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).

The number of those who have transitioned is much smaller than the number of trans people

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.

Some interesting web site statistics

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 transgender people 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 shade of transgender, in the wide umbrella meaning of the word. 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.

There are probably as many FTM as MTF transgender people

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. Until recently female to male transgender people were also less visible in the media and elsewhere. They had fewer role models, which made it harder for them to explore their identity. This is definitely changing now, as more trans men are coming out. There is also a medical side to this, in the sense that until recently it was harder to envisage transitioning with bottom surgery for those assigned female.

The narrow approach of the Williams Study

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). Still, if they had interpreted the term transgender to mean transsexual, in the classic sense, they would not have seen this question.

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.


  1. Through my reading and association I am left with the impression that there are two intersecting paths that lead to a transgendered identity.

    One is epigenetic as to those genes that are influenced while in the womb and possibly after birth. The environment a woman lives in and comes out of is affecting the male and female fetus resulting in them not biologically moving to the opposite ends of the biological binary. There have always been a third sex largely made up of males who are most vulnerable because the default is female in mammals. ( See Complete androgen insensitivity syndrome CAIS)

    The psychological stress and chemical exposure women are experiencing while pregnant guarantees the numbers of children born gender dysphoric will continue to increase. There is an interesting cross over between asexuality/autism and gender dysphoria. All traced to mothers and their circumstances.

    MtF Transgenders are created because their sexuality as their brain is touched in some way leading to female identity. You could say they live between the sexuality of a woman and a man as to their "mind state and energy" created by the brain they live with. it is the same thing as certain people are born spiritually predisposed independent of religion. They MUST seek out God and the same forces that create this "seeking" also shape those into the transgendered. Being transgendered comes with a spiritual component and why many are musical. Music and the design of the universe are two expressions the same thing.

    The reason males are pressured to form male identities (and most importantly how)comes out of the fact that they do not easily form an identity as a consequence of having to sever themselves from the mother and "go into the wilderness to form their own" through association with other men/boys. Male identity is collectively created where for girls this is primarily done singularly through the mother.

    This separation from mothers is a trauma usually unique to males but for those who are transgender it is especially traumatic because they are actually the daughter leaving the mother while never being able to escape the wilderness because there is identity with males possible. This is why so many who transition have tried to force themselves through military service to "become men" fail. They were trying to reshape their own brain/mind to be able to be that which is impossible to be.

    Men fear those that are transgendered because they fear the loss of their own fragile masculine identity which is usually built around and on sex and power as conquest and control. Men biologically are "thing oriented" but the MtF transgendered are people oriented at least to a greater degree than the typical male. This is why the third sex are often seen as peace keepers between the sexes.

    You know you are a MtF transgender if you have always experienced men as belonging to a tribe you could not quite comprehend or belong to. Men would be experienced as foreign even if there was attraction. This is how women experience men.

    Any man that moves toward women because they are the tribe he is most comfortable associating with is transgendered, whether he knows it or not. At its deepest level the mind knows where it belongs.

    Where this movement stops in relation to women will decide what you need to do even if you cannot do it. The tension between what is and what must be decides and determines the pain (gender dysphoria)

  2. @Katherine,

    Thank you for this one. There is much to think about here.

    I am especially fascinated by the fact that you so clearly connects an inborn social drive towards associating with women as a sign of being transgender. It most certainly makes sense to me, who have never really felt at home in traditional masculine settings (even if I have a lot of male friends and have learned much from them). I feel especially alienated if this male bonding requires lots of alcohol.

    I also noted your idea about the mother connection. You are -- in a way -- combining Freud with neurophysiology in your approach. I find that very interesting!

    One question, though: Aren't the female cliques and fraternities also there to help girls free themselves from their parents? I get that female culture not necessarily is there to liberate them from the clutches of their parents, but can't they use such social settings to complain about their mothers?

  3. Transgender persons are also the part of our society and its our responsibility to respect them as well. I appreciate the team for arranging this transgender film festival.


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