The Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) have announced a welcome revision of their new gender and sex categories for student records within Higher Education.
I originally posted about this issue after HESA’s original proposed revisions – which appeared to ask about “legal” or “birth” sex and removed any possibility for the recognition of non-binary genders and intersex bodies – caused confusion and concern.
An impressive lobbying campaign in which trans people and allies emailed and tweeted HESA to explain our concerns has now led to a change in policy.
The revised fields contain the following categories:
1 Male 2 Female 3 Other
This replaces the current options (male, female, indeterminate) and the original proposed revision (male, female).
It is important to note that HESA acknowledge for the first time that the “other” category might be used to record non-binary genders in their advice to institutions:
The use of ‘other’ is more appropriate for people who associate with the terms intersex, androgyne, intergender, ambigender, gender fluid, polygender and gender queer.
As Jane Fae explains, this is an enormous step forward.
It’s also worth noting that institutions may, if they wish, institute additional gender options in their student record surveys (e.g. genderqueer, androgyne) and map these options onto the third category (“other”) for the sake of data provision to HESA.
Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were originally assigned at birth?
01 Yes 02 No 98 Information refused
These revisions are a massive improvement, representing a step forward from the existing guidelines as well as the flawed original revisions. HESA certainly deserve credit for listening carefully and responding positively to the complaints they received.
However, there is still some ambiguity in the SEXID question. No doubt some institutions will title this question “sex” whereas some may title it “gender”, and students may still experience uncertainty when formulating a response. For instance, how are intersex individuals who define as female or genderqueer individuals who wish to note that they have been assigned a male sex meant to respond to such a question?
Moreover, it is important that trans activists based within Higher Education continue to lobby institutions to recognise gender identity within student records purely on the basis of self-definition – a matter that is largely out of HESA’s hands.
I still don’t see why any organization needs to ask either of these intrusive questions. The GENDERID question still effectively requires trans people to out themselves. After all, people will say, why would anybody answer with “Information Refused” if they were cis and didn’t have anything they felt they needed to hide? I’d suggest scraping both questions and replacing them with something much more straightforward, non-threatening, non-Big Brother, polite, and tailored to a practical purpose, along the lines of “What pronouns do you prefer?” and possibly also what title they prefer. Nobody *needs* to know anybody’s sex or gender. It’s personal!
I disagree – we live in a sexist, transphobic world where enrolment statistics help us understand (and therefore tackle) the inequalities that continue to prevail within higher education (e.g. the far higher proportion of males within “STEM” subjects).
I agree that universities shouldn’t *need* to know sex and/or gender in everyday interactions with students, which is why I feel records such as this should be anonymous and carefully protected. Moreover, it’s worth noting that GENDERID is one of several questions which an individual can choose not to answer – it’s important in that (assuming the institution in question is Doing It Right) it gives trans people the *option* to note their trans status within university records. This should help institutions gain a better grasp of how many trans students they have, something we currently have no idea about.
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