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.


  • Y10

    Here here. The advocates for Queer the Census have good intentions, but I don’t want anyone categorizing my sexuality.

  • YC ’10

    Thank you, Jake. I totally agree. Not only is there no reason for the government to collect data about sexual orientations but the entire notion is very problematic.

    *sigh* I hate when people try to use the word “queer” as a verb without really knowing what it’s about.

  • Pedant

    Okay, enough. For a long time I assumed it’s incorrect use was ironic: the correct phrase is “Hear, hear.” “Hear, hear” is a command, as in “hear, all ye good people, hear what this brilliant and eloquent speaker has to say!”

  • Y11

    Great letter, great point. A columnist for the Daily Princetonian made a similar case this weekend, and pointed out that it’s a GOOD thing the Census doesn’t ask about sexuality–it counts everyone just the same, regardless of orientation. And isn’t that what we really want here?

  • SY ’10

    Great letter, Jake. It’s good that someone’s pointing out that this isn’t necessarily a good thing for the LGBTQ community – I think otherwise a lot of Yale liberals would end up doing it just because it seems progressive.

  • Are You Kidding Me?

    Please, please tell me this article is pitch-perfect satire.

  • Making sense of the census

    The only req’d questions are 1-4; only those questions have an OMB number (read the fine print; last page, final paras).

    The census is to “enumerate” the citizenry, nothing more. All else is optional.

    Indeed, members of “special interest groups” seeking to be counted should just add the desired info on the form. Like, write in “I am queer” (if that is your thing). Yeah, that should do it.

  • Y’11

    I completely agree. The Census does not ask questions about religion or many other facets of one’s life. Furthermore, this initiative seems poorly designed because the Census clerks will simply discard the stickers or perhaps even the enter Census form if the added bulk jams up the scanners. I consider myself an “ally”and also agree that the planners of this had good intentions, but it seems like an instance of doing something for the sake of doing something when doing nothing would be preferable.

  • Princeton Column

    The Princeton columnist made a better argument:

  • y’10

    Yes. As someone who doesn’t really fit into any of the boxes they’re proposing, I completely agree.

  • and

    Not too mention the fact that the government should categorize behavior…

  • Veritas

    If only the Census stopped asking about race, too.

  • Recent Alum

    Rarely have I read a better example of “Right result, wrong reasoning” (to use an understatement).

  • @7

    Wait, so if I’m a pie-eater, or a Platonist, or a Mets fan, I should put that on my census too, *and the government should make a note of that*? I thought our bureaucracies were bad enough, imagine how much worse it’ll be when they have to keep track of every write-in identity declaration.

  • @#11

    But, but, but… how can we POSSIBLY become a colorblind nation unless we FOCUS on color?

    (I would add the /sarc indicator, but this is indeed the mindset of the Left. I am not making this up.)

  • not queer at all

    the problem is that the “queer the census” initiative is that the census doesn’t need to be queered. It doesn’t assume we’re all heterosexual; it just doesn’t ask. Ironically, it is the “queer the census” campaign that really needs to be queered; the whole thing is about labeling and categorizing. anybody with an ounce of appreciation for the proper use of the term should be mortified by the way it is being used: to construct and reify sexual identity categories rather than challenge them.

  • Undergrad

    Another argument about this is that while asking about sexual orientation on the census may help determine policy that helps the LGBT community, it could also be used by a hostile administration to pursue policies that harm them. For example, a Republican state legislature might use its redistricting powers to squeeze gays (who tend to vote Democratic) into as few Congressional districts as possible, as they already do with African-American voters. This could ironically lead to people REALLY not being counted.

  • ’11

    This is a shoddy argument… parroted theory from wgss courses that isn’t relevant to the practical aims of the census or the queer the census campaign. The princeton editorial is much more convincing.

  • Kenneth

    “If I’m a pie-eater, or a Platonist, or a Mets fan, I should put that on my census too…”

    The point of “queering the census” is not a logistical, enumerative, categorical one but an ideological, political, metaphorical one.

    A sticker attached to a census form is not meant to be a statistical tool, not meant to be used to add numbers and formulate categories… if that were the case, it would be as useless (though certainly not as discriminatory) as the column suggests: for whatever reason, nowhere near every single person in the US with homosexual tendancies would be counted.

    Which brings us to pie.

