Is the incidence of transgender and transsex on the increase, and if it is, is this due to environmental factors? Well, there are actually two questions here. To deal with them in inverse order, is there a biological cause for transgender and transsex? There would have to be if environmental (by which we are referring to the physical rather than the social environment) factors were the cause. The answer is that we simply do not know. I think that the cause is at least partly innate; however, many transsexuals themselves disagree, and the evidence is extremely patchy. We discussed brain differences and other possible factors in an earlier post, but these remain inconclusive, and in such an under-researched area, this is unlikely to change any time soon.
If there is an innate cause, however, then it must act on all transsex and transgender people, whether they were expressing their TS/TG or hiding it. However, we know for a fact that there are two populations of transgender and transsex people, an overt group who express the syndrome, ie, are ‘out’ as TS/TG, and a hidden group who suppress or secrete it, never show any signs of it at all, at least in public, or who come out in later life.
We know that there must be this hidden population because of the last group, those people who present as transsexual in later life. This is not an insignificant number. So what were they doing beforehand? Were they not TS/TG? Universally, however, they insist they always were, they were just hiding it. Whatever the cause, we have to take them at their word that ‘they always felt this way’. Furthermore, what proportion of these hidden TS/TG do eventually come out, and what proportion never do? We simply don’t know.
On the other hand we have the activities of religious groups, social pressure and quack psychologists trying to persuade young people not to become TS/TG. The people they target, being young, are very vulnerable to peer and social pressure, and thus the efforts of those who would interfere with their lives may appear effective.
For example, Ken Zucker, the ultra-conservative psychologist who preaches ‘reparative therapy’ to turn young potential TS/TG women into homosexual males, considers this to be a desirable outcome and claims much ‘success’ for his methods. We have no way of knowing how many young people have been turned away from a natural path into TS/TG and into homosexual lives by the activities of people like this. On the even more lunatic fringe are the socially-conservative religious groups who attempt to condition their targets into what they see as normative behaviour, cis-gendered and heterosexual. Again, we do not know how many people have been affected by this, and how many eventually recover.
So, in brief, as well as the overt TS/TG population that we can see, we have another, hidden population, which is invisible. Some are individuals who live as heterosexual or asexual men, and either come out as transsexual in later life, or perhaps never do, and others live as homosexual men or women although they are actually TS/TG, but who have followed another path for societal reasons, including the equivalent of being brainwashed. We do not know how large this population is, nor do we know the ratio between the hidden and overt populations. There are simply no statistics at all about these hidden categories.
On the other hand we have the overt TS/TG, those who are out as transsex or transgender. These at least are identifiable, in most cases. However, we can see that in cultures which are less discriminatory against TS/TG, the overt population is bigger and much more obvious, while in neighbouring, less open cultures it is less so. A good example would be to compare Thailand with say, the Philippines, where it is obvious that TS/TG is far more overt in the former. This is because Thailand has a relatively tolerant Buddhist culture, whereas the Philippines has a very conservative Catholic one which condemns all forms of homosexuality and TS/TG. (Both are much more open about this, however, than Western culture.)
This strongly suggests that there is a correlation between the apparent incidence of TS/TG (the overt group) and how societally restrictive and normative the culture they live in. Where the culture is most violently opposed to TS/TG, there are fewer, and where it is more relaxed there are more. This is exactly what we would expect, since there is at all times a population which is not overt but which might become so if they feel that the circumstances are right. So socio-cultural factors must affect the ratio between the overt and hidden groups.
Unfortunately, the above gives us no guidance as to the total number. At the same time, we have to consider whether the influence of socio-cultural factors have any effect on the total of the overt and hidden groups of TS/TG in any given population, even if only to rule them out. We have to do this if we are to convincingly propose that environmental factors are having an effect. However without knowledge of what that total is, we can’t come to any conclusions. So the fact that we have very limited statistical data even about the overt group, and none at all about the hidden group, makes any attempt at identifying either whether the overall rate of TS/TG is increasing, or what is causing this if it is, pointless.
Professor Lynn Conway did perform a very revealing statistical exercise over a decade ago now, but it took its base from the number of SRS procedures carried out in the US, which she was able to estimate. Using this data, Conway was able to extrapolate and propose a figure. However, yet again, this simply takes no account of the non-expressing, hidden group. The best we can do is make an educated guesstimate, and even that can only be relevant to one particular set of social and cultural circumstances.
So, we are left no further ahead. The total incidence of TS/TG is the sum of those who are expressing and those who are not, but we have seen that the ratio between these two is subject to socio-cultural factors; in other words, it is not a constant. That means we cannot extrapolate from numbers of those who are overtly TS/TG, either how many are hidden, or what the total of the two might be. As a result, we simply do not know, looking at any given population, whether an apparent increase in overt TS/TG is due to a shift in the balance of the ratio between the two groups, or an actual increase in the overall incidence. Indeed, the exact same could be said of an apparent decrease: we could not, on present evidence, explain it.
Until much more research is done that can put real statistical information on the table, and for the first time establish an underlying rate that includes both the hidden and overt groups, then any discussion of an increase in the rate of TS/TG, or suggestion that it may be due to changing physical or biological factors, is pure conjecture, and unhelpful at that.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2013 Rod Fleming’s World