The transgender/transsexual community
Facebook's policy about defining
their members' gender/gender identity.
Religious/conservative views of gender.
Understanding how there can be dozens
of gender identities & only 2
[Bias alert]: This essay contains some personal opinions of the Webmaster.
An important development in Facebook:
Prior to 2014-FEB-14, Valentine's day, Facebook followed the same format as virtually every other membership-based organization. Their U.S. registration form provided only two genders from which its people could choose either female or male. That choice determined whether they would be referred to as "her" or "him" throughout Facebook. On FEB-14, Facebook widened the number of terms that its U.S. members can use to describe their gender identity from 2 to 56!
Gender and gender identity as perceived by many social and religious liberals:
The world is heavily structured around gender being a binary function: that is, there is a widespread belief that there are precisely two sexes: female and male. When a baby is born, the first question that friends and families usually ask is whether the newborn is a girl or a boy. Most people view gender as determined at conception. It is normally first detected before birth during an ultrasound scan by the presence or absence of male genitalia. Gender is confirmed at birth by the physical appearance newborn's genitalia.
However, reality is sometimes not that simple:
Gender can actually be measured in three different ways:
- By a person's internal and external reproductive organs,
- By the sex chromosomes in their body's cells, and
- By one of the structures in their brain that informs them of their gender.
Usually all three factors are in harmony and consistent throughout life. This is called being "cisgendered." In excess of 99% of humans fall into this category.
Religious and social iberals tend to follow the findings of therapists, human sexuality researchers, etc. The latter have observed that it is quite possible for:
- One's external sexual organs to be ambiguous. This is called intersexuality.
- A person to have unusual chromosomes in their cells. For example, they may be a genetic male with XY chromosones but with the Y chromosomes deactived. This causes the individual to be indistinguishable from an infertile female. Quite often, this is not detected until DNA tests are run when they are in their teens. I do not envy a physician who has to tell a person who looks like a female and believes that they are female that they are actually a genetic male, and can never conceive children.
- A person to be transgender or transsexual. This can take many forms:
- A person's brain may tell them that they are undeniably female even though they have male sexual organs and chromosomes. This is sometimes described as having a female brain in a man's body.
- A person's brain may tell them that they are undeniably male even though they have female sexual organs and chromosomes. This is sometimes described as having a male brain in a woman's body.
- A person may identify themselves as being either male or female at different times in their life.
- A person may not identify themselves as being either male or female.
- A person may believe that the term "gender" has no significance to them.
- A person may change their gender identity during childhood. However it typically becomes fixed later in life.
Gender and gender identity as perceived by many social and religious conservatives:
They tend to accept gender as a binary function. Many conservatives believe that:
- Only two genders exist: male and female. If a person is not permanently male then she must be permanently female, and vice-versa.
- One's birth-assigned gender determines their gender the rest of a person's life. It defines how they will be treated by others. It determines the roles that the person will exercise in the family, church, and the rest of society. It It defines what gender they will consider themselves to be. It defines what public washroom they must use, etc.
- Because of the rigidity of the roles that conservatives assigned to men and women, the concept of an adult changing their gender identity from the gender assigned at birth is very distressing and/or makes no sense to them.
- Non-cis-gendered persons are not really transgender individuals or transsexuals. They are simply people who are "gender confused." The implication is that they need to undergo therapy or enter into an extensive prayer program to bring their gender identity -- what they perceive their gender to be -- into alignment with their actual birth-assigned gender.
Reactions to Facebook's decision on gender identification:
Facebook had been criticized by many religious and social liberals for restricting their members to choose only one of two gender identity options and thus requiring participants to declare themselves as either male or female. This criticism evaporaged when Facebook -- working with consultants from the LGBT community -- created 54 additional gender identities.
Some conservatives have criticized Facebook for having created 54 additional genders. However that is not what Facebook and their advisors have actually done. The 56 options allowed do not define new genders. Instead, they define the participants' understanding of how they express their gender identity in terms of:
- Both male and female, and
- Neither male nor female.
That is, transgender and transsexual persons generally still define their gender in terms of the two genders: male and female. However, they may define their gender identity as a male to female transgender person, a female to male transgender person, a mixture of both male and female, switching between male and female, or neither male nor female.
An analogy in the area of religion might be a helpful aid to understanding gender identity.
Suppose there were only two religions in the world. Call them "Aboriginal" and "Non-aboriginal." Although only two religions would exist, there would be multiple religious identities:
- Many people would be born into the Aborigional faith and have an Aboriginal religious identity throughout life.
- Most of the rest would be born into the Non-aboriginal faith and remain with a Non-aboriginal religious identity.
- A few would consider their religious identity to be both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. They might describe their religious identity as:
- Switching from time to time between the two religions;
- Being intermediate between the two religions; they might describe their religious identity as incorporating beliefs from both religions.
- For some, religion may not be a meaningful part of their life. They would describe themselves as having no religious identity, or perhaps of being spiritual but not religious.
And so, two religions could generate multiple religious identities. So too, there can be only two sexes, but multiple gender identities.
We expected that Facebook would receive many negative comments, particularly from religious and social conservatives. We were not surprised at the comments. Most of them were positive, but some were very negative and even vicious.
2014-FEB-18: Four comments posted by readers of the Facebook article:
It is fairly easy to differentiate among two conservatives and two liberals:
- Sebastian Tulejarz wrote: "That's ridiculous and stupid. By checking any option other than male/female you show the whole world that you are in need of therapy."
- Katarina Dutton wrote: "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."
- Carlos PazRamazzini wrote: "Male or female. There are no more genders. You are normal or you need therapy. Simple."
- Lex Blue wrote: "So many tiny minds imploding because people aren't forced to select M or F on an online profile anymore."
Minor grammatical corrections were made to the original postings for clarity:
More developments are inevitable
The following information sources
were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "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/
- 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/
- Joshua Butler, "Facebook's new gender settings earn praise," Illawarra mercury, 2014-FEB-14, at: http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/
- Diversity Page, Facebook, at: https://www.facebook.com/
Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2014-JUN-03
Author: B.A. Robinson