' she said. 'I can see a lot of people being extremely happy about this." 5

  • Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the national pro-LGBT group GLAAD, issued a statement praising Facebook for the new feature. She said:

    "This new feature is a step forward in recognizing transgender people and allows them to tell their authentic story in their own words. Once again, Facebook is on the forefront of ensuring that the platform is safe and accessible to all of its LGBT users."

  • Allison Palmer, GLAAD's former Vice President of Campaigns & Programs who worked on the project along with Facebook and current GLAAD staff, said:
  • "Facebook's new gender options will make a difference to many transgender and gender nonconforming users, who are now empowered to accurately describe their own identities on the platform."

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This topic is continued in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Diversity Page, Facebook, at: https://www.facebook.com/
  2. Martha Mendoza, "New Gender Options for Facebook Users," ABC News, 2014-FEB-13, at: http://abcnews.go.com/
  3. Kashmira Gander, "Facebook's new gender options: 50 new categories include trans and intersex," The Independent, 2014-FEB-13, at: http://www.independent.co.uk/
  4. Joshua Butler, "Facebook's new gender settings earn praise," Illawarra mercury, 2014-FEB-14, at: http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/
  5. "Male, female or 48 other varieties? Now Facebook offers users FIFTY different genders to choose from," Daily Mail, 2014-FEB-13, at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/

Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2014-FEB-14 - Valentine's Day
Latest update: 2014-FEB-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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