The 2021 Census is collecting information on sex but not gender. Trans people told The Feed they feel ‘erased’ and ‘invalidated’ as a result. Some experts worry about how this will affect funding and systems in the future.
Proud trans woman Jasmine* told The Feed she feels “insulted” by the decision to collect information on sex but not gender in this year’s Census.
She said the decision will force trans people to input the sex they were assigned at birth or instead select the “non-binary” option.
For the past four years, Jasmine has presented as female rather than “non-binary” - a term she sees as not reflective of her gender identity or experience.
“Since I'm a transgender woman, assigned male at birth, I would be required to mark myself as male, which is something that I'm not comfortable doing,” Jasmine told The Feed.
“They are refusing to allow transgender people to identify as who they are, which is a form of erasure, which is invalidating to us.”
An ABS spokesperson told The Feed, the Census “does not ask specifically about sex at birth, but gives guidance to respondents that they should consider this in terms of their sex characteristics, such as their chromosomes, hormones, and reproductive organs.”
“The Census will collect information on sex as we have for every Census,” the spokesperson said.
“The non-binary sex category has been included to provide options for people who are not exclusively male or female.”
Acting Director of Community Health at ACON, Teddy Cook, said that the exclusion of trans people in the Census will result in “flawed data.”
In 2020, Mr Cook was a member of the ABS Standard on Sex, Gender, Variations of Sex Characteristics and Sexual Orientation Variables.
He said the ABS won't be releasing Census data on non-binary participants and instead will randomly assign people who’ve selected this option as male or female.
“The Census has let us down. What this means is we’re basically unable to assess and understand how many LGBTIQ people there are in Australia,” Mr Cook said.
“It's not about being inclusive, it's the right thing to do in the most accurate way to get a sense of how many of us there are, and what we're experiencing,” he added.
Mr Cook said trans people experience worse mental health outcomes than the general population, including lifetime suicidal ideation and increased risk of harm. He said this is particularly true for Sistergirls and Brotherboys (Aboriginal trans people).
“Census data enables funding, [it] enables health systems and governments to be able to apply resources to areas that are needed,” Mr Cook said.
“It’s something that only happens once every five years.
“A really great way to improve the health and well being of trans people is to make sure that we see ourselves reflected.”
The ABS spokesperson said the main release of Census data will present sex data with two output categories: male and female.
“Where a respondent has provided a non-binary sex response, a statistical method will be used to derive the sex variable," the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said ABS will release data on the number and characteristics of people who responded as non-binary "via an analytical article."
"We are hoping to provide some useful insights into the health, employment and living situations of people who responded as non-binary... as compared to the rest of the population. This will include a breakdown by state or territory of residence."
The spokesperson said gender identity was one of eight topics short-listed by the ABS for possible inclusion in the Census.
“We found that while stakeholders did identify the value in collecting gender identity in the Census, there were some limitations in collecting this information, such as people's understanding of why the question is being asked and the sensitive nature of the topic,” the spokesperson added.
“Gender identity isn't collected in the Census this year, however, the upcoming National Health Survey and Mental Health Survey will include questions on gender along with sexual orientation and variation of sex characteristics.”
Sally Goldner, media representative at Transgender Victoria, said the Census needs to provide people with greater flexibility in cases where the term “non-binary” may not be appropriate.
“People's individual senses of identity are very important to them,” she told The Feed.
“Trans and gender diverse people have a broad range of sexual and romantic orientations.”
Ms Goldner said many services for trans people are gearing up for Census day next Tuesday due to the “distress” that might come up when filling out the form.
“If you're a trans and gender diverse person who is vulnerable, in some way, and you fill that out, and you don't have the right options that could be really damaging,” she said.
“It could also lead to lead to a sense of despairing, or hopelessness.”
This year, to protest the Census’ sex question, Jasmine will tick ‘female’ rather than non-binary.
It’s currently an offence to provide “false or misleading statements or information” in the Census, with the penalty a fine of up to $2,220.
Jasmine believes the sex question should be “what was your sex at birth?” and include male, female and intersex options.
She is also advocating for a gender identity question to be included, with options such as male, female, transgender male, transgender female, non-binary or other.
“Many of us, myself included, plan to mark ourselves as our identified gender, since we refuse to put up with erasure,” Jasmine said.
“[Including other options in the Census] would absolutely make things a lot better for us.”
*Name protected for privacy reasons
The Feed has contacted Minister Michael Sukkar for comment.
Readers seeking crisis support can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25).