At 17 I have a lot to worry about: graduating from high school, keeping in touch with friends, staying out of trouble, dealing with sexual issues, etc. But who thought I would have pressure from Facebook to decide whether I am male or female. Maybe this isn't an issue for everyone, but it is for me.
I'm CJ, formerly known as Chana. I'm also "genderqueer," which, in my case, means that I feel part-female and part-male. I'm not sure yet whether I will transition or not. I have two sisters, a mom, and a dad. When I went away to school, we discovered that it was fun to communicate and share things on Facebook and see what the others were doing. (Of course, almost every kid I know has a Facebook account, too.) My mother requested to list me on Facebook as her daughter, but I didn't feel that that was totally right, but neither was "son." But there was no other choice. I either have to be a brother or a sister to my sisters on Facebook. And that's not me. It's troubling that I can't be Facebook friends with my family and correctly identify my relationships with them, because according to Facebook those relationships don't exist. Or maybe I don't exist. How strange is that?
That's why, as Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook prepare to make billions of dollars by selling public stock, I have to wonder how much of the public they're really open to serving. People like me who don't feel comfortable in the bodies in which we were born aren't sure we want to be pegged as female or male. I am just trying to decide for myself, but Facebook forces me to follow the social norm of being a male or female. I am working in my own way on making my inner and outer appearance match the way I feel. I want to be able to decide on my own time, not Facebook's. There are a lot of people like me who are still deciding, so why should Facebook force this issue?
Some doctors are beginning to understand, and I know that my doctor does. Even some official government forms now acknowledge that gender identity isn't black-and-white, so to speak. And other social media networks, like Google+ and Disaspora, do, too. But not Facebook. In the years since Facebook arrived on the scene, it's changed its look many times, but not the basic options about gender. That bothers me.
You'd think that a company that's trying to promote networking in every aspect of life would acknowledge this basic issue. It took a while for me to come out as a lesbian, and even longer to start to understand and explain my feelings about feeling out of place as a female. Then I had to talk to my parents about it. After that, I wasn't sure which of my extended family members, friends, and former teachers would understand. But recently I decided it was time to go public. It wasn't easy, but now that I'm finally willing to make this very personal statement part of my profile, I discovered that I can't.
This doesn't just affect me. When I stopped fighting with my younger sister long enough to become Facebook friends with her, she wanted to indicate that I was her sibling. But the only choices were "sister" or "brother," neither of which fit who I am right now. Why should I have to explain to my younger sister why I didn't respond when she said she was my sister on Facebook? My older sister understands and has supported me through this difficult time of figuring out who I am. A lot of my family is also frustrated with Facebook's lack of options.
I don't have a lot of Facebook friends. I try to "friend" people I really know and who are really open to knowing me, not people who will talk to me once and then never again. Some of these friends live far away. I'd like them to know about my status, but it doesn't make sense to write out of the blue to tell them. These are people who might learn more about me on my profile, if only Facebook allowed me to really be me.
Simply, if Facebook offered the option of "other" for gender or "sibling" to identify a family relationship, it would be an easy solution for questioning or transgender people who currently wonder whether the social network thinks we exist. It would enable my mom to link to my Facebook profile without having to call me "daughter," which is no longer acceptable to me, or "son," which may or may not ever be.
Is Facebook afraid that by acknowledging people like me, it will lose support from homophobic groups? I hope not. And while I guess Mark Zuckerberg is pretty busy with his IPO right now, I've created an event and a page, "Send a Message to Mark Zuckerberg," to encourage other people to email him and ask him to be responsive to this issue. There are a lot of us who are being disenfranchised and haven't yet spoken out about their feelings. I hope others join me in asking Facebook to address this now by offering non-gender choices. As a publicly traded company, they have an obligation to the whole public. While many of us are really happy about states in which gay marriage is being recognized, Facebook should see that gender identity is a civil rights issue, too.