September 25, 2014

Strong support for broad transgender and LGBT alliances found among gender variant people

The Crossdreamer Survey of Gender Variance shows that a great majority of gender variant people support broader transgender, queer and LGBT alliances.
Illustration by incomible

There has been a lot of discussion in transgender and queer circles about social, cultural and political collaboration.

This is partly a discussion on political convenience (they face similar types of oppression), and partly a discussion of what it means to be trans and/or queer.

The continuum interpretation

Since the early 1990s the dominant interpretation of the word transgender has been as an umbrella term embracing a wide variety of gender variant people, including crossdressers, drag queens, transsexuals and various shades of genderqueer.

The terms queer and genderqueer are normally understood to refer to those who fall outside the gender binary of strictly male and strictly female.

People supporting this position often believe in models describing continuums of both sexual orientation and gender variance. In other words: Transgender people may identify completely with one gender (their target gender), or they may see themselves as partly male and partly female or something outside the gender binary.

This kind of thinking is found both among gender variant people, the researchers studying them and the health personnel trying to help them.

The binary interpretation

Others focus more on the differences than the similarities between the different types of gender variant people. This especially applies to those who want to distinguish between transsexual men and women on the one hand and other gender variant people on the other.

They may argue that these two groups are fundamentally different (in the sense that the different "conditions" are caused by completely different phenomena), or that the problems they are facing are so different that it makes little sense for them to collaborate.

This position will be found among some representatives of the health systems, especially those who believe in more traditional gender norms, and among transsexual men and women who do not feel at home under the broader transgender umbrella. There are also gender variant people who do not like to be associated with transsexuals.

When we carried out our survey of gender variance, one of many objectives was to see if we could learn more about how gender variant people feel about collaboration and reciprocal support between various shades of queer and transgender, transsexuals included.

In this blog post we are going to present some preliminary findings from this survey. A more in depth analysis will follow later on.

Among our 1199 respondents we find a wide variety of queer and transgender people, 59% of whom report gender dysphoria (often considered a sign of transsexualism). 24 percent identify clearly as transsexual.

(See our introductory post for more information on the respondents. See our article on methodology for more information on how the survey was carried out).

We were aware of the fact that there is much disagreement and also some conflict regarding the interpretation and use of terms like "transgender" and "transsexual".  Because of this we did not use these terms in the invite or in the first part of the survey.

Do you think gender variant people should collaborate?

The first question pertaining to the issue of collaboration between gender variant people, did therefore not use any of these terms.  Instead we asked:

"Do you think gender variant people should collaborate in order to help each other and further common interests?"

The term "gender variant people" had not been defined in the questionnaire at this point, although the introduction included a definition of the term "cross-gender experience" ("any association, identification or affinity you may feel with a sex or gender different from the one you were assigned at birth").

In the invite we had noted that:

"The objective is to gain a better insight into the self conception and ideas of gender variant people of all shades and colors. These include -- but are in no way not limited to -- crossdressers, crossdreamers, transsexuals, drag queens and drag kings, girlfags and guydykes, non-binary identities, queer and genderqueer."

In other words: There is reason to believe that the respondents would understand that we were referring to a wide variety of gender variant people.

Note also that sentence refers both to the need for mutual support and the idea that these groups should work to further common interests vis-a-vis society at large.

97 percent reply "yes" to the question. Only 3% say "no".

This support for collaboration is extremely strong -- so strong, in fact, that it requires an explanation. Why isn't the disagreement regarding the need for a broader transgender alliance reflected in this response?

Fortunately, we had asked more questions regarding such collaboration, which may help us calibrate this result.

Do you consider yourself part of the transgender community?

The next one, which followed further down in the questionnaire, included a definition of  transgender, namely:

"The word 'transgender' is here understood as an umbrella term for many types of gender variance, including -- but not limited to -- crossdressers, drag queens, genderqueer and transsexuals."

