Surveying Gender

It’s back to school and students everywhere are looking at a form that asks them to choose M or F.

Some have changed it to include Transgender, or Other, and still others add a “don’t care to answer”.

I’m glad to see there’s a few more options than there used to be, but there’s still a few things I generally don’t see addressed:

  1. the additive model. I’d like an O for Other and an F for female and I don’t want to choose between them. Likewise, many trans men might want both an M and a T. If the average trans woman has to choose between F or T, she will choose F. You wind up with no stats on trans populations.
  2. explain. For that matter, why do you want to know my gender? Maybe explain what you’re doing with the information; if it matters to your school or workplace to know how many trans people are in the mix, then say so. Many trans people are reluctant to respond if they don’t know why you’re asking.
  3. pronouns. In addition to a gender choice, maybe add a pronoun choice. That will give you a little more data.
  4. caveat. If you have to, by law, ask for only an M or F, then simply point out that you are having to follow federal/state/city guidelines for data collection. A simple note that says “hey, this isn’t what we’d choose, but we are required to gather this info” goes a long way in making your place more welcoming and inclusive.

There are a lot of ways to make trans/GNC students welcome, but the very first – and sometimes the most distressing way NOT to do so – are the endless checkboxes of gender on forms. Do away with them where you can, finesse them when you can’t, and otherwise design forms that express the spirit and intent of your school as welcoming and inclusive.

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