Statistics NZ’s ‘Gender Diverse’ Decision

Today Statistics NZ released their decision on creating a new standard for gender identity classification, including “gender diverse” alongside “male” and “female”. You’ll remember that they held extensive discussions with the community via loomio, but today, coincidentally timed, those discussions are no longer publicly available, and the loomio group that gender identity fell under, “ethnicity, culture, and identity” has been closed off. Luckily, I never turned off email notifications from Loomio, so I have most of the discussion archived in my inbox.

The original issue was one of potential confusion, and I’m glad to see that StatsNZ has got past that very very weak excuse. However, the standard they have developed is insufficient and ignores concerns voiced by the community in the loomio discussion process.

(image via GayNZ)

As you can see, this standard separates anyone who identifies as gender diverse from the cis population, only othering us further. As Megan pointed out on twitter, it will capture data on the non-binary population relatively well, but is insufficient for capturing actual data on gender identity overall. It also relies on terminology many in the community refuse to use – such as the typical and frustrating MtF/FtM. It leaves no space for trans women to identify as women, but instead as something Other that relies heavily on “born a man” rhetoric.

Kelly Ellis makes a relevant point on GayNZ: a binary trans woman may elect to tick ‘female’ to not Other herself or invalidate her gender, while someone who, for example, does not experience transmisogyny may tick one of the gender diverse options and thus “skew the picture of poverty that transgender people face.” Essentially, this system would require many of us to marginalise ourselves and our identities by selecting an Othered category in order for important data about our lives and experiences to be collected.

Duncan Matthews, General Manager of Rainbow Youth spoke in the discussion about the importance of accurate data:


[“A key thing that prevents organisations that are supporting gender diverse communities (RainbowYOUTH, Agender, Genderbridge, OUTLine, to name but a few) is a lack of nationally representative data on the gender identity of New Zealanders.

We have some nationally representative data from the Youth’12 report – where young people were asked the question ‘Are you transgender?’. This provides some information, such as 1.2% of high school students self identify as transgender. But does not provide a broader picture of the gender diverse community across all ages, and ‘transgender’ may not be a term all gender diverse people identify with.

Government organisations, such as DHBs, because of a lack of data around gender diverse people do not allocate funding to services for gender diverse people, and DHBs that are being progressive in attempting to provide services for gender diverse people struggle to determine the demand for the service they will receive. 

In short, until we collect data around gender identity, these populations will continue to remain invisible and not receive the services and support needed.“]

Another important point brought up in the discussion that has not been addressed by this classification standard is one of culturally specific identities. This is especially relevant considering the history of the settler state we live in and the impact colonialism has had on indigenous queer identities. Under this standard, non-Western identities are marginalised further and lumped under “gender diverse not further defined” or “gender diverse not elsewhere classified”. Kiran Foster said it better than I ever could in the discussion:


[“Aside from what everyone including myself has already said, I’ll speak here as a person of color and a migrant: I have lived experiences of gender systems and understandings of gender that are different from the pākehā one. Many of my friends are Māori and other people of color whose gender is, similarly, something not adequately documented by the current system or recognised in any way.

Especially as this relates to Māori, I feel that there is an obligation to expand the understanding of gender and the collation of gender data in order to more accurately represent the needs of the people that this colonist state has marginalised.

I don’t think the census can claim to have an accurate result if it does not account for this very fundamental way in which a lot of people of color are alienated and unable to discuss their experience of gender (which is so fundamental to our society), and I think it’s very important for basically every organisation which focusses on especially young people of color or queer people or other marginalised groups to have this information and know how best to support the demographics they are targetting.“]

These concerns all were brought up in the discussion thread and sadly seem to have been ignored. Statistics NZ, the media, and now also the NZ Human Rights Commission are all hailing this as a success, a world first. All this shows is that our concerns have not been heard. The standard, as far as I understand, has only been recommended to be included in the 2018 census (which is also when the next standard review is) so it’s likely it won’t be fixed and included properly until 2023 at the earliest. That’s another 8 years of potentially flawed and insufficient data – data that could save lives.

Update 7:00pm 17/07: Stats NZ have responded to GayNZ’s questions about inclusion in the census and more details on how the standard will be used: they are keeping very vague about its inclusion and say “public submissions on the topics for the 2018 Census closed on 30 June so Statistics New Zealand now has to assess all topics to see what should be included. We have criteria against which all topics are assessed, before testing, and then making a final decision.”

Stats NZ also states that this is a standard and not mandatory for people to use – “so we can’t say how people will apply it.” This leaves the standard open to harmful misuse or misinterpretation – but it may also lessen the harm if organisations allow for people to check multiple boxes in this question – being able to check “female”, “gender diverse not further defined,” and “transgender male to female” as I would. However this does not solve either the wording problems, the Othering problems, nor the problems of culturally specific identities.

Update 7.14pm: A friend just pointed out that StatsNZ’s questionnaire module document states “multiple responses are acceptable” in the standard requirements. StatsNZ also state that a write-in option is preferable, although not mandatory.

Statistics NZ has also confirmed that the loomio discussion is now visible again.

Update 7.49pm: The same friend has pointed out this section on a “synonym report”, which “lists all variations of gender identities, and popular and similar gender identity terms used by the population. This can include abbreviations, slang, and some common misspellings.” We are currently waiting on a copy of this report to examine its scope and see what it includes: my concern is that it will count many identity terms toward a simplistic umbrella such as “diverse”.


5 thoughts on “Statistics NZ’s ‘Gender Diverse’ Decision

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