Given this definition 62 percent reply "yes" to the question "Do you consider yourself transgender?".

To the question "Do you consider yourself part of the transgender community?" 49 percent reply "yes".

In other words: It seems that not all who identify as transgender, feel that they are accepted as part of the transgender community. The transgender community was defined as "a political and social alliance between all types of gender variant people, including -- but not limited to -- crossdressers, drag queens, genderqueer and transsexuals."

We also asked them if they considered themselves part of the LGBTQA community (defined as "the political and social alliance between lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender/gender variant, queer/genderqueer and asexual").  Here 63 percent reply "yes".

To the question "Do you support a broad transgender alliance?" 89% answer yes, 11% no. This is less than the 97% who think gender variant people should collaborate in order to help each other and further common interests, but a clear sign of support all the same.

We will spend more time on identifying different groups of respondents and see to what extent different backgrounds reflect different responses later on.

Different responses from the two sub-surveys

We may, however, even at this point present a few interesting divergences.

As noted in our introductory post, we sent out two separate invites, leading to two separate (but similar) surveys.

The first invite was published on sites and in forums for a wide variety of transgender and queer people. This sample (718 in all) was dominated by adults and people assigned male at birth.  We call this survey "the survey".

As we expected such a bias we sent out a separate invitation via the tumblr social network. These respondents (481) were dominated by young people assigned female at birth. (More information here.)

There are some interesting differences between the two groups, which may reflect both assigned gender and age.

The respondents to the survey are much more likely to identify as transgender compared to the tumblr respondents (74% as opposed to 44% of the tumblr sample). This may reflect a change in the understanding of the word transgender (even if the term was clearly defined in the questionnaire), more variation as regards types of gender variance in the tumblr sample, or the fact that the tumblr cohort was dominated by people assigned female at birth. We will look more closely into this in the final analysis.

The tumblr cohort are less likely to understand themselves as part of the transgender community than the people (40% versus 56%). This may reflect a shift in the understanding of the word transgender, but also the recent"truscum" campaign on tumblr, which has been instigated by a group of female to male transsexual separatists who insist that the word "transgender" is only to be used by gender dysphoric transsexuals.

The support for a broad transgender alliance is stronger among the younger tumblr respondents (94%) compared to the older respondents (86%). This may reflect a slight movement towards a stronger sense of community among gender variant people.

There is a huge difference between the two samples as regards their approach to the broader LGBT/LGBTQA alliance. As many as 89% of the tumblr respondents consider themselves part of a broader alliance encompassing gay, lesbian, queer, transgender and asexual people. The number for the sub-sample is 46%.

We will have to look more closely into this, but it may seem the older, male to female dominated, group is more reluctant to embrace an alliance including gay and lesbian people, while the younger group find it harder to embrace the term transgender.

That being said, it is clear that the idea of a broad transgender alliance and a more extensive LGBTQA alliance has strong support among the gender variant people responding to our survey.

Click on image to enlarge! Preliminary data.

Is there a bias toward support for alliances?

At the beginning of this article we asked why the disagreement regarding the need for a broader transgender alliance isn't more clearly reflected in the responses. Keep in mind that 97% answer yes to the question "Do you think gender variant people should collaborate in order to help each other and further common interests?" and that 89% support  a broad transgender alliance.

One possible answer is that this disagreement  actually is reflected in the responses. The disagreement may explain the discrepancy between the number who support alliances and the number who actually consider themselves part of a transgender community. It may even be possible that the open and sometimes hostile disagreement about this kind of alliances makes some people fear they do not have the right to identify as transgender or LGBT.

Given the large number of respondents who report gender dysphoria (59%), and the smaller -- but significant -- percentage who think of themselves as transsexual (24%), the result cannot be explained as the opinion of non-transsexual people only.

If we look more closely at the 287 people who clearly identify as transsexual, we find that 79% think of themselves as members of the transgender community, and 71% of the LGBTQA community.  To the question "Do you support a broad transgender alliance?" 90% answer yes, 10% no.

