How many trans people are there in the UK?
The short answer to this one is “we just don’t know”. Big national datasets like the census and household surveys do not ask about trans identity. Surveys which do ask about trans identity are often small-scale, and focused on populations which may not be typical of the UK as a whole. Even where surveys are done, some trans people may decide not to disclose their trans identity on a survey. There may also be some people who are not trans who deliberately or accidentally complete survey questions in a way which incorrectly suggests they are trans. As a result, statistics on this issue generally have some weaknesses.
Another important part of the answer is “it depends who you are counting”.
The easiest group of trans people to count in the UK is the people who have applied for a Gender Recognition Certificate, because the government releases statistics. In total, 4,730 applications have been made for a certificate (as at September 2015), of which 4,075 were granted. About 25% of applications granted were to trans men. However, non-binary people and people who have not been down a medical route of transition can’t apply for gender recognition. Applying costs money and is quite bureaucratic, and you have to have been transitioned for two years before you apply. Many trans people may not see the point of applying for gender recognition, and for some trans people, there may be disadvantages to receiving gender recognition (for example, trans people married in Northern Ireland would have to divorce their partner to be recognised. There are therefore many trans people who are not included on these statistics.
Another fairly easy group to count is those who are attending a gender identity clinic. As at October 2015, there were 5,057 people on the waiting list for adult NHS clinics in the UK, and 9,617 people actually being seen by clinics (it is possible for people to be on more than one waiting list, so there may be some double-counting). However, the clinics do not collate statistics in a way which would allow for working out how many people have ever been through an NHS GIC – clearly there will be many, many patients who have been through GICs in the past, but are not being treated there now. The clinics also do not consistently collect data on patient gender in a useful or appropriate format. These statistics also do not include anyone who has been to a private clinic, those who have had treatment overseas and people who have entirely self-medicated. Clearly it would also not include trans people who have not sought medical transition.
UK clinics and clinics around the world have been seeing a consistent rise in the number of trans patients coming forward. However, it is unclear whether this is due to more people being more aware of gender identity health services, people feeling that society is more supportive of them accessing such services, a change in how people think about their gender, or some other reason.
Some groups of trans people are very difficult to count, primarily because they have fewer interactions with formal medical and legal structures and very little effort has been made to collect this data. This would include cross-dressers, non-binary people and people who are not transitioning medically. There are also issues with definition – some people in these groups might identify as trans, and some might not. For example, GIRES reports international statistics claiming that anywhere between 1% and 10% of people assigned male at birth cross-dress. Quite aside from the significant variation in these figures, it seems likely that some cross-dressers would consider themselves trans but many would not. The Practical Androgyny blog explores some of the issues and statistics relating to identifying the number of non-binary people in the UK.