Sunday, March 27, 2011

Re: Census

Those of you with persistent memories will recall I had a crazy plan, which I've been mostly sticking to, but more by avoiding answering the offending question than by explaining why. Still, today is census day, and this meant I needed to actually write a letter to include with the form. Here it is, for better or worse.

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to explain why I have left Question 2 unanswered on the enclosed Census form. My objections to the question are two-fold.

Firstly, the phrasing of the question. “What is your sex?” is problematic as it unclear what precisely is meant by “sex”, and the manner in which this is usually decided at birth relies entirely on the appearance of one's genitals. I hope you can appreciate that I consider this to be too intrusive and personal a question to ask. Also, I believe that formal guidance given to the transgender community has clarified that transsexual people are explicitly permitted to select the option that reflects their “acquired” gender regardless of whether they possess a Gender Recognition Certificate or not. Thus I find the decision not to phrase the question in terms of gender, thereby bypassing the awkward question as to what is someone's “true” sex, both baffling and disappointing.

Assuming that the intended question is “What is your gender?” leads me to my second objection. The two given options, “male” or “female”, are too restrictive. Once one acknowledges that a person's gender may differ from that assigned to them by their outward appearance, it is hardly surprising to realise that their gender may differ from either of the two most commonly recognised sexes. Or that they may be unsure as to what their true gender is, and not wish to just answer based on social expectations. In other words, it is both simplistic and erroneous to assume that gender is a binary, as Western society does, and insisting that everyone has to fit into one of these two “boxes” (“male” or “female”) is discriminatory. While it might be anticipated that the number of people in Britain today who would identify as a non-binary gender is small, the truth is we will never know unless efforts are made to begin to collect this data. I feel that the 2011 Census missed an opportunity to do this.

Yours faithfully,

Adele Taylor

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