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New gender options for Facebook users

MENLO PARK, Calif. — You don’t have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore. The social media giant has added a customizable option with about 50 terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her, or them.

Facebook said the change initially covers its 159 million monthly users in the United States and is aimed at giving people more choices in how they describe themselves, such as androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid, or transsexual.

‘‘There’s going to be a lot of people for whom this is going to mean nothing, but for the few it does impact, it means the world,’’ said Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison, who is undergoing a transformation from male to female. On Thursday, while watch-dogging the software for any problems, she said she was also changing her Facebook identity from Female to TransWoman.

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‘‘All too often transgender people like myself and other gender-nonconforming people are given this binary option, do you want to be male or female? What is your gender? And it’s kind of disheartening because none of those let us tell others who we really are,’’ she said. ‘‘This really changes that, and for the first time I get to go to the site and specify to all the people I know what my gender is.’’

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Facebook, with 1.23 billion active monthly users around the world, also allows them to keep gender identity private.

The Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California Los Angeles, estimates there are at least 700,000 individuals in the United States who identify as transgender, an umbrella term that includes people who live as a gender different from the one at birth.

Facebook’s change drew dozens of appreciative postings on its diversity website, though some pointed out the need to change relationships beyond son and daughter and asked for sexual-orientation options.

The move by Facebook represents a basic and a yet significant form of recognition of the nation’s growing transgender rights movement. The Human Rights Campaign last year found that 10 percent of the 10,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender youths it surveyed used ‘‘other’’ or wrote in their own gender terms.

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Yet the high-profile Facebook development seemed senseless to some.

‘‘Of course Facebook is entitled to manage its wildly popular site as it sees fit, but here is the bottom line: It’s impossible to deny the biological reality that humanity is divided into two halves: male and female,’’ said Jeff Johnston, of Focus on the Family, a national religious organization. ‘‘Those petitioning for the change insist that there are an infinite number of genders, but just saying it doesn’t make it so.”