For many of us, identifying as male or female is simple. But for some, what’s in their pants doesn’t match up with what’s in their minds. I applaud Facebook for recognizing that gender is not clearly black and white; it’s a vast range of identities completely separate from sex.
Gender and sex are often thought to be synonymous, but they could not be more different. Sex refers to biology: If you have a penis, you are male, and if you have a vagina, you are female. One sex can give birth and the other can’t. Gender is how one perceives one’s self regardless of sex, and it extends much further than male or female. Facebook now lists 50 different gender options, including genderqueer, intersex, pangender, transgender female and transgender male. It even lets you choose your preferred personal pronoun. Before this plethora of choices, there were only two — and if you didn’t identify with either, that was just too bad.
Biologically speaking, you can only be male or female, or in some cases a hermaphrodite. Despite how strongly you feel otherwise, you “cannot be” something other than what you are unless you consider surgery. Nevertheless, sex doesn’t restrict a person from behaving, looking or dressing a particular way. If being called him instead of her, wearing heels instead of cleats or loving anyone for who they are makes you feel more comfortable in your own skin, then you should be able to embrace it.
We share almost every aspect of our lives on Facebook, from relationship statuses to everyday nuisances, so if we want to share our gender, it should not be restricted by a lack of choices.
Different gender mentalities can seem difficult to understand, especially if you only believe in two genders. But just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean no one else does, or that it’s somehow wrong, unnatural or not real. It only means it’s different. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Unfortunately, we so often muddle gender with sex that identifying as something other than what corresponds to your genitals can stir up problems. This recently happened in Long Island when a female high school student ran and won for homecoming king, and when Carmen Carrera petitioned to become Victoria’s Secret’s first transgender model. When it comes to competitions, teams or clubs, do we separate males and females based on sex or gender?
If the answer is gender, then a transgender male who still has a female reproductive system should be able to play for a men’s sport team. If it’s sex, only those with a male reproductive system should be allowed on the team. Of course, the answer will vary and require more thought than my brief example. Recognizing all genders also opens the floor to further debate on complicated issues such as gender roles, sexuality and equality.
Facebook’s new gender options will not solve all of these problems or make every genderqueer person feel empowered, but they will hopefully spark some interest in understanding gender and its independence from sex more completely. It’s a step in the right direction toward acknowledging and accepting, or at the very least tolerating, genders other than male and female.