Census could ask ‘do you menstruate?’ instead of ‘are you female?’ to boost trans inclusivity, study suggests

The taxpayer-funded study sets precedent for a move to a transgender-inclusive society

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A project led by Kings College London has assessed how legal sex would be abolished in England and Wales and replaced with a single gender category, with the aim of contributing to policy discussions.

The project, titled The Future of Legal Gender, conducted interviews with 200 charity workers, civil servants, lawyers, Government officials and the public over a four-year period, suggesting a "soft decertification" of small changes in organisations could replace any jerk to "gender-neutral law".

The Economic and Social Research Council provided £579,717 of taxpayers' money to fund the study, claiming it acknowledged the calls of campaigners who argue that biological sex provides vital binary data and that trans women are not women.

Instead of asking if you are female, researchers propose changes to ask "Do you menstruate?"
Instead of asking if you are female, researchers propose changes to ask "Do you menstruate?"

The research implied that in surveys such as the census, respondents understand the question on their sex in varying ways.

Some respondents “assume the question is about their genitals, about their legal status or about the sex they were registered as having at birth”.

Others will say their sex is “based on the social category they live in”, it noted.

As a result, the researchers said: “In some contexts, more precise questions may help to avoid distortions or inaccuracies, for example, ‘do you menstruate?’ or ‘are you perceived or treated as a man at work?’ rather than, or in addition to, ‘are you male or female?’.”

Researchers acknowledged "challenging" areas of research but advocate for "slow law" to enact changes
Researchers acknowledged "challenging" areas of research but advocate for "slow law" to enact changes

It noted that “acts of sexism may also be far more dependent on how someone is perceived by others than how they self-identify”.

Reports follow a campaign which won a High Court battle with the Office for National Statistics to force it to remove passports from guidance on how to answer the question regarding sex, because this allowed people to state a different sex without legally changing it.

Ministers have rejected efforts to change the rules around obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate.

Researchers acknowledged the "challenging area" but added that, when it comes to language around pregnancy, breastfeeding and menstruation, “many people do not have the normative bodies associated with being a woman or a man”.

The report highlighted how language choices will differ in context, insinuating local councils seek to be inclusive while precise, “‘breast and chest feeding’, for instance, may be better than choosing one term over the other”.

Seven academics who conducted the study, from KCL, Kent and Loughborough universities, added a statement in a final report last month: "For medical purposes, good practice means asking questions at a higher level of specificity. ‘Are you menstruating?’ rather than: ‘what is your sex?’”

The study addressed aspects of the law which mentions gendered physical processes, suggesting changes such as "gestational or birth parent rather than mother or woman – this recognises that people other than women also become pregnant”.

Advocating for "slow law" to implement changes, researchers advised that involving incremental alterations in society that acknowledge gender as a fluid spectrum, would be the most successful means of actioning change.

Law researcher at KCL, Prof Davina Cooper, led the study, she said: “Our research findings are intended to stimulate and facilitate thoughtful discussion, among specialists and the wider public, about the implications of dismantling a system of legal sex status.

“We did not advocate for a particular legal outcome, either to keep or abolish legal sex, but to identify some key issues and advance understanding of them."