Header photo by PantheraLeo1359531 – CC-BY-SA 4.0
Or how to manipulate data for bigotry and profit
Trans people are under attack. There’s not really any other way to view it. 0.6% of the US population are somehow such a force to be reckoned with that numerous bills have been created to discriminate against them. It’s trite to point this out but the fact that the party of “personal responsibility” feels it has to legislate healthcare or ‘who uses which bathroom’ is absurd.
The UK is on track to be even worse. It’s (mostly) passé to publish anti-LGB think pieces, so the transgender panic is now used to push copy. The frankly bizarre crusade of Graham Linehan, and now JK Rowling, has helped shore up public support for the Tory government’s regressive legislation.
Statistics Are the New Battleground
In the UK at least, we don’t have an accurate account of the number of transgender people living here. Nobody bothered to ask. The 2021 census actually did have a section about gender identity, which is somewhat of a cause for celebration, but statistics are a fantastic smoke-screen for bigotry.
Take, for example, the ‘surge’ in “young women” seeking gender-affirming care JK Rowling is so frightened of. Even if we buy into the premise that these are in fact “young women” and not “young men just looking for a doctor”, her dire warnings about a 4,400% increase in referrals to gender affirming care represent an increase from 40 people to 1,806.
Anti-vaxxers will be familiar with this tactic. Instances of autism (which, incidentally, Rowling cites as a reason to be ‘concerned for the youth’) have skyrocketed in recent years. This is because medical care has advanced and diagnostic tools have improved, not because of vaccine-injury.
Even Allies Get Hoodwinked
As part of my job, I see a lot of social media posts. One that stuck out recently was a Christian cis-gendered man, himself a victim of conversion therapy, honestly asking how to talk about the fact that 11% of transgender women de-transition.
His entire post was sympathetic and supportive of his “trans brothers and sisters” but he was concerned. How can he best support people he considered his community, whilst making sure that children weren’t subjected to the same ‘behaviour modification’ he was?
He’d done his cursory due-diligence. When I asked where he’d gotten that number, it was the “2015 U.S. Transgender Survey” from the National Centre for Trans Equality. Are they a perfect advocacy group? Hell no, but it’s founded and led by transgender people, and they’re strong advocates against regressive legislation.
The claim was laundered through Human Life International, an anti-choice hate group to be sure, but it’s a sensible looking article that cites an actual, scientific survey. It wasn’t too surprising that an American Christian would have been sent this link, nor that they would believe the claims.
Looking at the Actual Data
You can read the numbers yourself on page 115, and I highly recommend it – but I wrote this in part for busy people who don’t want to.
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey was the largest ever conducted, looking at the trans experience of 27,715 adults in the US.
8% of the people surveyed had de-transitioned at some point in their life (2,217) – but 62% of those people were now living full time as their preferred gender (1,374).
Or to put it in hearts:
To be as fair as humanly possible, 8% of people de-transitioning is still a significant minority. People hear about puberty blockers being forever (they are not) or that the powerful trans lobby is coming for your kids (they are not). If you bought into that premise, almost 10% of people regretting this life-altering decision is a big deal.
But let’s pop open the hood and take a look at why people de-transition.
Approximately 110 people, or 0.4% of respondents to this survey, de-transitioned because it wasn’t for them.
The initial reporting is off by 10.6%, or to put it in terms JK Rowling can understand, Human Life International fabricated a 2,650% increase in de-transitioning due to “regret”.
The actual reasons given illustrate the impact of daily discrimination. This was a multiple choice question. The most common reason survey participants gave for de-transitioning was outside pressure: from parents (36% or 798), their spouse (18% or 339), their employer (17% or 376), their friends (13% or 118).
Transitioning was too hard for 33% (or 731 people), and there was too much harassment for 31% (or 687)
Dig a Little Deeper, or Take Trans People At Their Word
I spent a few hours on this because I can and this affects people I love – you don’t have to! In fact I hear that reading surveys from six years ago is extremely dull for most people. Thankfully there’s an easy alternative to research and it involves just listening to trans people talk, and believing their lived experiences.
When people throw around numbers like this, they’re targeting you. Taken at face value, percentage points in the thousands and de-transition statistics almost in the double digits are scary. That’s the point. You’re the mark.
Next time a seemingly credible person sends you some numbers, try and remember the ones I just quoted. De-transitioning happens overwhelmingly because of bigotry and lack of medical care.
Anyone claiming otherwise is doing so for profit, or to further bigotry. Usually both.