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!