How many transgender people are there in the UK?
This is a question that goes back as long as I can remember.
If we look at the question we must first ask ourselves why is it necessary to know the answer?
The most important answer is it can help people feel less alone and part of something bigger. It also helps calculate the need for goods and services. A poorly prepared care industry may find themselves overwhelmed if they do not undertake some diversity training about transgender care needs.
There are a number of difficulties in obtaining statistics, and short of the benchmark double-blind randomized control trial – which does not work very well in social research – we have to look at the issue longitudinally (over time). We must then use a method often used in social care, observation and ‘action research’.
Of course this type of research is open to bias, bias is the biggest hurdle in collating accurate figures. In this instance we as a community want there to be a positive outcome and can therefore bias the results in our favour. This is unfortunate but by the very fact we are aware of this somehow does help us try and avoid it.
The next problem is one of gathering data, online surveys are mostly anonymous and therefore cannot be verified, transgender people are by far one of the most secretive communities other than those that are illegal. Transpeople can literally lose everything (including their lives) if they are ‘found out’. It is still socially difficult for transpeople to obtain a level of confidence whereby their career is guaranteed not to be damaged by such revelations, at the very least mockery and name-calling can lead to depression. For the vast majority it is simply far easier to keep it quiet.
Medicine does record transgender numbers but only of those that approach medicine formally, we have a good idea of the numbers that do not approach medicine, and from that we can reverse-engineer an approximate figure.
To quote Eddie Izzard from his Book Dress to Kill:
When I first came out, I went to see a bank manager, a dentist and a doctor wearing a dress. I remember going to see a dentist wearing make-up. He was looking at me with all the make-up on and I was saying,’ I’ve got a bad tooth.’ I went to the doctor wearing make-up:
‘ I’ve got a cough.’
‘ You’ve got what?’
‘ I’ve got a cough.’
‘ You’re a transvestite?’
‘ No, I’ve got a cough. I am a transvestite, but I’ve got a cough.’
‘ Well, I’d better sort the transvestite thing out. Have to refer you for that.’
‘ No that’s not a problem, Just the cough, thanks.
We can look at the numbers of Gender Recognition Certificates issued, but they even for our community just seem very low, especially when you consider more people hit Transgender Zone in one week from the UK than the total number of GRC currently in circulation. Again this can be in part down to people not wishing to dissolve marriages, or be unable to afford them. You need a medical report and this is not free (sadly) and that is assuming those that were living as women and men before the GRA2004 even know or want to change anything at this stage – they may just not see any value in it.
So with such an ‘invisible community’ just how do we begin to find out how many transgender people there are?
Qualify what Transgender is?
The most important issue here is just to try and decide what the term ‘transgender person’ actually mean? Where does the term begin and where does it end under this umbrella when we have many many subgroups?
In this instance and in part due to the very flexible community we have – one that is fluid and changing. It is easier to start with this:
A transgender person can be anyone who feels some incongruence with the gender identity they are socially (or culturally) expected to conform to.
So to use the term ‘shades of grey’ we can start from a person – in this instance MTF – who may do nothing more than wear women’s underwear under their male clothes to someone having genital surgery at Charing Cross Hospital who may sit at the other end of the spectrum.
What is distinctive is it is a compulsion that is difficult or impossible to control in any event without taking steps to somehow recognises their true gender identity as a release valve. This maybe dressing for ‘comfort’ and de-stress after work, to someone who is a bit of an ‘exhibitionist’ that everyone knows, to someone who has had surgery and cannot function properly with acute body dysmorphia.
We have all seen the discrepancy with figures given (medicine, official), and figures we know to be true. One afternoon at a poorly attended Sparkle event, or a pride event, or the numbers who visit transgender websites are simply so out of balance with the reported figures we felt we needed to have a close look at this issue again. And at least open a dialogue about it. Under-reporting can be as risky as over-reporting.
Who are ‘we’ and what makes us the experts?!
There of course will be those who take one look at this and feel they know better and that’s perfectly acceptable – no one is obliged to use this information.
Transgender Zone and The Beaumont Society, have had quite long talks about these issues and have drawn on the longitudinal study/Action Research models. 25 years of study from the Beaumont Society from Janett Scott. 15 years of online stats, demographics, questions and emails from Transgenderzone.com.
Few people are better placed than Janett Scott, to examine the many years of helpline support both before the BS and since, to try and put a figure on the numbers who do not approach medicine is a very daunting task. Although some do go onto approach medicine the vast majority do not. A perfect example are people who have called helplines for support and this includes family members in distress looking for answers, many transpeople themselves who maybe retired and just want to talk about trans issues for 5 mins, they maybe unable to transition or tell their family, and ultimately will take their ‘secrets’ to their grave. To others who quite simply have to behave in a clandestine way, going out in the dark in winter just for a walk, or driving miles and changing in their car for an ‘exhilarating’ walk down a city centre before changing back and going home. There are those that crossdress when the family is out of the house, those on work split-shifts to their spouse for example who seize opportunities when they can to crossdress. Many, and at some considerable risk, use services away from home, be they dressing services, support groups or friends homes – as once somebody knows there is no telling where it will end up.
These are very difficult numbers to quantify, and they can only ever be a guess. A transperson in the closet is unlikely to tell anyone let alone put it on a census (for example). So we must make a broader guesstimate based on what we do know, the knowledge and numbers that are not based on a whim or from 5 mins supporting people, they are perhaps the best ‘guess’ the transgender community can make at this time.
How many transgender people are there?
About 10 years ago, and at a time I personally was running the Beaumont Society Website – and since moved on to Tzone – there were statistics quite often bandied about. The number that kinda stuck and one by which Janett herself and others felt appropriate at that time was 2 million transgender people in the UK.
Since then and now a decade later and following further discussion stats and numbers and a review of what we knew then compared to now with better analytical online tools, which include increased confidence and legal protections of transgender people, we now see more transgender people ‘risk it’ and move beyond the fantasy. Many transgender people will remember those days where perhaps as a child they prayed god would make them a girl or a boy in the morning. There is a big step between that dream and the reality. And it is that ‘variable’ that has changed (and increased numbers) in the last decade.
Based on all the information we have, combined, the observations of 25 years, I personally felt a starting point should be 10% of the population. This would equate to 6 million. This was quickly debated-out based on simply being unrealistic. We had the starting point of 2 million, we have agreed to take this number to over 3 million people who are transgender to some degree in the UK. The population has increased as well of course.
It is important to qualify this with the term ‘transgender to some degree‘. This is not only transsexuals, it is not just crossdressers, it is all transgender people. If you use this statistic ensure you qualify it correctly.
We can see the support that is around based on how well transgender people do in gameshows, Nadia (2004) and Luke Anderson (2012) have both won ‘Big Brother’ for example. To win they need votes and who is voting? That is an argument for another day.
There are a LOT more transgender people than we originally thought.
Both The Beaumont Society (Janett Scott) and TransgenderZone.com are happy to stand by this figure.
It just makes sense if nothing else.
A. THERE ARE OVER 3 MILLION TRANSGENDER PEOPLE IN THE UK (2012-13) WHO ARE TRANSGENDER TO SOME DEGREE.
(Citation: S. Johnson transgenderzone.com and Janett Scott, beaumontsociety.org.uk, a 10 year review).
Who am I?