Why do so many people in the US identify as transgender now? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.
I’ve talked to a lot of people lately who feel like there’s been a sudden explosion of transgender people. I’ve seen people blame the media for it, claiming that it influences people to be trans, I’ve even heard the term “trans-trender” thrown around to refer to the idea that young people think it’s trendy to be gender variant. In the midst of that, we see the headline: Estimate of U.S. Transgender Population Doubles to 1.4 Million Adults leaving a lot of people scratching their heads and asking why we suddenly seem to have so many more trans people.
When we get down to it, there are two things that have driven the estimated trans population up. The most significant one is that we got better at counting. The social landscape for trans people has also become significantly more accepting. But the big thing is that we have better data now than we had when the 700,000 number was introduced (even Gates referred to that number as requiring some “statistical gymnastics.”)
In 2011 Gary J. Gates utilized two state-level population-based surveys that collected data from 2003 in California and from 2007 and 2009 in Massachesetts to estimate that 0.3% of the us adult population, roughly 700,000 adults, identified as transgender. Since then, more state-level data sources have emerged that allow us to utilize an estimation procedure that would not have been possible with the limited data available in 2011. Compared to the data used in Gates’ study, these new data sources provide more recent data (2014), larger sample sizes, and more detailed information about respondents. This allows for the development of more recent, detailed, and statistically robust estimates of the percentage and number of adults in the United States who identify as transgender.
It isn’t that there are more trans people, it’s just that we got significantly better data sets to help answer the question of how many trans people there are in the US.
Remember, in the US, the census doesn’t track whether or not people are transgender (and that doesn’t seem to be something that will be changing anytime soon .) While there was an attempt some years ago to estimate the transgender population by looking at Social Security data and tracking name changes that likely signaled a gender change , we also know that an extraordinarily small percentage of trans people have been able to update all of their identity documents (11%) and a majority don’t have any identity documents that match their gender identity and current name (68%). When it’s so difficult for trans people to get identification documents updated, it becomes exceptionally difficult to use changes to identity documents to reliably study the trans population. So, at this point, we’re working with estimates. Those estimates are getting significantly more accurate but they’re still estimates.
The other big thing we discuss is that cultural resistance to allowing trans people to live openly as transgender has been decreasing, even in the short time from the oldest data set Gates used (2003) to now, there are quantifiable differences in how hard it is to be out and trans. Data from 2014 is going to find more trans people because more trans people were able to obtain accurate information about being trans, were able to obtain gender affirming care, and have social support and acceptance for their transitions. Things are still bad, a recent study found that 8% of trans youth who were out to their family had been thrown out of their homes for being trans. That number, however, doubles to 16% for people who came out ten or more years ago . The statistics are still grim, but it’s equally clear that we’re making progress in reducing the violence and rejection people face just for being trans.
So, why so many more trans people? Better data means better estimates and more recent data means collecting data at a time when more people can safely/publicly identify as trans.
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