Facebook offers users choice about their gender

A drop-down menu showing Facebook's new gender options

An example of Facebook’s new gender settings

Facebook announced today that it’s possible for users to choose a gender identity other than male or female, as well as choose whether they prefer he, she or they as a pronoun. It’s a key change for the company when it comes to welcoming people who don’t fit into a traditional gender binary onto Facebook.

“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,” Brielle Harrison, a Facebook software engineer who worked on the feature, told the AP. “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.”

Users interested in using the new setting can edit their profile and select “Custom” from the gender dropdown while editing their profile, which will then allow them to choose their preferred gender identity from a long list of possibilities. Facebook worked with its “Network of Support,” a group of leading LGBT advocacy organizations, to come up with a massive list of terms that people use to describe their gender.

In addition, users can control who sees their gender, so that it’s possible for them to be out to their friends without having to be out to their family, or vice versa. That’s an important feature to help people retain control of their identity. Earlier this year, an Android user inadvertently outed herself as transgender to a co-worker because of the way that Google’s “Hangouts” app handles SMS messaging.

The new gender options are currently only available to people who use Facebook in English in the U.S., though the company says it will be rolling out the capability to other countries and languages soon.