WHEN I was little – four years old maybe, possibly five – my mother asked me what I wanted from Santa. A hoover, I said. A few weeks later, Santa duly delivered a nice new toy hoover. But it was only recently that my mother told me dad wasn’t massively cool with the idea at the time. A hoover? Not a ball? Or a gun? For a boy? Uh-uh.

But that was 45 years ago and things have changed, haven’t they? Well: last weekend I met up with some friends for a ceilidh. I can’t remember how, but the subject of gender and sexuality came up and, in particular, the subject of men dressing “as women”. Most of the guys in the room said they were uncomfortable with the idea even though I pointed out they were expressing this opinion while standing around in skirts (“but these aren’t skirts, these are kilts!”)

My point is that the way we understand gender and sexuality is changing but not as fast as we think it is ¬- a lot of the old attitudes linger. Look at the stories about gender-reveal parties for example. A gender-reveal party is an elaborate event at which parents-to-be tell their friends and family what sex their unborn child is. It’s no longer enough to say it’s a boy or a girl, apparently, you have to shoot glitter out of a cannon (pink for girl, blue for boy, naturally), or in one case get an alligator to bite through a melon to reveal the coloured jelly inside. Awww. Look at the blue goo glistening on that giant reptile’s teeth. It’s a boy!

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The problem with events like these isn’t that they’re silly, or attention-seeking, or dangerous, although they can be (a woman was killed in the States the other day when a gender-reveal stunt with a cannon went wrong). The problem is that they impose firm ideas of gender from birth and now, it seems, before birth. Girl equals pink equals princesses and not chemistry sets. Boy equals blue equals footballs and not hoovers.

Sadly, we know what the consequences of this approach can be. Firstly, parents may be unconsciously restricting their daughters’ choices by encouraging them into caring or “pink” jobs like counsellor or teacher, while leaving the “blue” subjects like maths and science to the boys. Rigid gender definitions can also be disturbing and restricting for children and young people who don’t feel like they fit the stereotypes. It may also discourage them from talking about how they feel about their gender and/or sexuality.

Fortunately, the people in charge of compiling the 2021 Scottish census seem to appreciate the situation and have been trying to reflect the fact that things are changing. The next census will have a place for people, if they want to, to state their trans status; the question about sexuality will also not be restricted to straight, gay, lesbian and bisexual – there will be a box for “other” where the person can write in the sexuality that they feel best describes them.

However, as I’ve said, things aren’t changing as fast as we might think, or hope, and some critics have been questioning the proposal that when people go to fill in the “other” box, a predictive-text tool will suggest possible sexualities (based on descriptions people have used in the past). Some of these critics would also like people to be told in the census guidelines that they must state the gender that is on their birth certificate rather than their lived gender.

What’s particularly disappointing is the way some of these critics have framed their argument. Rather than trying to accommodate, or understand, people who don’t feel like their gender or sexuality fits in the traditional boxes, many of them have mocked the alternative sexualities or used the eye-roll emoji or simply ridiculed the idea that people might be different. It reminds me of the kind of ridicule and abuse that was openly meted out to gay people in the 1970s, particularly the suggestion that predictive texting in a census might in some way impose a sexuality on someone – that’s like homophobes worrying that gays can “turn them” in some way. It’s preposterous and ugly.

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More importantly, it fails to recognise the way many people now think and act on gender and sexuality. Not long ago, I was speaking to Jinkx Monsoon, the performer and winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and we talked a little about gender. “I am a transgender-identified person,” Jinkx told me. “I prefer to be gender fluid or non-gendered. I’m the kind of person who does not dress like my assigned gender, and I wear makeup every day and sometimes wear wigs as a boy.”

Other young people have told me similar things and, according to an activist I spoke to this week, around one in 10 people in the LGBTQ community would not choose the terms lesbian, gay or bisexual but would prefer pansexual, asexual or some other term. We cannot ignore that. We should not mock it. And, above all, we should accommodate it in a census for the sake of allowing people to describe who they really are.