Monday, July 11, 2011

Just How Many Trans Folk Are There? Pt. II--Why It Matters

About three months ago I addressed the fact that more contemporary statistics and analyses show that there is a much larger number of trans people than the classic "1-in-10,000" number still bandied about by so-called transgender experts. What I didn't do at the time was explain why it matters how many trans people there are. I am remedying that lack in this post, because it matters big time.

Note that below I am explicitly presuming a cisgender audience and that all references not qualified by "trans" are cis. This is depressingly common in cis writings, and I usually try to avoid such, but in this case, I am specifically speaking to you cis readers. My trans readership is a bit more likely to know what I'm about to spell out below.

Let's suppose that you are the administrator of a hospital--or, for that matter, a medical school--and there is a proposal to provide training on transgender health care needs. Let's further suppose you don't have any specific biases against trans folk, despite having been exposed to cissupremacist ideas about sex and gender from your parents' first clumsy attempts to explain boys and girls all the way through your own medical education. (A big supposition, I know, but work with me here.) You consider yourself a good person and want to provide help to everyone you can, including trans folk. But you're also looking at your budget and having to make hard choices about what to add, what to keep, and what to cut. Now, bearing all this in mind, are you more likely to support the proposal if you think only one out of 10,000 people are trans, or if you saw 0.3%--three out of 1000--are trans?

Never mind that, as I pointed out before, 0.3% actually sounds like it might be still too small, based on Lynn Conway's analysis of trans-related operations. Never mind that there's open debate of whether Dr. Conway's own numbers are too conservative.

Three out of 1000 versus one out of 10,000?

I would argue that most of you would be more supportive knowing the larger figure, whereas with the smaller figure you're more likely to see us as anomalies, and with perhaps some hand-wringing, more likely to deep-six that transgender health care training.

Idealistically, it's monstrous that trans folk's lives could be compromised so easily by mere numbers, but in a world with competing priorities and an emphasis on cutting costs to the point of austerity, numbers matter--and it's a lot easier to justify the health care training knowing that you're reaching a fairly sizable population--in the US at large, .3% of the population is just over 921,000 people. Yes, nearly a million people, from what are in my opinion very conservative and likely inaccurate numbers.

Chillingly, this same logic applies to pretty much every area where trans folk need better service, more protection, and greater understanding. If you're a state legislator, are you more likely to sign on to trans anti-discrimination laws if you know you're protecting only a few individuals, or a sizable portion of your constituents? If you're an HR director at a corporation, will you work harder to secure health care coverage if you think you have at most one or two trans employees, or if you have a few dozen? (Or, if you're the size of Walmart, a few thousand?) If you handle housing discrimination cases, are you more likely to educate yourself on trans issues if you think you might encounter them once in a blue moon, or if you realize that by numbers alone there's probably a lot more trans housing discrimination cases than you hear?

And what if you don't have any such power--if you don't make any decisions at all at your job? The numbers still matter. You're more likely to care about the welfare of trans folk if you realize that the odds are very good that you know at least one trans person, whether or not they are out to you. Yes, no matter how conservative you are--there's certainly conservative trans people. Yes, even if you live in a small town--although the trans person may have moved to find better opportunities elsewhere. Knowing this, you may be more likely to vote for laws that help protect trans people, or to encourage your charities to have an outreach that centers trans folks' needs. Dare I hope, you may even be more likely to call out obvious transphobic behavior when you see it, less likely to laugh at jokes about "men in dresses", more willing to open your heart and mind and start learning about us trans people. 

Every fiber in my moral being screams outrage that, in this world, we may flourish or perish on a statistic. But those are the facts. As long as our numbers are minimized it's easier to ignore our suffering and our need. But with knowledge that our numbers are far greater than originally realized, and that every cis person probably knows at least one of us, maybe more, attention must be paid.

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