Better trans options for intake form, plus resources
January 4, 2019 6:24 AM   Subscribe

I volunteer for a very nice organization which has a less-than-ideal gender question on its intake form. I'm sure they're trying to be inclusive and plan to write them a friendly email suggesting other options. I'd like feedback on my suggestion, other possibilities and recommendations for resources to link.

The question offers these options for gender: Male, female, transgender and non-binary. This, of course, positions trans people as a third gender. It also excludes anyone who doesn't identify with these check-boxes.

I'd like to make a suggestion for a change. I've thought of a couple of options:

1. Add "check all that apply" to the instructions, allowing people to check "trans" and male, female or non-binary.

2. Do this and add a blank line for people to write in their gender if it's not included.

3. Ask people to write in their gender as they see fit - less straightforward from a data-entry standpoint and possibly not complying with funder requirements but allows people to disclose or not disclose. (FTR, considering the client base I'm pretty sure that no one is going to troll/write "attack helicopter", etc.)

Is there a better option? Which is best? What are the drawbacks of each?

I'd also like to suggest a stronger privacy statement on the form and a rationale for collecting the data - I'm confident that it is confidential and that they have a good reason, but asking non-cis people for their gender identity isn't trivial.

When I do this, I'd like some business-appropriate resources about pronouns and trans issues. Most of the resources I know are decidedly informal and, given the nature of the organization, I'd rather not send them anything that's, like, full of cussing. Do you have recommendations?
posted by Frowner to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Why not remove the question about gender and ask for preferred pronouns instead? Is there a specific reason they are recording gender identity? He/him, she/her, they/their, ze/zir, and a write in that doesn't read "other" - "enter your preference" or something like that - might serve.
posted by wellred at 6:33 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]

(Further information - they need to gather data about gender as part of their reporting to funders about communities served; this nonprofit provides a one-time/infrequently recurring service to people (more like navigating insurance than providing counseling) and this intake form isn't what guides staff interactions with the customer. As a public-facing volunteer, I don't actually even see the intake form.)
posted by Frowner at 6:41 AM on January 4

What about having one for gender (male/female/nonbinary/other/prefer not to say) & a question that asks "Is your gender the same as the one you were assigned at birth?" if you really need to know trans status? In my (limited) experience in the UK at least, this latter question is generally seen as good practice.
posted by diffuse at 6:42 AM on January 4 [5 favorites]

In grad school, students often emailed requests for survey participation that had not-great to very bad gender options, like the mutually exclusive trans option as you mentioned. Some friends and I developed a group response:

Peer A: "Making surveys as a researcher is extremely important, & it’s important that the people taking your surveys feel respected. One of the most common questions on every survey is about gender, and appropriate choices aren’t well understood by the larger community.."

"Instead of “male, female, other” as options, consider the more inclusive:

What is your gender?

Nonbinary / Gender non-conforming

(&, if it’s for some reason relevant)

Do you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth?


Peer B : “fwiw, in my own surveys, i use:

What is your gender?

Please specify: ________

i've also seen "Prefer to self-describe," or simply an open response box with no lead text. "

Also, while I am skeptical of the HRC, this resource page is one of the best single links I’ve come across and may be a good thing to include.

Hope that helps!
posted by elephantsvanish at 6:43 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]

I've seen intake forms address gender like this:
(required) What is your gender? (female, male, non-binary or not exclusively male or female)
(optional) What was your sex assigned at birth? (female, male)
(optional) Do you identify as transgender or transexual? (Yes, No, Don't Know)
posted by wearyaswater at 6:50 AM on January 4

Most of our surveys have Male, Female, Non-binary, Prefer not to disclose. Some add a “Other” and a text box, which is useful if you specifically want/need to solicit trans status and/or more fine-grained identities. I’m not keen on “man, woman...” because it gets into quibbly grammar spaces.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:53 AM on January 4

Mostly, the goal should be to keep the form short, clear, inclusive, and flexible, and to not violate the fundamental fact that trans men are men and trans women are women.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:57 AM on January 4 [5 favorites]

I think that our forms have a chance to write in your gender if it isn't covered by the available options and also a "prefer not to say" option. One thing that I've become very conscious of, working with young people, is that I deal with people who are in the process of figuring it out, and sometimes asking the question puts them in a position where they feel like they have to make definitive statements about something that they're still unclear about.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:57 AM on January 4 [4 favorites]

They need to gather data about gender as part of their reporting to funders about communities served

Do you know what the reporting requirements look like?

(I'm trans and) I would be happy with your option #1 and very happy with your option #2. But also, if your reporting doesn't include anything about trans status, you could leave that out and potentially simplify things a great deal.

