Some thoughts on the census

I’ve noticed a lot of quite valid concern about this year’s UK census from various quarters. Trans activists point to the continuing enforcement of binary gender norms, whilst others rail against the fact that US arms company Lockheed Martin will profit from the survey.

First off, a clarification: the  census gender question is apparently based around self-identity rather than the rather complex question of legal gender (since my passport says “female” but I have no GRC, I highly suspect that my gender “legally” counts as both female and male, depending upon who you’re asking), things are at least somewhat straightforward for those who identify as “female” or “male”. You just use the category you define into. That makes the question pretty straightforward for me, at least!

The situation is not so simple for genderqueer individuals and others who might not identify into binary categories. This is, of course, insensitive, stupid, and completely unsurprising.

Non-binary identities are an unnecessary complication for the majority of politicians and statisticians, who’d rather just pretend that such things don’t exist.

I’ve noticed a fair few suggestions from various people about how to deal with this. Some feel that it might be worth ticking both boxes: others intend to try ticking neither. I’ve heard about census officials suggesting both of these options, which suggests that they may at least have been asked not to just dismiss non-binary people out of hand.

It’s good that people aren’t being forced to tick just one box or the other, but the systematic erasure of non-binary identities nevertheless remains in place. The problem is that neither ticking both boxes or neither box is likely to lead to change.

The census is “read” by a machine, and if it sees two boxes ticked or no boxes ticked when it expects to see one box ticked, then it doesn’t note this down. The unexpected result instead becomes noted as “missing data”: a common phenomenon in large surveys, where people often tick the wrong boxes by accident or forget to fill in a question.

There’s a chance that some of those who tick both boxes or neither might be followed up by census officials asking them to fill them in on the missing data, but it’s likely that much of this “missing data” will simply be ignored. This means that even if non-binary identified people and allies decide not to fill in the gender box en-masse, statisticians analysing the census are unlikely to notice.

What we can do as trans activists is to write in to politicians, census officials and statisticians in order to complain and raise awareness of the issue. There’s a great model letter available on Christie Elan-Cane’s livejournal.

Meanwhile, there’s a debate raging between those calling for a census boycott (on the grounds that Lockheed Martin – a company who openly profit from death and suffering – won the contract for the survey) and those who feel that the data on employment, housing and suchforth is way too important to lose. Fortunately, a third way is possible: there are plenty of measures you can take to stop Lockheed Martin profiting from your census form!

There’s a fantastic in-depth blog post up at Peace News Log detailing how you can cause maximum loss of profit for Lockheed Martin. The most important suggestion is arguably to ensure that (if possible) you fill in the physical paper form and post it back, because the online form costs a lot less to analyse and administer.

Happy subverting to all!

6 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the census

  1. The flaw with this being, Lockheed Martin do not process the forms. All they did was create the tracking system. Their job is done, dusted, and paid for. Lockheed Martin do not and will not see your completed forms. hey go to the ONS in Manchester for processing! By creating more work, you are making the census more expensive overall, and where do you suppose the money comes from to pay for this? Personally I prefer to take the ten mins it takes to fill it in, post it back, and never be bothered by it again… at least not for a decade.

    I must laugh at this idea to deliberately make the paper un-scannable by the software. Many people have a problem with the fact that their personal information is being recorded. Besides the obvious point that all this info and much much more is readily available to the government if they really wanted it, by writing badly and forcing a human to manually type in your details, well then your details will be seen. If you write legibly and allow the software to do its job, no one need see your personal details at all.

    Oh and on another note, if only for example 80% of people in your district return the forms, the local council, schooling, healthservice, libraries and all other public sector services, will only receive 80% of the funding they are entitled to… so if you failed to return your form, think twice before you complain about the state of your roads or the closure of your local library!

    Lastly, a friend of mine is working for the census this year, and her fear is that people will be rude and aggresive towards her when she makes calls to collect their forms. If you do happen to be contacted by Census workers, do remember they work for the ONS, not Lockheed, nor the government, so be civil!

  2. Oh dear, you are being so clumsy Ker. It really stands out a mile. Posting the same thing everywhere is not the way to do proper astroturfing. I hope that nobody is paying you, for they would be getting pretty poor value for money.

  3. I know of a certain someone who ticked ‘male’ and ‘female’ on the gender boxes. 😉 I think it’s so important wherever funding is involved. How can groups use census statistics to prevent trans institution funding? Simple. “Well there’s this many men and this many women.” Siigh. It’s so interesting how the positing of a question can effect the answer …

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