By Jaime Grant, Contributing Editor, Gender and Sexualities
Just in time for Valentine’s day, Facebook unrolled 56 gender descriptors for people who don’t identify as male or female to choose from in constructing their Facebook profile. The social networking giant noted that a transgender staffer worked on the project, but the rollout comes in the wake of years of sustained pressure from gender variant Facebook users around the globe.
As a high-femme identified lesbian and principle author of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), I experienced simultaneously the thrill of victory and the sadness of not finding my gender on this ground breaking list. But as I noted on my Facebook page, given that there are infinite genders, this step by Facebook – providing a way for gender variant people to more fully describe themselves and take up more authentic space socially – is a phenomenal first step.
The level of social and economic marginalization of transgender and gender variant people in the NTDS was astounding, even to those of us working in the trenches. Despite having significantly more education than the general population in the US, our 6,450 study respondents lived in extreme poverty at two to four times the rate of the general population and were unemployed twice as often. They faced constant harassment and violence at the hands of those charged to support them – their appalling list of offenders included parents, elementary school teachers, ambulance drivers, doctors and lawyers.
This violence, combined with relentless social exclusion – homelessness, harassment in bathrooms, in the street, on public buses, in the media – led 41 percent of our sample to attempt suicide at some point in their lives. When a society makes it clear that you are unwelcome in virtually every space, people in our study gave in to the exhaustion of such alienation by trying to end their suffering.
Which is why this move by Facebook is so significant. People whose gender poses no challenge to the current gender rigid juggernaut will do the usual hissing and dismissing about this move, but there’s no mistaking the significance of this day. Eight hundred and forty NTDS participants took the time to write in their own genders in the study, providing 500 distinct terms for their genders, and this was in a sample infinitesimally small compared to the Facebook community. There are thousands and thousands of genders out there, some of them just forming, in every culture and society, in every language.
One big question to note—Given that this is a list in English, how will it translate around the globe? As the founder of the Global Trans Research and Advocacy project, I understand that gender formations and expressions in the US are social, economic and cultural creations and they are constantly shifting. Many of the terms we use for gender simply don’t compute in other nations and cultures.
All I know is, on this Valentine’s Day, I am loving that we are wrestling with these questions.
A FEW GENDERS IN THE NTDS