How to ask about gender identity in forms
When designing a form, survey, questionnaire, or profile, it’s often habit to ask for someone’s gender. Considering more than 40% of American adults (and more than 50% of young adults) think options other than ‘man’ and ‘woman’ should be offered in this type of form, it’s time to rethink our approach to information-collecting to ensure it is more inclusive.
Gender is complex to understand, so in some cases not asking at all might be the simplest or best route, while in others it may actually take several questions to get to the heart of what you need or want to know. It’s also important that you are able to clearly convey why you need to know someone’s gender and how you’re using that information to the people filling out your forms. You need to have a clear data protection plan in place, especially if people’s gender identity will be stored along with any identifiable information such as name or email address.
Examine your assumptions about why you need to know gender. Gender is an incredibly important part of who we are, but just knowing someone’s gender doesn’t tell you much about them. Not asking for gender may help you avoid gender bias, and could help you build a more detailed, nuanced understanding of the people you’re trying to reach.
If you are only asking for someone’s gender identity so you will know how to address them, it’s better to just ask for pronouns or title (for example Ms./she/her or Mx./they/them). To learn more about how to ask for and use diverse pronouns and titles, check out this Reimagine Gender brief.
For the most part, if you need to know gender, the following list covers the most standard gender identity ‘categories’ as they stand today. Remember, this does not include other aspects of gender (including expression). No list will ever be right for everyone, and language is always changing. This list is appropriate for today, but language is always changing and adapting — if you receive feedback that you should include or remove certain terms, take it seriously, but be sure to research any terms thoroughly in advance to understand the context and connotations of that term.
For most information-collecting needs where you need to ask adults about gender, Reimagine Gender generally recommends the following options:
There are limitations to any list of gender identities. Some transgender people simply identify as a man, or a woman and not a transgender man or transgender woman, whereas others specifically want the option to identify as transgender. Some people identify with more than one gender (for example trans folks who identify as trans and non-binary). To help address this, it’s best to offer multiple selections, meaning that people can choose multiple of the above options.
Obviously, a choice from a drop down list won’t tell you much about someone’s gender identity. If you are offering personalized services or establishing a close, ongoing relationship, you could consider adding a comment section which asks, “Is there anything else about your gender identity you’d like us to know?” This offers individuals the chance to provide a more customized answer, and details about any needs or concerns they have which you should be aware of.
It will be rare that you need to know someone’s sex. Asking about sex would refer only to someone’s biological characteristics, and is also a complex issue (to learn more, check out Reimagine Gender’s brief on the difference between sex and gender). If you are going to ask, provide a disclaimer that explains why you’re asking and how you’re using this information.
If you will need a truly nuanced understanding of someone’s gender and don’t know how to get at it with a form, or if you’re just not sure what you need - Reimagine Gender is here to help! Reach out to us for personalized advising.