Dear Census; Nunuh’yuh Beeswax

Before I got the census I wasn’t really sure how I felt about the “count the queers” argument that is being pumped up by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and HRC among others. If you aren’t familiar, though I’m sure you’ve at least heard of it, the general “Queer the Census” campaign is intended to alert the government that they need to count queers on the census. To do this the NGLTF and to do this you put a sticker (seen below) on your census envelope.

QC

Oddly enough, the “Queer the Census” sticker does not list Queer as an identity option… the reason being the good o’l “one step at a time” statement. Its a fuckin’ bright pink sticker with the word GAY all over it.  You really think that the word “queer” is gonna make it any more or less shocking to the bureaucracy? Some of your folks don’t like the word queer? Well, fuck some people don’t like the phrase “straight ally” and that is on there. And it’s not just queer. There are several identities missing in the sticker’s list, conveniently the more radical ones. One of my pet peeves is the overarching “TRANSGENDER” category, which dose serve a ton of purpose in many spaces, but not when you are trying to “accurately represent” communities. If one could argue that all lesbians share some commonality of being attracted to women in some way, you could not apply that argument to transfolk, either in identity, gender spectrum, or sexuality.  In response to the un-inclusiveness of the the NGLTF sticker, more radical communities created the “REALLY Queer the Census” campaign that is, in addition to being political, quite amusing.

RQC

The pro-gay (it doesn’t seem queer to me) census count arguments include that we need to be  “accurately counted” in order to correctly “reflect diversity” of the USA. Newsweek.com reported mixed stories of queers who have mixed feelings about being counted, mainly fearing the repercussions of what could happen if someone found out their census data. My initial reaction was “hell yeah, count me!” but then I started to think about it. If I was counted, who would know I was trans? Would it possibly come back to haunt me in my scheming for non-GID med records or keeping under the government radar? Would it somehow group me somewhere? Misrepresent me? The HRC assures us that census data is confidential, and punishable by jail time if you divulge information. But I’m not afraid of some renegade census worker, I’m afraid of the government that is housing the data. In 1942 the US government used census data to identify Japanese Americans, and we all know how that turned out. Who is to say that at some point it won’t be us put into camps?

Another statement of the NGLTF is that knowing a count of queers will help in allocating funding and resource to queer initiatives because people will know there are more of us… But what about the mass of people who don’t use the words in the white-western gay vernacular to describe themselves? There are loads of queers who don’t self identify as queers, either because of politics, practice, community, or language. Would they become even more invisible because they don’t use the language the census does? One good point that has been made is that adding queers to the census will squash the stereotype that all queers are white and wealthy. I donno how useful the info will be to the movement since the government probably won’t notice. That said, still the majority of the argument surrounds “head of household” identification issues for queer couples and marriage… surprise, surprise.  I can’t help but think this just might be another arm of the queer gentrification movement in the interest of the money-Mos? Is this about “reflecting diversity” or gaining another pointless symbol of ‘equality’ by doing something cause everyone else does it? Are we really that more empowered if we get to check off a little box of our very own? Are we any more or less human by being labeled as one thing or another? On one hand, I guess it is nice to know who is who for historical purposes, but in the big picture why does race matter on the census? Why does sexuality or gender identity? Maybe what we need to be looking at isn’t whether or not queers are listed, but why groups are listed as they are in the first place and what system is being used to allocate resources. If it is based off of numbers is that the right way to do it?  If there is a mix of races in a class room with more white kids than anything else, we still understand (or should understand) that all kids need and deserve the same level and quality of education regardless. We all need the same resources whether there is 40 of us or 40,000.

The spin being put out is that without the census, we queers “don’t exist.” Now I can’t speak for everyone, but I have been around for a while with or without the census. I need resources whether I am queer or not, and exist whether people know it or not. So, shouldn’t shit just be available to everyone? And I am ok with the government not knowing – or at least pretending not to know- that I’m a big o’l queer. I feel like it serves my purposes better for them not to know what I’m up to. They may need to know I am in Ohio to count population, they sure as hell need to know I’m poor so they will fund some resources for myself and my community, but they don’t need to know my race, they don’t need to know my identity. I get asked “What are you?” enough in my every day life, I don’t need a governmental classification. So fuck you, census. What I am is nunuh’yuh Beeswax! FACE!

8 comments

  • I was so excited to get the sticker, and so disappointed when I saw it. For me, I noticed the “straight ally” and wanted to barf. That’s not us. I guess it’s the closest, according to CREDO, but it’s not close enough. I think I might just write queer in great big letters with a sharpie over the sticker and send it in that way.

    Thank you for another amazing post. We need more warriors like you in this crazy world.

  • Yeah, I ordered one of those stickers, too. And then I ended up sending in the census without it once I saw what it would look like. I am an Asian American, a survivor of a civil war, and census data misuse is all too real for me.

    I appreciate the effort, and as an activist I definitely agree about the need to count. But the census didn’t ask shit about a lot of things, including religion. I was disappointed I couldn’t rack up the atheist numbers in my conservative state.

    I’m still on the fence about this being counted thing. I’d be all for it if it truly were anonymous. But having our names attached? Seems a little fishy to me.

  • Jack Kaeden

    What about resources that are needed by specific groups of people? How is the government supposed to accurately provide these resources if they don’t have information on the population? Also, Queer the Census encourages people to write in their identity if the ones provided don’t work. Granted this seems like a last minute attempt to calm the people who are pissed off about their identity not being included, but then again it’s not possible to include every identity out there on a little sticker.

  • This is a great post. I totally don’t feel like there’s a place for me in that sticker (but there certainly is in the REALLY queer sticker)!

    One thing I noticed about the actual census that should be useful is that you specify the relationship of the people in the household. At this point in my life I’m in a hetero domestic partnership w/ shared mortgage and that will show up in the statistics (I wonder if “in a relationship, living together, not married” is a new category? Probably not). This makes a difference politically when it comes to DP benefits and gay marriage– I’m just one more person for whom traditional marriage isn’t relevant. And even with reforms, the traditional health insurance structure isn’t relevant either.

  • Hey! I was bouncing through a couple of blogs, and came across this one. I’m the person who did the “REALLY Queer the Census” design, based on an email exchange I had with my partner-in-crime.

    As much as I agree with you about trusting the government as far as one can throw it, the biggest reason for me to actually fill out the form was because after the 2000 census parts of my city got redistricted and a couple of congressional seats that had been traditionally progressive got lost.

    Now I’m going to go explore the rest of your blog :)

    • Awesome, I love the sticker! Congrats on a fantastic project. Do you have others? I also frequent QZAP, are you involved with that too?

  • I am technically pansexual, people have called me bisexual, but I don’t feel like either of those terms accurately describe me. So I made up my own identity: 3/4 lesbian queer.
    I’m kind of used to people lumping me into a certain group.
    But I still persist.
    And so, when I got my pink sticker in the mail, I made it my own. I added an “other” option with a blank line, in which I wrote down my identity.
    I got myself visible… isn’t that the point?

  • Pingback: Queers and the Census–won an honorable mention, woohoo! « Content

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