As many Canadians know, one of the first steps our new Prime Minister took was to reinstate the long-form census. To the rejoice of data-loving researchers everywhere, the long-form census will commence on May 2nd and will try to quantify all Canadians. However, trans and intersex Canadians are concerned that they will remain uncounted and will be unable to answer question E-two, which asks if your sex is male or female.
Non-binary trans activists have raised substantial concern over the erasure of trans and intersex existence and have been heard. Connie Graziadei, Assistant Chief Statistician at Statistics Canada, has "recommend[ed] that when completing your census questionnaire, you leave this question blank and indicate in the comments section at the end of the questionnaire the reasons for which you find the current construction of the question inadequate. That will provide valuable and accurate information for this segment of the population." For Statistics Canada's full response click here, an update can be found here, and their official Q and A here. Any additional information included in this article was gained through correspondence with various Statistic Canada employees as well as consultation with prominent demographers.
So to get down to it:
1. Demographics on Trans Identities, Especially Non-Binary Identities, Do Not Exist. Anywhere.
And that matters.
It matters because population demographics are used to justify basically every institutional policy that could create wider access to gender-affirming tools through more comprehensive insurance policies and decreasing waiting times, or could expand non-binary facilities or forms, including voters' IDs. Trans people need things to change as they face extreme levels of discrimination everywhere, particularly abuse in the healthcare industry, and the facts around this are just plain dismal. Studies have found that 70% of trans people have reported discrimination in healthcare, 41% have attempted suicide, 90% have been subject to harassment in the workplace, and 19% have been homeless at one point in life; all of which are confounded by race, age, HIV status, (dis)ability, etc.
Currently, most institutions act off of the DSM-5 which reports that in "natal adult males, prevalence ranges from 0.005% to 0.014%, and for natal females, from 0.002% to 0.003%" (American Psychiatric Association, 2003). Which means there could be as many as 392,045 trans adults who were assigned male at birth and 84,010 trans adults assigned female at birth, for a combined total of 476,055 trans adults. However, even the DSM-5 points out that "since not all adults seeking hormone treatment and surgical reassignment attend specialty clinics, these rates are likely modest underestimates" (American Psychiatric Association 2003). The point that demographics, especially for non-binary individuals, just don't exist is reiterated by most studies, policies, and activism by trans people.
So with that background in mind, here's what people aren't talking about:
2. Everyone will *Still be Counted as Female or Male*, Even if You Leave the Binary Question Blank and Insert Comments.
Yup, everyone will still be counted as female or male, no matter what.
This sounds bad, but could actually be very useful for trans people who want to be counted as female or male and also want to be including in the data analysis related to trans and intersex demographics in Canada. By boycotting question E-two and opting to write a comment indicating that you wish to be classified as female or male but identify as [trans, non-binary, genderqueer, etc] you could still be flagged for question E-two analysis but will be counted within a binary population. Yay!
For people not wishing to be classified as male or female at all, it looks bleak. Since creating a third sex/gender category for analysis takes a massive amount of time and work, Statistics Canada simply can't do it for this Census. A data analyser will probably try to simplify you into the binary for analysis by methods described below. It's best to be very clear in your comments as to how you identify and want to be classified. This method is flawed, to say the least, and the most radical action you can do is to lobby Statistics Canada to change this through your response.
***It is recommended that your comments read something like this: ***
"I opted to leave question e-two blank as I identify as [insert sex/gender identity or identities]. If you must, classify me as [pick one: female, male] for analysis and update the 2021 Census to be completely non-binary and to have new gender/sex categories."
To clarify: non-binary people should never be asked to pick between a binary and if doing so makes you uncomfortable, then don't do it. Be aware that everyone will be quantified within a binary though, and by following that format you hold more power over your identity and the demographics of Canada until the system is updated.
3. Non-Responders will Probably Be Classified as Female or Male By:
Statistics Canada has not confirmed the methods they will use to classify trans or intersex people within a binary but it is reasonable to say that they will use the similar techniques as those they use for fixing blanks and mistakes. And those methods are:
i. Phoning you until you answer the question.
ii. Sending one of their new 35,000 hires to your house to make you fill out the question.
