Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Niceness of Kafka

I work at a university (which shall remain nameless). Overall, they are a pretty brilliant employer, no complaints here.

But the other day, I was filling in a form (as I often have to) about, you know, gender, religious affiliation, blah blah blah. I was merely going on my usual answers: yes, I am female, no, I do not wish to tell you my ethnic origin, dear anonymous data collector, however, yes, I will tell you that I am Roman Catholic (because inconsistency is my middle name).

And then, I stumbled on a new set of questions.

About gender.

Wait a minute, I thought I had answered that already?

"Is your gender identity the same as the one you were assigned at birth?"

I love this image of a Mysterious Authority who "assigns" you a gender "at birth". I can't help but picture a stern bearded giant, pointing at a tiny newborn and declaring peremptorily: "Thou Shalt Be..... Female!" Round of applause as appropriate genetic organs appear.

Political correctness is very poetic really, I mused.

Then I pressed on to the next question :

"Do you live and work full-time in a gender role different from that assigned at birth?"


I don't even know where to start with this one! First of all, it is so cautiously worded, it is almost incomprehensible. Imagine it as a statement: "Hi, I am Bob. White-British follower of the Most Ancient Order of the Jedi and part-time female." Or, "Well, I do live as Bob, but when I work I put on the special persona of Melody, a middle-aged librarian with a cat obsession (momentarily interrupting living in the process, one surmises)."

So yes, this question is mostly nonsensical, and the sequence is pretty weird. The questionnaire basically asks: 

"What gender are you? 
Are you sure? 
Are you sure you're sure? 
100% of the time and in all circumstances? 
Pinky swear?"

Now, it is pretty clear why the questions have been added. Now that gay marriage is no longer the agenda, transgenderism has become the new way for you to show, as an institution, that you are EVEN MORE politically correct than everybody else. But the reasoning behind the data collecting is hard to fathom. If the university is worried there is rampant discrimination in its ranks among transgender people, how is this going to show anything? We are talking about a minute minoritette of people here. The university not employing any of them would actually be pretty unsurprising, and not a sign of anything other than, you know, this is a very small minority. Not all tiny minorities are represented in every institution. It's just not possible.

So what is the point?

I suspect they are trying to be nice.

You know, protecting the feelings of one hypothetical person who is suffering through this particular psychological difficulty, and finding him/herself acknowledged and valued.

And it is good, in general, to be nice.

However, I don't see the questionnaire ever offering reassuring questions to protect the feelings of all people with some form of psychological difficulty. How about asking for the number of children to a parent who has lost one? How about asking her marital status to a widow?
Aren't you worried that your institution discriminates against widows?

This kafka-esque niceness is simply not sustainable. So the inclusion of only certain questions just reeks of political grasp-ism (it's a thing). It does nothing to the psychological state of the person answering the questions, who could have just clicked "prefer not to tell" at any given point if they felt uncomfortable.

But hey, that's what we do now, we care about transgender people's feelings A LOT.

In fact a lot more than everybody else's feelings apparently, who may resent the fact that the questions ask whether they lied in their previous answers.

The human mind is immensely complex, and its complexity cannot be reflected by data-collecting questionnaires or creating new rules for every single occasion for which one person risks having their feeling hurts.

That's life.

I don't ask the Brits to stop their Last Night At the Proms traditions because they make me feel foreign.

I AM foreign. And I just deal with it. Like a grown-up person.

Who hates data-collecting questionnaires.

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