Trans activists ask for more census options than female and male

Daily Brew

[Canadians got their 2016 Census in the mail beginning on Monday. YAHOO CANADA NEWS/Showwei Chu]

Canadians across the country were excited to receive their 2016 Census forms on Monday — so much so that the website crashed as people went online to submit their answers. But trans and non-binary Canadians were left disappointed when they discovered they only had two options for their sex on the form.

When you go online to fill out the census you are asked, “What is this person’s sex?” for each individual living in the household. You can opt not to select one of the two given options —male or female — and continue through the survey, leaving the question blank. But there is no option for other or space to write in a different answer to that specific question.

Sabine Grutter, a Montreal researcher focusing on trans health inequalities, says there is discussion within Statistics Canada about how to address and enumerate transgender, intersex and non-binary Canadians. They were told that StatsCan has a working group looking at methods of including those respondents in the survey, Grutter tells Yahoo Canada News, but nothing will change in time for this year’s census, which was sent to all Canadian households beginning on Monday.

“That is really good,” Grutter says of the working group, “but the response as to how they’re going to be analyzing this census population is disappointing. The next time around Statistics Canada definitely needs to update their gender or sex question.”

Part of the issue, Grutter says, is that it’s not clear which one StatsCan is asking about in this survey. The census itself says “sex,” Grutter says, but the online information seems to indicate that what the agency is asking for is actually the gender of respondents.

The limited options for responses on this census prompted some criticism online.

“Let the census know you exist, write yourself in. #nonbinary #intersex #transvote,” tweeted Al Donato.

Jessica Dempsey, a trans woman, tweeted to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that she will not fill out the census because trans Canadians are not represented. 

“Oh #StatsCan, having only ‘male’ & 'female’ as options for 'sex’ is both outdated & offensive. Wish for greater inclusion&accuracy next round,” tweeted clinical psychologist Sarah Thompson.

Grutter wrote a BuzzFeed article based on information she received from Statistics Canada, she says. The piece outlines how StatsCan is classifying the information submitted through the census, and what Canadians can do to ensure they’re counted — even if they don’t feel one of the two choices reflects them.

The response to her post over the last day has been surprising, Grutter says. 

“I launched it about a month ago and it’s blowing up today,” Grutter says. “I wasn’t expecting that, but I’m really happy that people are responding and sharing it.”

A few other countries have tried to address the need to expand the census options for sex and gender. Australia’s 2016 census provided the option for respondents to click both “male” and “female,” bringing up a text box for a write-in answer. But the option did not work for children included in census responses.

Finding an effective way to enumerate this population is important, Grutter says, because identifying Canada’s trans, intersex and non-binary populations is the first step to ensuring their needs are met and their concerns heard. 

“The census is this amazing tool for governments to actually figure out who they are serving and what the needs of the population are,” Grutter says.

And on an individual level, having to classify yourself as “other,” or being left with no way to classify your sex or gender at all, is damaging, Grutter says.

“It just invalidates people’s identities to the core.”

For those filling out the census who do not feel the “male” or “female” options are appropriate, picking one or the other isn’t necessary. The online system gives a warning about the lack of an answer, but will allow you to move forward without selecting one. When you reach the comments section, Grutter says, you can write in your reasons for skipping the question about sex.

And for those who feel the two provided answers fit them but want to express a desire to see more options for Canadians in the next census, Grutter suggests saying so in the comments at the end of the survey.

While Grutter is disappointed at the census’s limits in 2015, they are happy to see it return after the previous government replaced the mandatory long-form census with a voluntary survey in 2011. And the efforts of those within the government and Statistics Canada who are working to improve the census for 2021 should be noted, they say. (Grutter prefers to use the pronouns they and them.)

“There needs to be a huge shout out to all of the activists and all of the people within Statistics Canada who are pushing for this,” Grutter says.