Who is trans?

How many trans people are there? That depends on who you call trans. The Conference of European Statisticians prepared a paper on counting trans people, which said it is too early to make firm recommendations. It even felt the need to point out that gay rights or acceptance are not the same as trans rights or acceptance. This is what the report says:

Gender has a range of possibilities, and trans and nonbinary are distinct. Some cultures recognise gender diversity, such as the Fa’afafine of Samoa. Sometimes “gender” is used as a synonym for sex, sometimes as something separate- German has only one word for both. “Gender identity” is the inwardly-felt aspect of being male, female or something else. “Gender expression” is how one presents.

In most research literature, “transgender” or “trans” is defined as having a gender (identity or expression) that is different from the person’s sex as determined at birth. Note that the word “different” is used rather than the word “opposite”. In this sense, it includes all people with non-binary gender. The opposite of transgender is called “cisgender”.

But sometimes “trans” just refers to binary transgender. And some sources call “transgender” a separate gender. Several countries have binary gender recognition, and Canada is considering the possibility of recognising nonbinary gender. In Germany there is a third category. We need statistics on trans to monitor inequality and develop policy to benefit trans people, but we still need data on sex at birth. In English, the terms are in flux and vary even between different organisations within one country.

Australia uses the label “other”, which I find unattractive. New Zealand and Canada include “gender diverse”, which could produce a higher response, as it could include people who don’t fit standard binary gender but have not decided to do anything about it. But in New Zealand, “gender diverse” includes binary trans people, while in Canada it only means nonbinary. Canada specifically defines “sex” as “sex assigned at birth”.

People have the human right to privacy. Asking a gender identity question should only be done when the benefits of having the information outweigh privacy concerns. So the Gender identity question will be voluntary.

The 2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in the US asked 300,000 people “Do you consider yourself to be transgender?” Half did not answer the question. Of those who did, 0.52% said yes. The researchers said this meant 0.6% of the US population was transgender.

The California Health Interview Survey of 2015-16 asked sex at birth, then “Do you currently describe yourself as male, female or transgender?” 0.35% were identified as trans from the two questions, including some who said one sex for the first question, the other gender for the second. That is, there were 85 participants identified as trans.

Some surveys use networking or awareness campaigns to find trans people. Some countries have surveyed trans people on what questions to ask. Asked our gender or sex, we might respond simply with our acquired gender, so there needs to be a separate question about trans status. Despite this, the report recommends one question on gender, offering “male, female, another gender” as the options (though I consider male means sex, masculine means gender). There could be two questions, one on gender and a second on gender variant status.

There can be false positives, response errors distorting the figures; non-response bias and variability of samples. Before conducting the census, statistics bodies are trialling different questions. They want, they say, to “measure the full transgender population”, but some people are too scared to reveal, or are in denial. However if 0.1% of people are trans, but 1% of cis people make a mistake, the result would give a figure ten times the actual number of trans people. Unfamiliar terms could cause cis people to make errors.

Canada’s two questions ask sex at birth, male or female, then gender, male, female, “Or please specify your gender”. England is testing two questions, “Is your gender the same as the sex you were registered at birth?” and “Do you consider yourself to be trans?” with the option “prefer not to say”. They think “prefer not to say” will be trans people.

The report recommends allowing people to write in their gender rather than just tick “other gender”. They don’t address the possibility that someone might want to transition but be too frightened to- that’s the figure that, more than any other, shows the depth of need of trans people. It worries that in very detailed tables, such as for individual towns, giving a number of trans people could mean those people could be identified.

0.6% of the population is a lot more trans people than I thought, and I still don’t think they are all transitioning. And yet I feel gender stereotypes oppress and restrict far more people than would ever say in a census that they are transgender. That would mean the census might help with specific health-care needs, but not with policy around gender stereotypes. Still, that, and 0.35%, are the only concrete figures the report gives. The report recommends other countries start counting trans people, and report to the UN how they get on.

These questions don’t address the question I want to: how many people identify as trans but have decided temporarily or permanently not to transition? I know people like that, and people who have waited many years before starting their transition journey. That statistic would show how hard it is to be trans.

From In depth review of measuring gender identity.

2 thoughts on “Who is trans?

  1. My daughter would identify as female and might put prefer not to say for assigned at birth, as we now know more about that and it was not as clearcut as it then appeared. She cannot cope with the intrusive and social nature of the NHS process due to her ASD issues and has no idea with her gig economy work situation when/ if she might be able to afford reassignment surgery.


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