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Gender Non-Conforming Youth Applaud Facebook for New Identity Tool
By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES
Just hours ago, Alok Vaid-Menon changed their Facebook basic information to indicate they were "gender non-conforming." That's right, "their" and "they" are the pronouns that Vaid-Menon prefers.
The 22-year-old activist from New York City said reaction to the new custom gender field on the popular social networking site has been "overwhelmingly positive."
"For me, it's fundamentally about affirming people," Vaid-Menon told ABCNews.com. "It's personal and political."
Now, those who are uncomfortable with selecting "male" or "female" can choose up to 10 descriptors from more than 50 identities, including transgender, androgynous or genderqueer.
"About 200 people liked my status," Vaid-Menon said. "Now, a lot of us are thinking, how do we translate this into something significant? This is good but what's the next step?"
Facebook's change was implemented with the help of the LGBT advocacy group GLAAD.. It was part of Facebook's new outreach on its Diversity Page.
"We were very concerned about privacy settings in the new feature options," said GLAAD spokesman Rich Ferraro. "If you elect a new gender, you can do it only to certain friend lists and can remain private to employers, classmates or parents."
Vaid-Menon, works for New York City's Audre-Lord Project on issues of transgender justice and health care issues.
"There has never been a term, male or female, that fit me," said Vaid-Menon. "I was always taunted growing up in a small town in Texas that was conservative and Christian. And, I am South Asian and I was gender nonconforming, so I got a lot of harassment because I was too effeminate or too fashionable."
A 2011 report from the Center for Transgender Equality has also revealed that transgender Americans experience more poverty and violence than other groups.
Vaid-Menon, a Stanford University graduate, said there was much violence toward "perceived gender expression and not sexual orientation."
Now, when Vaid-Menon's birthday comes around, things will be more comfortable: Facebook will say, "Today is their birthday instead of his or her birthday."
Still there are many American terms, like "femme," that are still not on Facebook's list. The gender selection option is still just in English, and foreign terms for transgender that Indians like Vaid-Menon might select -- "kothi" or "banthi" or "hijra" -- are not yet included.
"But it's a work in progress," Vaid-Menon said. "They are going to update this with user input and we expect Facebook to expand to other languages and countries over time."