One last thought. I'm a fan of saying what you mean instead of trying to be "sensitive" and "inclusive" in a rote, one-size-fits-all way. What would you think about something like this: "Our funders like us to keep count of how many men and how many women we're serving. We know that this leaves a lot of people out, and we don't have to include you in the count at all if you don't want. How should we count you? ( ) Count me as male. ( ) Count me as female. ( ) Leave me out of the count." Would that be useful, or is that spending too much space and energy on a throwaway question?
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:00 AM on January 4 [28 favorites]

Is "Transgender" a gender? My understanding is that it describes something around gender, but it's not a gender unto itself.

Also, is it important that the organization knows if it's serving transgender people? If so, I would separate the questions into one that asks about gender identity and one that asks about whether the person identifies as transgender or transexual. However, I feel like most of the time, it's not going to be important as to whether this person identifies as trans so you just shouldn't ask the second question.

For the first question, I agree with others that a question like, "What gender do you identify as?" and a blank line is ideal, but if there have to be options, I would do something like:

[ ] Male
[ ] Female
[ ] ___________________
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:31 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]

Regarding "preferred" pronouns... I'm a professor and there is a lot of discussion of not using the term preferred. Just plainly say what is your pronoun.

If the goal of this form is to learn their pronouns that's a good question but if the goal of this form is to gather data for reporting, pronouns won't help.
posted by k8t at 7:33 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]

Under no circumstances should you replace the checkbox with a write-in field. An extra write-in for "other" is fine, but aside from the data entry nightmares, if the field is write-in only, you'll get assholes who think they're being funny when they write in "toaster."

These are almost invariably cis men, and they will check the "man/male" box if it exists, because they're incapable of not insisting that they're men. But if the only spot is a write-in, some of them will decide "show those damn SJWs how stupid they are" by writing in something nonsensical.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:49 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]

I strongly prefer "Which of the following best describes you gender? (Multiple answers allowed) Man, woman, non-binary, something else, prefer not to answer" and then ask a question about trans-ness separately (if the organization will use that information constructively; if they just want to look inclusive or whatever, don't; given that this question has arisen, they surely don't need sex assigned at birth).

Using "best described by" both acknowledges that you will never find options that work for everyone and takes some of the pressure off answering the question.

I strongly identify as trans. But it's not my gender, it's a word describing my experience of gender and when I see forms like what they currently use, it says "We are clueless and don't think trans people have genders" (but, hey, it's better than my university health center which had "transitioning"). I groan inwardly when "man" and "trans man" are options because it's a framework where neither of those answers are really me (but nor am I non-binary; and trans men who identify strongly as men are booted out of the "man" category). Basically, I want a form where I can shrug, say "man is good enough" and then tell you I'm trans if I think you deserve to know. There are people this approach will fail for, and obviously I like it because it solves my edge case, but it does seem to work for many people.
posted by hoyland at 8:53 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]

This research paper (authored by trans folk) is still pretty much the best I've found, and it's actually the origin of a lot of progressive organizations' own guidelines for this data collection (albeit after they fucked up the core ideas presented in the paper such that the result is no longer good): A Two-Question Method for Assessing Gender Categories in the Social and Medical Sciences (yes, this comes up frequently enough that I have a copy of this in my Google Drive to share out).

It basically suggests that you ask it with two questions:
1. What is your gender
2. Does your gender align with that which was assigned to you at birth

HOWEVER, you mentioned something about reporting back to funding organizations. I have experience with clinics that receive funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, which funds clinics that serve at-risk populations. They require annual reporting of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) demographic information for the patient populations the clinic serves, and their own guidelines for how to report this data inform how the clinic asks the questions on the intake form. HHS's own guidelines are based on a game-of-telephone derivative from the paper I linked above, but so far removed from it as to be completely non-functional. As such, they end up asking clinics to report their trans women populations as "Male" patients, for example, and other bullshit.

When I was advising a clinic on this, I read through all the guidelines and didn't really come away with a good answer other than clearly noting on intake forms WHEN the information being requested is optional, and actually guiding people as to the impacts of answering one way or the other. In the clinic's case, they didn't want to risk losing HHS funding by under-reporting this data, so they kept the bad single-question form of Male/Female/Trans knowing full well that wasn't the right way to ask that question.

So, in summary, the best way to actually ask this question is first determining whether you ACTUALLY NEED this data for the population. If you don't ABSOLUTELY NEED it (you probably don't) you should simply not ask at all. If you DO need it, explain clearly WHY you need it on the form. I would have answered a "What is your gender" question very differently at different points in my transition depending on what it was being asked for. Is it for insurance verification? Is it for driving further medical questions? Is it for some other purpose?
posted by odinsdream at 9:42 AM on January 4 [7 favorites]

I think I'd recommend a combination of your two options, something like:

What is your gender? Check all that apply:
0 Female
0 Male
0 Other: __________________

I'd suggest this because subsuming all the other non-male-or-female genders into "nonbinary" isn't accurate, and I'd be especially concerned about not capturing culturally specific identities like two-spirit.

