Counting trans people

How many trans people there are depends on how you define trans people. There is no clear dividing line between cis and trans, but a number of traits, which can be stronger or weaker in different individuals. What should be counted?

  • What people do. How many people transition, or would like to, or cross-dress?
  • How well people fit the gender stereotypes of their assigned sex at birth.
  • How people identify. Do they consider themselves nonbinary or trans, or identify more strongly with the opposite sex?

In theory, you could assess levels of dysphoria, but finding the right questions to ask could be difficult.

All of these require precise definition in order to get a meaningful figure. All would give different figures. There is a risk of false negatives, of people in denial, not trusting the researchers, or seeking to hide in shame, as well as false positives, of people mocking the survey, like the “Jedi knights” in British censuses. It’s hard to count people who do not fit well into society, and have to find ways of living with that, attempting to conform, rebelling, or finding subcultures where they can be themselves. How angry are they?

It might make sense to have slightly different methods for people assigned male from those for assigned female, as gender variance may affect the sexes differently.

If you want to assess how well people function in an oppressively gendered society, you have to find ways of finding the trans or gender diverse or gender nonconforming to assess.

In 2015, researchers analysed all the published studies they could find on how many trans people there are. They found estimates varying by two orders of magnitude. The extent of disagreement between the studies renders their findings meaningless. A Belgian study found a greater proportion of straight men than gay men were “gender ambivalent”, which is not my experience. Is it yours?

DSM V estimates prevalence at 0.005% to 0.014% in natal males and 0.002-0.003% in natal females.

In 2019 the Conference of European Statisticians produced a paper on counting trans people, assessing the difficulties.

In 2021/22, the British census will find out how many trans people there are by asking “Is the gender you identify with the same as your sex registered at birth?” If it is, they ask the subjects to enter their gender identity. This should give the most accurate figure for trans people. However, it is subjective. In my 20s, I was in denial. I would not have answered that my gender identity was different to my sex assigned at birth until just before, or even after, deciding to transition.

So, I tried to estimate the number of trans people myself. My first attempt used the National LGBT survey of 2017. I came up with an answer of about 40,000 transitioned in Britain, 10,000 identifying as trans but not yet transitioning, and 60,000 nonbinary. It was a very rough calculation, but seemed to show that people answering that survey and identifying as trans was an order of magnitude smaller than the 600,000 estimate of Stonewall, the ONS and the Human Rights Commission. It also showed that most of those identifying as trans had transitioned already, or wanted to. So even though definitions of trans rightly tend to include cross-dressers, either there are not a huge number of cross-dressers going out dressed but not wanting to transition, or they didn’t think the LGBT survey was for them. I know there are some cross-dressers who have no thought of transitioning, as I have met them, but the anti-trans campaign groups should stop worrying.

I then found numbers of people referred to gender clinics, and used those to estimate 50,000 transitioners in Britain. Most want surgery.

This does not begin to count how many people are gender nonconforming. No-one fits the gender stereotypes completely, and the stereotypes change with time and culture. You could cop out, and say everyone is GNC to an extent. There will be a proportion of the population who are particularly oppressed by gender stereotypes, and what proportion that is depends on how serious the oppression is. Because gender stereotypes restrict people and prevent us from fulfilling our potential, action to subvert gender stereotypes is a good thing. It benefits everyone, not some arbitrarily limited part of the population. Perhaps some people are particularly oppressed because they are “Gender schematic”: that is, it’s not that they are particularly distant from the stereotypes, but that they take the stereotypes too seriously.

How many trans people? In Britain, about 50,000 people have transitioned or want to. This is about 0.1% of the population. Most trans people you see out and about will want to transition or already have done. More people are nonbinary than trans, and finding a way to challenge gender, even if only by using different pronouns. The Census may give a better answer.