The 2011 census and non-binary identity

// 10 March 2011

SA400031.JPG[Image shows the word Census in a black box in the top right hand corner, with the words ‘enclosed’ and ‘is required by law’ on a cream background in purple letters]

Yesterday, my household’s copy of the census plopped into our lives. It hasn’t yet been filled in, or even opened, but I know that when we do open it and begin to fill it in, I will have to sit by and allow myself to be misgendered. I will have to supply false information, because there is no option to supply the truth. Being misgendered, in every legal way that one is when one is outside the binary, hurts. It denies us legitimacy, self-determination, and gives our opponents a weapon to use against us. (The statistician and sociologist in me also often screams about inaccuracy…)

Christie Elan-Cane , a person working for recognition of non-gendered people – I am not sure whether this encompasses the whole non-binary community, but from certain usages I would imagine so – has directly contacted the Permanent Secretaryof the ONS, Jil Matheson, to express this. Per posted this on per livejournal , and I will quote a few fragments here;

Your opening message on the front cover of the census questionnaire states “Everyone should be included in the census – all people, ……..”

My core identity is NON-GENDERED

Under ‘Individual questions’ on census questionnaire is the requirement for the respondent to state their sex with two options: ‘Male’ and ‘Female’.

This question can be interpreted in two ways: that the respondent states their sex (the physicality) or their gender (the gender identity). Given that the question asks only for the respondent’s sex is a misnomer or at least open to dispute as the physicality and the identity are not necessarily the same.

Notwithstanding the fact that if the purpose of the question was solely in reference to the sex there is the obvious exclusion of ‘Intersex’ from permitted response options, but it should be assumed the majority of respondents would choose to state their gender (gender identity) if the core identity of the respondent is different to their sex (physicality).

The Office for National Statistics have missed what should have been a valuable opportunity – and a very timely opportunity considering the measures the transpopulation are expecting to be undertaken by the Government Equalities Office under a forthcoming Government Action Plan – to identify a definable section within the population whose marginalised existence has traditionally been ignored.

Furthermore, I regard the mandatory requirement to declare myself either male or female not only inappropriate but insulting and deeply offensive.


Christie Elan-Cane


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Comments From You

Laurel Dearing // Posted 10 March 2011 at 6:10 pm

please just write what you want on there. theres a mass campaign to boycott it, so i think legitimate answers which ‘break the rules’ they will just have to accept. just because they only give you 2 boxed doesnt mean you cant write your own or leave it blank. fuck them.

Jadea // Posted 10 March 2011 at 9:49 pm

I didn’t even think of that…funny as I also happened to be talking to my ex about this who would be in a similar situation to this (hands up; I’m not sure where she puts herself in terms of sex and gender these days).

I was mostly focusing on the fact that I had to put my religion under ‘other’ – last time round if we had X number of people put ‘Pagan’ it was to be an option this time round (this is where the ‘put Jedi and it’ll become an official religion’ rubbish came from) – numbers weren’t counted, so we were excluded. I was also focusing on the fact I had to put whether or not I considered myself to be disabled…I’m an aspie, under their definition it is a disability but I dislike being thought of as disabled…and the fact I put that I was disabled then also effects the statistics for employment.

Yours is FAR greater than the issues I’ve raised, and frankly on thinking about it I feel disgusted that the only options were ‘male’ or ‘female’. My point is that the census seems to exclude and make assumptions about a lot of people, I really struggle to see the point in this census when it is excluding, pigeon-holing, and making judgements about us like this.

Kit // Posted 11 March 2011 at 10:18 am

I noticed on the front of the census form that it says if there’s any information missing they “may” contact you to get it – is it possible that if one were to leave both boxes unchecked, and they did contact to get the information, they’d take into account alternative answers for future?

naath // Posted 11 March 2011 at 12:01 pm

This: post at shakesville suggest the official advice is to tick both, possibly also write on an explanation.

I agree that the question is rubbish and desperately needs an “other” ticky with write-in if not removing entirely.

JKBC // Posted 11 March 2011 at 12:58 pm

@Laurel Dearing; sadly, filling in the census isn’t my responsibility in the household and everyone else has a rather frightening reverence for closed statistical questions and what seems like very little for my non-gender. It’s awful.

@Jadea; it must be nasty having to deal with that stuff too. You’re right; censuses are pretty important in some ways, but it would be very nice if we could just define ourselves in our own words, without allowing others to make assumptions.

@Kit; that’s a good point. I have no idea whether that would work, but for anyone who can it might be worth doing.

