Sunday, March 27, 2011

Who Are You and What Are You Good For?

So, after yesterday's massive march for a society that's united, tonight is the night where we're meant to sit down and be counted, not for civil rights, but to become statistics. I'm sure that like most people, filling out surveys about myself is giving me a little bit of an egotistical thrill to me, but there's something horribly unsatisfying about the census this time around.

Quite apart from the awkward possibility that hasn't been adequately addressed about whether or not Lockheed Martin who are handling the survey could be asked by Homeland Security in the US to hand over the names and addresses of every Muslim in the UK or the question about why the job needed to be outsourced in the first place (is the money for the project leaving the UK economy, too?), I'm slightly disappointed that it's now considered to be more important in shaping the future of the country that we get an exact picture of how many people have electric heaters in their homes than it would be to know how many people identify as gay or lesbian.

This might be the last census we do, and what this data can do for social justice is incredible. The data captured around ethnicity and faith has driven policy decisions around funding and equality in the past, so why are we covering every other diversity field except sexuality? We're getting data around gender, age, disability, faith, ethnicity and through education and information about housing I'm sure they'll be inferring judgements about social class, so why the conspicuous exclusion of asking a very simple question about how many people in the country aren't heterosexual?

I know the results cut both ways, that the Kinsey report's 10% club is probably an over-estimate, since its terms were vague and not about identity but experience, and I suspect that the number of people who'd say they were gay or lesbian would be fewer than had had same-sex desires or experiences and fewer still would tick bisexual when that's still got strange identity politics around it from both heterosexual and homosexual politics, but nevertheless, the same uncertainty creeps in around questions around health and disability, or whether you're a carer. Does being there for a friend who's depressed count as being a carer? I'd say yes, but most wouldn't recognise it as such because it's a part of being a friend, and I agree.

Similarly, with faith, I'm Christian by culture, a jumble of Christian, atheist, angry, apathetic, Jewish and Taoist by upbringing, with paganism by experience and I'm quite rationally agnostic in how I view matters of faith now, believing very firmly in the power of stories and symbols as moral guides, but holding to no fixed religion as such. To say "No Religion" feels like I'm sort of adhering to an atheist creed I'm not sure I buy into entirely. Especially when my agnostic stance is informed by Christian values.

But the question's there, as are ones around age and gender (which can be as tricky to answer for some people as faith is for me, or ethnicity might be for others), and so's health. What the hell do I say for health? I have a nebulous disability, but I've made massive changes in life to get along with things now I know it's there. What do I say for my health? "Fair" hardly seems apt, when I doubt anyone would say there's fairness to things like health which come down to the roll of dice.

So there's really no excuse that sexuality might be a bit of a thorny one to be asking people, and the simple fact that it's a difficult question is another reason it should be being asked, if we're asking about things like health and whether you're male or female.

It certainly matters more, in my mind, for society than whether you're heating your bedroom with gas or a log fire.

Hmm, maybe a log fire and a harem of beautiful men and women might be nice, though. There's still time before I've got to fill the form out. I'm sure there's an app for that.

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