Story by Jesse Wright
Last week, Facebook announced a major change for its millions of users in the United States.
The change does not involve the user feed, advertisements or new ways to block rude comments, but rather how users identify themselves by gender.
Instead of identifying as strictly male or female, users of the social media site are now allowed to choose from 56 different terms to identify their gender, as well as the option of three preferred pronouns: him, her or them.
The changes to the website are being hailed by transgender rights advocates as a victory for equality, while others feel the decision is the sign of a culture that is moving further down the road of moral relativism and political correctness.
Drake University law, politics and society major Caleb Kenison is in the former category.
“Facebook’s new gender options are wonderful because for the first time, a mainstream and widely used social media site is recognizing genders beyond the gender binary,” Kenison said.
“Non-binary people are always forced to hide our identities or misgender ourselves because of the lack of these options, but now Facebook is recognizing our identities.”
“This is definitely a sign that we are moving in the right direction. This couldn’t have happened 30 years ago, it couldn’t have happened even 10 or five years ago. And now that Facebook has taken this first step, I can see many other companies following in its path.”
Kenison also said that despite some people’s reservations about the issue, transgender people are not the invention of the sexual revolution or 1970s feminists.
“People have identified as non-binary for centuries and throughout different cultures. This isn’t a joke. Someone who makes fun of these gender identities is not only being highly trans-phobic but they’re also being very racially insensitive,” Kenison said.
“People who crack jokes about non-binary people are displaying how little they understand about the human experience. The idea that gender is only a binary has been pressed upon everyone in this society for a very long time. People have trouble shaking off this upbringing and thinking outside of the box to see all the possibilities and complexities of gender. They think it’s weird to identify outside of the binary so they assume it’s fake.”
Senior writing major Tamera Edwards does not approve of the new changes. To her, the idea of a person being transgender is morally wrong and dishonest.
“Gender identity is a slippery slope. I personally believe your gender is selected at birth. As a Christian, I do not believe in homosexuality or transgender issues whatsoever,” Edwards said.
“The Internet is a place for people to create and fabricate themselves to be something they are not when not having to meet someone face to face. By creating so many gender identity terms, this would only open the door to more deception. For me it may be a bold statement but it’s like saying, ‘Go ahead and select a false identity for yourself.’”
Edwards also believes God has created us as male or female and nothing in-between, though she is ambivalent about the use of people using transgender terms on their personal social media accounts.
“Concerning Facebook and their responsibility in allowing this, it’s a free country,” Edwards said. “I suppose if they choose to do this, they have that right. I do believe they have a moral responsibility to keep the one billion people using Facebook as safe as they can.”
Drew Foster, a senior elementary education major, is also a devout Christian, but he takes a more nuanced view than Edwards.
“I personally do not believe in completely enforcing Christian standards on non-Christians,” he said.
“On issues regarding people who identify as homosexual or transgender, I have no place to attempt to change society as I see fit. My solution would be to let Christians lead by example and show others that following Christ can lead to a healthy and productive life. Force is not necessary.”
Foster also said the separation of church and state should work both ways.
“Governments should not be allowed to force beliefs onto people who feel there is a higher power to whom one must answer. For instance, if homosexuals want to get married, then the government should give them all the appropriate benefits, but they must not force churches to perform such marriages if it is against those churches’ beliefs,” Foster said.
“The same principle applies if people want to identify as gender other than male or female. They should be allowed to do so if they wish, but if certain Christians don’t believe such non-binary genders exits, then that shouldn’t be a problem either.”