SJT // Posted 11 March 2011 at 1:12 pm

As a feminist, I sympathise. As a survey researcher, I understand that similar points can be made about every single question. Providing as many answer categories as there are groups of people would make the questionnaire too long. There are always people who don’t fit the box, but most straightforwardly do, and the purpose is to make general statements about most people. No survey can fully reflect the complexity of the real world.

The census is your chance to be part of a great national event – like an election – and part of history.

Kit // Posted 11 March 2011 at 1:47 pm

@JKBC – re. census filling in responsibility: my dad was was wondering about the “ethics” and validity of the gathered data, if one family member is deciding what to put for everyone else in the household. The concept made us both pretty uncomfortable. I don’t think the online census form will allow for anywhere near the amount of freedom as the paper form would (i.e. fields tend to be “required” and there’s obviously the lack of room to write any additional notes), but have you looked at whether you could fill in your part of the census for yourself online?

(online form is here: if anyone hasn’t seen it yet :) )

@SJT – if the purpose is to make general statements with regards to a person’s “sex” (as asked by the Census), at the very least couldn’t they put an “other” box to acknowledge that there are more that two options? I think the results would be surprising if the belief is “male” and “female” are significantly large enough to ignore counting the alternatives.

Besides, there are several options for religion and ethnicity (which also have options for “other”), although if this ( “conspiracy” #5, link goes to a page on is anthing to go by maybe they have ulterior motives for collecting thorough religious and ethnicity related data :S

aimee // Posted 11 March 2011 at 3:39 pm

I am ticking both on my census form and will encourage others to do so in solidarity for people who don’t define themselves in terms of binary genders.

KJB // Posted 12 March 2011 at 12:43 am

I’m actually working on the census, and am having to field a whole lot of objections about it constantly. I think this is probably only one of two criticisms I find valid about it.

Kit – Those who feel uncomfortable about having the form completed ‘for them’ can request an individual form (I1) for their personal details, but one person in the household has to be responsible for the overall H1 form.

So I would say to JKBC – request yourself an I1 form!

My point is that the census seems to exclude and make assumptions about a lot of people, I really struggle to see the point in this census when it is excluding, pigeon-holing, and making judgements about us like this.

Well, because there was no punishment for not completing it last time, lots of people didn’t, so how exactly was this one going to be all-inclusive? Part of the problem is that censuses have been taken every 10 years, and I would bet that the number of non-gender people is probably much larger this time round.

Re: boycotting it, I am going to repost part of my LC comment. Forgive me, this will get a bit long:

I think the database state is something we should definitely be wary of and oppose, but it seems like that gets mixed up with all the ‘small state’ stuff, which offers a convenient excuse for privatisation, privatisation, privatisation! For anyone who didn’t read AllyF’s piece on the real meaning of the ‘Big Society,’ it’s scarily prescient. At least we CAN hold the state accountable – what about the ISPs who have your data? The banks? The online businesses who are obsessed with focussing ever-more targeted advertising at you?

The low response to the last census led to Waltham Forest losing £9m of funding. That’s a LOT of money, in one of the poorest areas of London. We have a Tory-led government that is slavering for chances to cut, and I feel like a lot of the census objectors are handing it to them on a plate – but then I’m sure some of them approve… I think the only argument I can really relate to is the moral argument being made against Lockheed Martin, but still I can’t help feeling like those arguments come from a very privileged place – people who aren’t going to lose out much if there are massive funding cuts, or who, like Charlieman, have got the time to chase up councils over every little problem they have:

Any boycott of the census could lead to further funding problems for local councils, who already fear they will miss out on hundreds of millions of pounds of funding from central government because hundreds of thousands of people will not be counted.

The last census in 2001 has been accused of failing to count a million people and this time a number of major councils have expressed fears that lessons have not been learnt, a claim denied by the Office for National Statistics.


K // Posted 27 March 2011 at 2:15 am

Personally, the most truthful thing that I could do was leave the 2 gender boxes blank. Besides, the religion question is (the only) optional question on the census – so why such privilege and respect accorded to the right not to state one’s religion?

Anyway, I answered everything else on the form and I posted it on Friday. Now I read in the news today, that the powers-that-be will be getting tough on those of us who don’t answer each and every single question on the census form. So, I’m expecting a knock on the door soon from a pair of the newly-created ‘Non-compliance officers’. Since the stated penalty for being gender non-conformist is either a £1,000 fine for the wealthy or prison for the poor, being of the latter category I’m left wondering whether they’ll stick me in a men’s or women’s prison.

(Btw…rather than go around in pairs, isn’t it tried-and-tested practice for ‘state invetigators’ to go around in three’s a la the classic troika formation; one to ask the questions, another to write them down and a third to keep an eye on ‘the intellectual’?;)

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