I'd also second odinsdream on stating clearly and in plain language why the information is needed and what it's being used for, since that's generally pretty opaque. For example, needing the info for reporting requirements is different than if someone is trying to infer what body parts you have or medical care you would need from your stated gender.

(I'm a nonbinary trans person and I spend a lot of time thinking about this and have called out many bad forms in my day)
posted by ITheCosmos at 9:58 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]

"Our funders like us to keep count of how many men and how many women we're serving. We know that this leaves a lot of people out, and we don't have to include you in the count at all if you don't want. How should we count you? ( ) Count me as male. ( ) Count me as female. ( ) Leave me out of the count."

I understand the very well-intentioned impetus behind this suggestion, but please don't do this. If your funder's people see it -- and if they are thorough, they will -- you will be harming your credibility with them in re the data you collect, and you will probably be jeopardizing future funding. You might de facto do this anyway when people leave blanks on the problematic document, but please don't spell it out so overtly on any public-facing document.

Also, building on what several have said above ... sometimes it's not up to the organization to decide exactly how/which data is collected. Many funding sources have specific reporting requirements that simply aren't negotiable, and adding free-text options degrades the data and makes reporting that much more difficult. The conversation might ultimately need to be not with your organization's intake-form writer, but with someone at the funder level who has decided what s/he wants to know about your population. And sadly, that might be a conversation that's above your pay grade ...
posted by mccxxiii at 11:02 AM on January 4 [4 favorites]

I just want to reiterate that I've *never* encountered a form that explains *why* this information is being collected specifically, despite that being *extremely important* to how I answer the question. Just to explain it so cis people get this clearly:

When I'm answering this question and it relates to filing an insurance claim, the answer I provide MUST match the insurance record. This means I'll answer it MALE if I'm a trans woman who's just starting transition and I haven't updated my insurance (either because I can't yet, due to some unsatisfied prerequisite thing, or because I haven't gotten around to it yet, because it takes fucking forever).

When I'm answering this question and it informs HOW I'll be treated during the visit, my answer is DIFFERENT than for insurance purposes.

It's different if it's supposed to match my government ID, or even WHICH of my government IDs it needs to match. Are you asking me for an I-9 verification? Are you asking me because you need to send a bill to my house? Maybe I live with people who might cause me harm if they see mail to my new name instead of my old name.

ALL OF THIS SHIT MATTERS DEEPLY and I have LITERALLY NEVER seen it discussed when creating questionnaires, much less TRANSPARENTLY DISPLAYED on the questionnaire for the benefit of the respondent.

Moving AWAY from the idea that SOGI info is just "basic demographic data collection" needs to be part of what happens here. This information is contextually dependent, can put respondents at risk if improperly disclosed, and can cause very costly mistakes.
posted by odinsdream at 11:12 AM on January 4 [14 favorites]

When collecting this for something that doesn't directly related to gender, I use:


Something else/ prefer not to say.

When we did a focus group on this, we found that many trans participants did not want to out themselves and that many didn't want their genders to be considered "different" from other men and women. Woman and man worked better than female and male because it made it more obvious we were looking for gender rather than biological sex. (It was a small group and not as representative as I would've liked, but it was the best we could do.)
posted by metasarah at 4:11 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]

Just some feedback on your solution no 1: if someone checked “trans” and “male” in a question about gender, and I was in charge of collating the data, I would be confused if they were a trans woman or a trans man, since I thought that sex and gender were different, and that “male” and “female” referred to sex, not gender.

Although if they’re already using that language on the intake form, maybe they wouldn’t be confused.
posted by colfax at 7:30 AM on January 5

I'm a trans woman, my sex and gender are female.
posted by odinsdream at 9:05 AM on January 5 [3 favorites]

if someone checked “trans” and “male” in a question about gender, and I was in charge of collating the data, I would be confused if they were a trans woman or a trans man, since I thought that sex and gender were different, and that “male” and “female” referred to sex, not gender.

The whole '"Male" is sex and "man" is gender' thing is… not a use of language that any trans person I know subscribes to. In my experience, it's a distinction mostly made by anti-trans folks who want to be able to say things like "Oh, fine, okay, you're a woman, but you're a male woman, unlike us real actual female women, neener neener."

I would be very, very startled if a binary trans woman was in the habit of checking "male" on forms, or a binary trans man in the habit of checking "female," barring circumstances like being closeted, having mismatched ID, or needing to misrepresent themself to access resources or care.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:33 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]

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