Statistics Canada should not bug you for boycotting question E-two if you explain why, but they may mess up. Statistics Canada will be providing instructions to new employees that this question can be left blank with comments.
*If these employees insist that you pick a binary sex box report them to Eric Collins (firstname.lastname@example.org) with their name, location, date, and why you are reporting them.*
iii. Making an educated guess of your sex/gender using fancy techniques called imputation and inference. Inference is when they read your other answers (eg. In a same-sex relationship with a female) and then classify you. Imputation is a second option that compares you to similar profiles based on 18 characteristics and then matches you to your most similar sex/gender. Any question that is left blank by you and changed by a Statistics Canada analyser could be flagged and kept track of for later analysis.
The good news is that:
4. The Data Collected from Trans Individuals' Comments will be Analysed.
Unfortunately, allowing trans and intersex individuals to leave binary sex question blank and fill out the comment section is a band-aid solution to a cis-sexist system. As such, a binary population analysis will occur and the comments are the only route of additional information for this census.
But, according to Statistics Canada there will be an internal analysis of question E-two with corresponding comments. This will provide insight into the identity and demographics of Canadian trans individuals which will be a giant step forward for justifying policies affecting trans individuals. This will be released later than the age and binary sex demographic data which is released in May 2017. You will only be included in this analysis if you leave question E-2 blank and write a comment.
5. If You Leave Question E-Two Blank you *HAVE TO* Fill out a Comments Section.
Section 31 of the Statistics Act states that refusing or neglecting to answer a question "without lawful excuse" is an offense. If you refuse you could face a fine up to $500, face a maximum three month imprisonment, or both.
So to avoid this, it is recommended that your comment reads something like this:
"I opted to leave question e-two blank as I identify as [insert sex/gender identity or identities]. If you must, classify me as [pick one: female, male] for analysis and update the 2021 Census to be completely non-binary and to have new gender/sex categories"
6. Your Identity is Protected and You Should Not be Outed by the Census
It can't be said that you won't be outed as trans if you opt to boycott question E-two, because transphobia is everywhere. But you shouldn't be.
Firstly, only Statistics Canada's employees have access to the census' raw data, only on a need to know basis, and only under an oath of secrecy. If they disclose any information they will face up a maximum one thousand dollar fine, six months imprisonment, or both under section 30 of the Statistics Act. Statistics Canada outlines concerns of confidentiality here.
Next, if you are worried about the government tracking you and knowing how you identify, the unfortunate news is that they probably already do. This varies by province in Canada but bills like Bill C-51 and government records such as applying for a legal gender change allow them to keep a fairly close eye on you.
7. The Census is Written in Binary Terms all the Way Through.
With all the focus on the binary sex question, it is often overlooked that the entire census is written in binary language. For example, question E-6 asks for people's relationships to one another and allows for possible answers including "opposite-sex husband or wife", "brother or daughter", "father or mother". So, be prepared for a whole bunch of binarism.
Activism on the fate of future censuses must not only advocate for better sex and gender question(s) but also for the entire census to be made completely gender neutral, in both English and French.
8. Everything Said Above is Applicable to the French Census and the Census Distributed to Indigenous Reserves
The census can be written in both English and French online and in print. In both languages people are privy to boycott the binary sex question and write in a comment explaining why.
For indigenous folk living on reserves, there is a different version of the long-form census that is distributed meant to address specific issues. Here too, you are eligible to boycott the binary sex question and write in an explanation as to why you did so.
The next long-form census of population will occur in 2021 and Statistics Canada will conduct a full review as to how to best update the Census to fit the needs of the population. They are already starting that process through internal working groups and through reading your comments on the 2016 Census. Hopefully by that time some solid data will have already appeared on trans demographics in Canada and policies will start to change to address our specific needs. Until then, take care and love yourself.
A note for allies: The best way to help trans and intersex people in advocating for a greater option of gender/sex identities in the next census is to write a comment asking for such. If you are cis, fill out the binary sex question because otherwise you might be included in the internal analysis of the question, which is for trans / intersex / non-binary people.