    No pie-eaters I know of–though this may be true of Mets fans–face worldwide, systematic, institutional, personal, public discrimination. In the Yale bubble gays are for the most part safe and accepted, but for a gay man to live openly in New Haven or the rest of the country–more topically, to serve openly in the military, or to attend the senior prom–puts him at considerable risk–if not of violence than of alienation or discrimination. Just because it hasn’t recently occured at Yale doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen elsewhere.

    In other words (to translate a personal experience), New York City drivers won’t shout “you should be shot” at seeing one pie-eater kissing another.

    “Queering the census” serves an important ideological function in the struggle for LGBTQ equality: it sends a grassroots message to the government that people both allies and not-so-straight mean to be counted not necessarily in the logistical sense but in the metaphorical sense: a sticker, as small as it is, is harmless but powerful, communicates every American’s desire for the freedom and safety to be who they are, to pursue their inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    PS. “For the first time, the [Census] bureau has deployed a team of professional field workers – about two dozen – to reach out to gays and lesbians. On Monday, the bureau released its first public-service videos encouraging gay Americans to mail their census forms.

    Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/04/06/MN1G1CQ2Q9.DTL&feed=rss.gay#ixzz0kMVBHBhR

  • @#15

    Actually, you ARE making that up. I’m a “minority” and avowed liberal, and I value my culture and heritage immensely. I, and many people like me, would be appalled if America ever tried to wash over my identity under the pretense of “colorblindness.”

    I don’t know anyone on the left calling for a colorblind society. The only people I’ve heard promoting this idea are conservatives. Large gaps in poverty rate, income, and political power still exist between whites and every other racial group in the US. “Colorblind” is just an easy way out for those who want to gloss over these problems without actually dealing with them. I want a nation that will accept me for who I am, not whitewash my identity and pretend I’m something else.

  • Bottom line:

    Who we’re sexually attracted to should not be considered demographic information.

  • AnOldQueen

    The pink stickers were available for the 2000 census and limited data about same-sex households was collected. Bits of this data have appeared in LGBT news over the past decade. Acknowledging the changes from that past census to the current, it appears that the pink stickers are indeed a powerful tool.

  • @#20

    Umm… Heard of this guy, whatsizname, um… Martin… Martin something. King. Yeah, Martin Luther King.

    He, like, had this dream. And all the liberals loved it. For a while anyway.

  • @#20

    Come a long way from Reverend King, eh?

  • @#22

    You’re right; the change in the census from 2000 to 2010 was entirely based on a pink sticker campaign. It had nothing to do with changing attitudes throughout the nation or the change in the legal definition of marriage in several states. It was all about those stickers.

    Even if the pink stickers were a great medium for protesting the current census formation, there is nothing to protest. The current census counts everyone equally regardless of their romantic or erotic desires. What more could we ask for?

  • @23

    Your point?

  • what?

    I thought that Yale was tolerant and queer-friendly. Is this kind of homophobic, anti-gay hate-speech slurs tolerated here?

  • Confused by motives

    I thought the objective of homosexual rights was to be treated equally as a citizen. With that goal in mind (and it is certainly a just one), why would one want to be singled out on a census. Do they ask for those of Hispanic origin to identify themselves because they’re trying to facilitate a grassroots movement for Hispanic rights? That would be nice, but I doubt that’s the case.

    Seeing a checkbox marked “Sexual Orientation” wouldn’t give a feeling of equality; it would give an impression that the government is scrutinizing you. I fully agree with this letter. Singling out homosexuals would probably be counterproductive to equal rights.

  • @#20

    So do you or do you not want to be treated differently because of your race? Because, you know, that was the idea behind white supremacy. Maybe you should check with your liberal AND conservative friends, because I’m pretty sure there’s a difference between going color-blind and getting “white-washed.” The former involves everyone being treated equally regardless of race (you know, the MLK stuff you just got owned on a few comments back). In fact, I think you just have no idea what you’re talking about whatsoever. Yayy Yale.

  • Well, gee

    I hate it how one of the underlying assumptions of the Census form is that I’m human. What if I were a vampire, like Jonathon Sharkey? I’d totally feel ashamed to be undead.

    I’m an atheist, and the oh-so-humiliating experience of being classified as one (as opposed to “strong atheist” or “weak atheist” or what have you) is entirely worth the actual proof that I’m not alone in a world of Bible-belters.

    Anyone remember Lebanon, where they elect people to high offices based on outdated census information? Where they refuse to take a new census because people would suddenly realize how biased and disproportionate their representation in government and employment happens to be?

    Just add an “Other” box and be done with it.