To be or not to be ... a gender

By Paul Moomjean 02/27/2014


We live in an ever-changing society. Within the last 50 years we’ve seen drastic changes in America. From the birth of civil rights to the changes in which we communicate, to the way we purchase music and even the enemies we fight and how we fight them, life moves on, even when we don’t want to. Each generation is faced with a new struggle. Fifty years ago Americans were perfecting America by bringing all races the ability to vote and live freely. Forty years ago America sent her youth to fight communism in Vietnam and struggled with our role in the world. Thirty years ago Americans saw the birth of a new prosperity and the AIDS crisis. Twenty years ago the tech boom changed how business would deal in a borderless world. Ten years ago the way we fought wars changed dramatically with smart bombs and fringe groups attacking. Today, in 2014, America’s battle appears to be gender identity. Maybe we’ve figured out the rest, but thanks to the 50 new gender options with Facebook, this generation of young Americans will not decide if blacks should vote or how to fight a war, but instead they will decide what gender they belong to.


Facebook recently launched a new 50-option drop bar for those who wanted more variety in choosing what gender to associate with. Facebook argues that this is not as controversial as some might perceive. “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.


“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.”


The site has numerous options, including androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or transsexual. For the record, Harrison has selected “trans woman.”


Not only can “persons” choose their genders, but they can choose which pronouns they like as well. So instead of calling a person a “him” or “her,” a Facebook user can use a more neutral “them.” As an English teacher, I will take the greater objection to this, as them is plural, and no person is plural. I suppose I’ll get a sentence soon stating, “Johnny likes Cindy, and Cindy likes them, too.”


Facebook’s rationale is just as progressive as this new idea.


“Really, there was no debate within Facebook about the social implications at all,” said Alex Schultz, director of growth. “It was simple: Not allowing people to express something so fundamental is not really cool so we did something. Hopefully a more open and connected world will, by extension, make this a more understanding and tolerant world.”


In the words of the Saturday Night Live Church Lady character, “Well, isn’t that special?” A more “understanding” world? Try a more confused world.


The problem with this type of micromovement is that it will eventually cause a macro chain of events. As society braces for gay marriage and co-ed bathrooms, adding new gender identifications will not help those trying to integrate into society, but instead isolate them even more.


Most people do not think about gender 24/7, but when they realize their co-worker considers him- or herself to be “cisgender,” the new classification will cause more questions than answers.


Our society is changing. Quickly. But for the most influential website in the world to create such confusion will not help. Maybe it was the Facebook director of growth’s response about how not having 50 options “is not really cool” that sheds some light on this new development.


In reality, Facebook isn’t about being tolerant, understanding or pragmatic; but instead all of this gender identification is about being cool.


I remember when embracing your sexuality was cool. I guess I’ll be looking for the “uncool” gender option the next time I log on.

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