Saturday, 21 February 2015

How many of us are there?

I've been wondering for years how many people are trans.

In many ways, the problem is unanswerable because it's a question of degree. Some people may crossdress for a short while in their life, or very occasionally, or merely wonder about expressing their gender differently; others have to transition fully.

and a few who transition

I've heard figures of 1 to 1.5% bandied about. It's impossible to know, of course, since what is clear is that the overwhelming majority do not go out of the house or live a day-to-day life in their chosen gender. I'm unusual in that I do, but given how hard it is to meet up with other like individuals, I can only conclude that those at the publicly-visible end of the spectrum are few and far between. I call this phenomenon the Transberg - like an iceberg whose bulk is almost completely hidden underwater, where passing shipping can't see it. (I'll draw a picture of a Transberg one day.)

Britain has a population of 63 million (officially). Statistics seem to show that a few hundred a year transition here, and that the total number who live after transition seems to be 6000 - 8000 individuals. Or roughly 1 in 10,000 of the population. But given the earlier statistic I quoted, this is only about 1% of the total estimated (i.e. guessed) trans population.

Various people have had a stab at assessing our numbers. Some of those people are driven by an activist/political agenda which makes their statistics suspect, rather like reading tobacco industry funded research into smokers' health. Others use intelligent guesswork based on what appears online. My own feeling is that gender is fluid and changes throughout an individual's life so they may fall in and out of the definition at different times (or would they still count as trans in perpetuity?). As I've mentioned here before, I've been trans for ever, but the degree of it does vary from year to year and season to season. One of my own sisters was a real tomboy when aged about 4, and she can be a little boyish in style even now. But is that a sign of being trans? She's always had some feminist views in her teen/adult years and her current style may be a demonstration of those, rather than any trans aspect manifesting itself.

It's irritating not to know the answer to this question as it would help inform society. But given the fear of ridicule most trans people in the West have, which keeps them hidden away at home or in hotel rooms, rarely even telling their spouses, family or friends, I wonder if we will ever be able to know.

Why is it important to know? I think it helps demonstrate that we're not rare or weird. Supposing we could say, "Look, this school has 500 pupils aged 13-18, so by the law of averages 5 of them will be trans, one in each year". Or, "This football stadium is filled with 70,000 fans. Seven of them are transitioning/have transitioned and seven hundred are trans in one way or another". Just by way of examples. It makes the reality more immediate to everyone. And shows that the likelihood of a trans person living in your street, working in your office, attending your college/club/church etc. is quite high (or possibly quite low, depending on the elusive answer).

Here's a science article (from the respected journal Nature) mainly about intersex conditions. It offers tantalising glimpses into potential explanations for intersex and even trans conditions (none of them new). But as some of the readers' comments rightly point out, a few cases (almost anecdotal) do not a theory make, especially when intersex activists wish for an outcome and use the slenderest evidence to back their ideas.

There really is no comprehensive scientific literature on trans matters at all, involving large-scale, double-blind trials and robust conclusions, just these little snippets of possibility. We are therefore mainly left with some rather old conclusions of psychologists, who influence our policy makers and health professionals, and who think transness is a mental disorder (and some of my trans friends agree with this, including a biologist whose opinions I necessarily respect). Like most trans people, though, I don't think my trans status derives from my thinking or mental state at all - though there's obviously a two-way communication going on between my body and my mind - but from something fundamental and innate. But how can I know? How can I be sure? As yet, I can't, and this is frustrating as I'd like to say to people "Look, I'm trans because ... my hormone balance/genetic makeup/mental state/etc. ... is such-and-such." I did take part in a study some years ago that yielded some interesting results (basically, we trans folk each develop through life in a very similar way, despite being distanced from one another, which suggests that transness is something innate rather than influenced from outside). Sadly, the persons directing that study also have strong political views and a trans promotional agenda so - like those tobacco industry researches - their conclusions, even though properly peer-reviewed, need to be considered cautiously.

I remain frustrated in my quest to know why I am trans. Frankly, this condition/existence/state/manifestation - describe it how you will - has wrecked my life, not because it itself is a problem, but because people in my society (including me) - and, I guess, in just about every other society - don't know why this trans 'thing' happens.

All I can say at the moment, like Stonewall, is "some people are trans - get over it!" But that's also a failure: a failure to understand, to research, to conclude, and so to support in any real way.

I'm trans. I live with that. I wish I wasn't. I live with that, too.

Sue x


  1. How many is, I think, a good question. Sadly, I don't have an answer. I guess there's a very wide spectrum, of whatever poles of extreme you have on each end. Perhaps that's wrong too. Maybe it's more a 'how far' on one axis, and a 'how frequently' on another?

    I'm sorry to read that you think being trans has wrecked things for you. Personally, I wouldn't go that far, but - as Richard O'Brien once said - "it's not a journey I'd recommend." It certainly has some bumps and knocks along the way, but then, is this more a 'grass is greener' question? All we know is what it is to be us, can we really look out into another person's life and say it's easier?

    I remember my sister saying 'oh, but you and Mrs J have the perfect relationship'. We didn't scoff or belittle that remark, but we did set the record straight-ish about arguments and when one of us gets things wrong. Again, we come back to appearances, but that's off topic.

    Stay strong and think of the shoe sales X

    1. I've been thinking about your thoughtful comment, Lynn. It forms the basis of my next post. Sue x

  2. I suspect that for every assuredly trans person there are dozens like me who tootle up and down the spectrum. Occasionally I'll give some thought to the possibility of leading life as a woman, a lot of the time I'll be fine as a bloke who just happens to know what a sweetheart neckline is.
    The problem with knowing "what proportion are trans" is that many (most?) of us drift in and out, and many succeed in keeping it suppressed. Because suppression isn't necessarily a bad thing, it can be essential if relationships are to continue.
    As for understanding the causes ... I suspect nobody ever will. All I can say is that if the magic pill were ever available, I'd take two just to be doubly sure.

    1. Thanks, Demi. Personally, I feel that the fact that you can drift in and out suggests that the tendency is always latent and that in itself is enough to put you in the trans part of the spectrum. I also suspect that those who are occasional dressers or vaguely curious are likely to be the majority whereas those like me who dress every day or transition are the less common kind. And the number of people who say they'd like to take the magic pill to cure it are probably more than those who want to live with their transness. But my point is that thinking and suspecting are no real use when wanting a proper answer to this question. Sue x

  3. I'm late to this, Sue - thanks for the link to the Nature article. I'm surprised that you have a friend who is a biologist who thinks that TGism is a mental disorder. I can only imagine that the person comes from the other end of that science to evolutionary ecology, since there is a logical framework therein that allows for TGism, as there is for homosexuality (which itself was a mental disorder into the 1970's, according to theThe Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

    1. Thanks, Nikki. I suspect that being trans is an evolutionary matter, too. Saying that it's a mental health problem seems less likely to me. But we just don't yet have any real idea what its roots or causes are or how many it affects in one way or another. It's frustrating. Sue x