Letter: Don’t queer my census

The census does not ask Americans to define themselves according to sexual preference or nonnormative gender identity, and that is a good thing.

Advocates of “Queer the Census” feel that official inclusion by the government statistical study is the first step toward “address[ing] the struggles of the LGBT community” (“A population the census doesn’t count,” April 2). These advocates are right to believe that including questions about sexuality and gender identity would help measure the inequalities experienced by LGBT people. But no one has acknowledged the unintended consequences such revisions would have.

Measuring populations according to sexuality and gender identity functions on the false notion that we may be accurately placed into distinct sexual categories of existence — an unfairly reductive way of representing something so fluid and complex. Forcing people to check a box to categorize themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender promotes the understanding that if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you are problematically not “straight.”

The problem stems from the fact that queering the census unnecessarily (if unintentionally) engages in the moral identity politics of sex. By deciding what sexual populations should be counted and which should not, it makes an implicit moral valuation of some sexual populations at the expense of others — transferring the stigma from the LGBT community to other sexual and gender identities (such as those who engage in public sex, BDSM, polyamory, etc. and intersex individuals). Any relativistic distinctions between sexual populations only reinforce the moral superiority of straights vis-à-vis members of the queer community, including “normal” gays and lesbians.

The group’s title illustrates the irony of its proposal. “Queer” was adopted by those who found “LGBT” or “homosexual” too exclusive a description of their sexual and gender identity. “Queer” meant that sexuality did not need to be normative to be moral. In other words, it did not need to be heterosexual (or in private or monogamous) to be morally acceptable.

The census is the largest database of information and statistics constituting what “normal” identity is in the U.S. Normal can only be defined in tandem with its opposite — that is to say, abnormal. By delineating arbitrary bounds of normative sexual identity, “queering” the census would only strengthen normal’s centripetal pull, heightening the shame of those members of the queer community outside of its reach.

Jake Conway

April 5

The writer is a junior in Davenport College and a former staff reporter for the News.

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