Like Facebook before it, Google+ is offering users more options for identifying their gender, moving social network profiles well beyond the basic male-or-female choices of years past.
The gender field on your profile will contain four entries, “Male,” “Female,” “Decline to state,” and “Custom.” When “Custom” is selected, a freeform text field and a pronoun field will appear. You can still limit who can see your gender, just like you can now.
According to her announcement, the new option will become available for users in the next few days.
Google+ first offered “other” as an option for gender three years ago. More recently, Facebook introduced a custom box for specifying gender, allowing users to choose from dozens of options including trans, genderqueer, and intersex. The new option from Google+ will go a step further, allowing users to fill in any word they want.
Social media has become an important venue for dialogue about gender identity, helping to give rise to new terms like the ones now acknowledged on Facebook, and any additional ones that might come into use on Google+. Thuy Linh Tu, an associate professor of American studies at New York University, tells Quartz that it’s important for people to be able to define themselves (online and otherwise) without restrictions.
“The drop-down identities that were offered online did not encompass the full scope of how people understand themselves,” says Tu, who studies fashion, pop culture, and how women construct identities.
But as Tu notes, empowering users to define gender with whatever language they choose isn’t the same as confronting issues of gender and transgender inequality.
“One of the things I think corporations are really good at doing is giving us endless options,” says Tu, “without sort of addressing why we might feel that gender identification is a constricting practice … in the first place.”