February 24, 2017

How Many Transgender People are There, Really?

The number of transgender people has been
seriously underestimated (photo: Llewellyn Chin)

There are more transgender people around than most think.

The New York Times reports that:
Nearly 150,000 American teenagers from 13 to 17 years old — or one out of every 137 — would identify as transgender if survey takers asked, according to an analysis of state and federal data that offers an answer to a question that has long eluded researchers
In addition to an estimated 149,750 transgender teenagers nationwide, accounting for 0.7 percent of the population ages 13 to 17, the Williams Institute Study estimates that there are 1.4 million transgender adults in the United States (some 0.6 percent).
I  am convinced all many of the  studies on the number of transgender people (in the broad umbrella sense of the term) seriously underestimate the percentage of the population who are some kind of gender variant, and that this even applies to this new study.
One of the reason is that so many of the statistics are based on respondents that have already been involved with the health system. That is an extreme selection bias.

The other one is that they tend to conflate the word transgender with transsexual (someone who would like to or have transitioned) or gender dysphoric, numbers that do not catch those who are neither, or those who are living in denial or cannot go down that road for other reasons. Lynn Conway   makes a good case for the higher estimate.

I have no way of giving a correct estimate of much larger number of MTF transgender, but I got access to some really interesting web statistics from a person running a transgender caption/fiction site (mostly erotica), targeting male to female crossdreamers. The site had 1.6 million unique visitors every year. And this was not one of the biggest sites of this kind.

The great majority of visitors to such English language sites are American.  So if we say that some 1.2 million of these visitors were from the US, and we count in the fact that a lot of crossdreamers are not into this kind of erotica, and that there are others who live in the kind of denial that stops them from finding such sites, wouldn't it be reasonable to believe that there might be as many as 5 til 10 million male to female transgender/gender variant people in the US alone? 
Given that there are some 150 million people assigned male in the US, and that some of them are kids, that would leave us with a percentage closer to 5 than to 1.
And yes, I belong to those who believe that an erotic interest in crossing genders is a clear a sign of being some kind of transgender as having  stereotypical gender interests or gender expressions. If you are gender variant, that will also affect your erotic fantasies.
Mine is no way a scientific number,  but it makes me keep my mind open to the idea that being transgender -- in the wide sense of the term -- is much more common than most believe.

I do not think there is any reason to believe that there are fewer transgender people among female assigned transgender people. I realize that this is often explained by the traditional idea that female biologically speaking is the default, and that male is caused by the addition of male hormones in the womb, but it seems to me that these days biologists are leaving such a simplistic model behind. 
I suspect that the fact that fewer FTM transgender people are reported is caused by a combination of several factors: Cultural, in the sense that those assigned female can more easily express masculine behavior without being labelled as a sexual pervert. And medical, in the sense that until recently it was harder to envisage transitioning with bottom surgery for those assigned female.
By the way, the Williams Study, which is based on data from the nation wide Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), reflects a relatively narrow understanding of the term transgender.
The respondents were asked:
Do you consider yourself to be transgender?
The first question may lead to many interpretations, and it is hard to see what the respondent is actually responding to (transgender as in transsexual or transgender as in gender variant).

If the respondent answered yes, they were asked: 
Do you consider yourself to be male-to-female, female-to-male, or gender non-conforming? 
The second question widens the scope explicitly, including gender non-conforming (and non-binary identities, I would surmise). 
If the interviewer was asked for a definition of transgender, the interviewer responded: 
“Some people describe themselves as transgender when they experience a different gender identity from their sex at birth. For example, a person born into a male body, but who feels female or lives as a woman would be transgender. Some transgender people change their physical appearance so that it matches their internal gender identity. Some transgender people take hormones and some have surgery. A transgender person may be of any sexual orientation – straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.”
The definition seems to go back to a more traditional, binary, understanding of transgender, which again will influence the responses.

The analysis is an extrapolation based on adult responses to a federal survey. Given that the data is based on responses from adults (who are more likely to think of trans as "transsexual") as well as young people, I suspect this confusion has led  the researchers to underestimate the number of trans youth in the US.

This blog post is partly based on an entry in a Crossdream Life discussion.
Jody L. Herman, Ph.D., Andrew R. Flores, Ph.D., Taylor N. T. Brown, MPP, Bianca D.M. Wilson, Ph.D., and Kerith J. Conron, Sc.D: Age of Individuals Who Identify as Transgender in the United States

New York Times: As Attention Grows, Transgender Children’s Numbers Are Elusive

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!