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Freedom Requires Wings FRW The #1 QUILTBAG opinion blog on the web. We aim to open minds and help the queer community. News, blogs, video, worldwide suicide prevention and more. Worldwide

Why Facebook Doesn't Have Gender Neutral Pronouns

Freedom Requires Wings | by on




Ok, first let's get one thing straight so that this post doesn't appear as a rant to any newcomers out there amongst you.

Hello. For those of you who don't know me, my name is Patrick and I'm a gay, cis-gender male. I'm not genderqueer, but what I'm about to talk about still annoys me a bit.

I'm going to be talking about there being no 'Other' option when choosing your sex or gender on the world's largest social networking site, Facebook.

So yeah! Sure! I'd have no use for it even if it were there, so why am I complaining? Yeah, sure, social networking sites shouldn't play an important part in our lives. Sure! Even if you were genderqueer and you had the option available to you, you might not want to give Facebook that information! But after thinking long and hard about this recently, I came to the following conclusion.

Facebook is not anti-QUILTBAG. They're very open minded when it comes to social issues, they have a decent amount of queer staff, and they're supportive of the QUILTBAG community. Earlier this year, the site introduced the ability to show off your same-sex marriage on your timeline, so marriage equality between we homos and our heterosexual counterparts is alive and well on the blue book. You can even show you're married to more than one person simultaneously on the site, or be in a relationship with more than one person. So even polygamy and polyamory are recognized, and polygamous marriage isn't even legal in any country where Facebook is available. Why then, do they refuse to allow someone to simply choose 'Other' as their gender?

Here is my theory...

1. Facebook could very easily allow this option...
And I mean very easily. It would literally take minutes to allow any of the 1 billion people on the social networking giant to select 'Other' as their gender. Facebook have been kinda sneaky with this one; they've called the box 'I Am' but specified it denotes your sex in the checkbox below and not your gender identity. So we're not talking about gender identity here. Most trans people are pretty much catered for by being able to just change the content of the box, but some trans people go through a period where they feel uncomfortable having either. However, we're talking about your sex, not about being able to choose your gender identity; Facebook are excluding all the genderqueer people. If we were talking about gender, it's true that it could get complicated and the list of choices could be endless, but just having 'Other' to encompass everyone that doesn't identify as male or female would be a good start.

2. ... but they won't...
I don't see Facebook allowing this feature in the near-future. As much as I want to see them just add a goddamn box so more people can be happy, I'm afraid I've come to the conclusion it isn't going to happen soon. Here's why.

3. ... and I think it's because they think it's bad for business.
Ok, so here's my theory, and it really annoys me too so hear me out.

Facebook, to it's owners, is not a social-networking site. Let's just get that clear. They don't care if you have friends or not, or whether all of that person's 5,000 'friends' are actually friends of theirs. Think about it. You and your friends aren't the only people on Facebook. It seldom crosses our minds, but the fact is, there are over 1 billion other people out there doing exactly the same things as you do on the site. A recent Facebook study showed that the average American spends 8 hours a month on Facebook. Average. A lot of people spend more than that floating around, posting statuses, liking pictures, pages and videos, sharing links and stories... Think of all those links you click. You can find and do anything on Facebook. You can have conversations, instant message, video call, receive your emails to your PM inbox, use Facebook pages and their apps (you don't even need to leave Facebook to read the Huffington Post anymore). That's the idea. To keep you inside the site as much as possible. Why? Because it all comes down to advertising. Facebook bombards us with it and it's been happening more and more lately. I don't know whether you have noticed or been paying attention, but one or two new advertising slots have appeared recently. And where there's advertising, there's revenue being created for the site owners. But it doesn't take a genius to know that advertisers will come back and spend more if their campaigns go well. Here's why they do and why Facebook is the perfect advertising tool...

So why are androgynes bad for business? Now, I don't know if any of you are familiar with the advertising system on Facebook, but personally, it scares me a bit. To get the low-down of what exactly you can choose as an advertiser, click here to learn more about targeting on Facebook. Basically, advertisers can target people on their birthdays, they can narrow it down to a single city, they can get their advert shown only to married people, or divorced, or widowed people, or people in a relationship, or single people... Oh, and if you use a mobile phone or device other than a computer to access Facebook at any time, advertisers can target you based on what model of mobile device you used, whether it's an iPhone 5, or a bog-standard Nokia. Scary yet? For example, since I've changed my 'Interested in' section to say 'men' and since I've been in a relationship, 1 in every 5 ads is for "gay holidays for couples" or "gifts for your gay lover". It's a little freaky.

Basically, advertisers can target you based on every single bit of information you enter on the site, from your date of birth, to your interests or your ethnicity, our sexual orientation, everything right down to your sex or gender. And that's why (in my opinion) Facebook says 'Error 404 page not found' to androgynes.
If I want to create an advert for this website for instance, I can literally aim it only at women who are "into extreme ironing, knitting, cats and astronomy, have recently moved house, and have a birthday coming up"... It also tells me that apparently, there are 45,540 women that match my description in the United States alone. (S)

Very few companies will want to aim their adverts specifically at genderqueer people, so sadly Facebook probably won't allow the option to change your gender any time soon. I have no idea why they have a problem with adding one button. If you are a genderqueer person you have to choose between 'Male' and 'Female' on Facebook, whether you like it or not.

However in my opinion, no matter which one you pick, as a genderqueer person the advertising you receive is going to be less targeted and thus less relevant to your life. Facebook should care about this. They should open up to genderqueer people so that the advertising they receive is more relevant, and thus it shall create a little more revenue for the site whose stocks are falling by the day. Since it went on the markets in May 2012, it's share price has dropped by close to half (from 38.00 down to about 20.00 or less). Why not allow it? Androgynes would still get to see advertising anyway. It would just be advertising which is aimed at men and women. I guess they're not sure how to go about it just yet.

But if you're fed up of waiting for that day, as I am, sign this petition (which is around 2,000 people strong at the moment) and 'Make It Better.'

No one should be forced into something their not comfortable with. Especially when it comes to gender identity.
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