As we pointed out in the introduction post, however, this survey was mainly targeting gender variant people who have not transitioned medically and/or socially. This is also reflected in the responses. Only 6 percent report that they have transitioned or are in the process of transitioning.

Whether transgender people are likely to change their view on transgender and LGBTQA alliances post-transitioning is a question that cannot be answered using data from this survey.

One may also discuss whether the invite distribution channels had a bias towards pro-alliance readers. For the Tumblr survey, there is no reason to believe that there is such a bias. The invite was reposted by 105 blogs, thus reaching a wide audience.

As regards the survey we did our best to reach as many relevant sites and forums as possible and the broadest queer and transgender audience. To what extent we have managed to reach a representative number of anti-alliance respondents is an open question. However, because of the characteristics of the Tumblr cohort and the efforts made to distribute the invite to large parts of the online transgender community, there is little reason to believe that such a bias would make a significant difference to the overall results.

Jack and Sally Molay

The Gender Variance Survey, Index of Posts


  1. If you were trying to reach out to a large number of people in the community, why didn't you post to asktransgender on reddit? I feel like no transsexuals were actually represented in this survey at all...

  2. Interesting that you predominantly canvas the T element for their opinions on LGBT alliances, not the non-transgender LGB.

    Much like transsexuals with womens' bathrooms, the classic transgender viewpoint remains oblivious to the greater needs and desires of the majority.

  3. @Buddy,

    I think you are missing the point. This is a survey on gender variance, not a survey of the whole LGBTQA community.

    We are trying, among other things, to find out how gender variant people are looking at the LGBTQA alliance. What you are suggesting is a completely different type of exercise, and one we are not set up to carry out, I am afraid. It would be an interesting one, though, no doubt about it.

    The way I interpret these numbers, they show that the majority of the respondents associate clearly with other LGBTQA people, and share their concerns.

    We will come back with numbers for where the respondents place themselves in the various sex and gender continuums, but I can assure you the L and the G and the B are well represented in the sample. The majority of respondents cannot be understood as "straight" in the traditional sense of the word.

    It is certainly true that the majority of the respondent fit under the wide transgender umbrella, understood as a term embracing all gender variant people. But as we will show in a later blog post, great many of them identify as queer, genderqueer and are using a wide variety of other terms to describe themselves.

    I suggest you explore this blog a bit before jumping to conclusions. I am most certainly not a spokesperson for the "classic transsexual" point of view, and it seems to me that this survey confirm that this applies to most genderqueer and transgender people.

    As for your bathroom comment. Are you serious? I have never met any responsible gay or lesbian activists who think that women should not be allowed to use women's bathrooms. Forcing trans women to use men's bathrooms brings them everything from extreme discomfort to serious acts of transphobic violence.

    As for the "greater needs and desires of the majority". Hm. When did the LGBTQA struggle become a fight for the needs of the majority? "The majority" wanted to segregate white people and people of color. "The majority" wanted to keep women in the kitchen. And until recently "the majority" supported the persecution of gay and lesbians. In fact, "the majority" still does in countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia.

    If you are serious about working for LGBTQA rights, I strongly recommend that you never use the "majority" argument ever again.

  4. @Kate

    We planned to publish the survey over at the transgender subreddit, but they ido not allow survey invites. We did consider the asktransgender subreddit, but we see it more as a forum where transgender people may help other transgender people by answering questions. In other words: We feared that our request would be considered inappropriate.

    In hindsight I see that we could have asked the moderators about this.

    Still, the survey was made known in many transgender forums, T-Central included.

    Moreover, given that this is a survey of all types of gender variance, I would say that transsexuals are well represented. 24 percent of the respondents identify as transsexual.

  5. Jack you are conflating my example with my point.

  6. Jack you are conflating my analogy with my point.

  7. I am sorry, Buddy. I am slow today. Could you elaborate?


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