The 2020 Census

I took advantage of the super quiet Saturday when we were all avoiding our chances to meet the virus to respond to the census. I went on the web site (impressed that one could use so many languages other than English) and started with my household of one, which didn’t take very long. Really, I wondered, didn’t they used to ask how many cars and bicycles we owned, or how far we had to go to work?

Anyway, the thing that bothered me was, of course as a non-binary person, that we only had M or F to choose from. The one-line Help said something about choosing our biological sex. Of course that has happened before, and I put what is on my passport, which I guess is my official “sex” for “those people,” the people who don’t care…

I suppose trans people who have completed a medical transition didn’t have a problem with it, which is somehow comforting. But then I thought, there are all the intersex people who probably have to put whatever the pediatrician selected for them at birth… The rest of us, the ones who don’t like their biological sex, who may, as we joke, go to bed as another sex (the joke being how do you define one’s gender as opposed to one’s sexuality, sexuality is whom you go to bed with, gender is whom you go to bed as), have to just put up with it.

It started to bother me more an hour after I completed the census. My address is now tagged as being occupied by a person that I am not. Even if I have, of course, a long history of being tagged on the binary, now it just feels odd. I’m not lamenting that it’s a microinvalidation, as I learned this just attracts comments that I’m a crybaby. No, I’m just noticing that it could be useful to the users of census data to consider that we exist.

The oddity of the census grew in my mind also because the race question had a very long list of people types and origins, which for some people must feel perplexing if they’re from mixed race ancestry. I forgot to check if one could check all that apply. I found that the blank line under “White” to fill in a qualifier if “White” would mean you were never asked where you’re really from… Or if “White” feels like you’re included in a class of people who routinely discriminate against all the others… Anyway. I’m being facetious, but there may be people who hesitate to be identified so precisely on a federal government form, a government that is not particularly nice to them.

And perhaps that should be my view of the “biological sex” question: any answer outside the binary might be held against us because the question is asked by a government that is hostile to us… I wonder how it feels to work as a statistician when you know the questions are generating questions like that.

Perhaps the morale of the story is: when in doubt, toss a coin.