By Nicole Wiesenthal

Freshman, journalism major

Students who use Facebook no longer have to choose between being male and female. In fact, now they can choose from more than 50 new gender options.  

Students who use Facebook no longer have to choose between being male and female. In fact, now they can choose from more than 50 new gender options.

Although most people are unfamiliar with many of the new gender options released Feb.13, to some students it could mean the world. Facebook’s decision will help college-aged transgender students feel more accepted on campus and help bring awareness to others about the different gender identities.

“It’s a sign that society is more aware,” said Reilly-Owen Clemens, a transgender graduate student. “It’s probably a critical stepping stone and will help people move from sympathy to support.”

The new gender options provide multiple opportunities for the transgender community to gain acceptance, said LB Hannahs, director of LGBT affairs for UF.

It would help people who identify differently from cisgender or normative gender to come out and make their transitions public, providing others with the opportunity to learn more about different ways to identify with gender, Hannahs said.

“When I mention the 50 plus gender options, people’s heads explode,” Hannahs said. “They’re like ‘What do you mean 50 options to identify your gender?’ So there’s an opportunity for people to learn more about the different ways to identify with gender.”

Students like Emily Legault, first-year mechanical engineering major, were amazed when they heard about the new gender options.

“They opened my eyes to how uneducated many people are of the LGBT community and helped me appreciate the complexity of gender and the struggle many people go through to identify with themselves,” Legault said.

For other students like Clemens, a women’s studies major, the change was important in other ways.

“It shows that at least these people, I, exist,” Clemens said. “If you don’t acknowledge, you can pretend that they don’t exist or choose not to pay attention to their needs.”

Clemens, who had previously stopped using Facebook because she believed she could not identify with either previous gender, believes that the change will help people find each other and build a support network.

“It will allow for a dialogue inside and in between the community,” Clemens said.

Hannahs says that the gender changes will allow for discussion outside of the LGBT community as well.

“With something that public and popular in people’s minds and consciousness validating all these gender options, it can only help solidify the progress and avenues for people to engage in LGBT issues and gender issues in a more normative, mainstream way,” Hannahs said.

Kristen Carson, founder and president of Freshman Support, a college-planning website, says that the new options will help transgender students feel more comfortable in college.

“When students go to college, they can reinvent themselves and make entirely new friends and scenarios,” Carson said. “Allowing them to express themselves on social media sites gives them more freedom to figure out who they are and helps them with the transition into college.”
Because Facebook is so mainstream, it could bring changes regarding the LGBT community to the university level, especially regarding housing, Carson said.

It could create a drive for other sites to change their gender options, Clemens said.

“People put a lot of value in something like Facebook,” Hannahs said.