It’s surprising their announcement said so little. This month’s announcement of the February 8-9, 2017 survey by the British survey corporation YouGov concerning trans acceptance offered few statistics within the announcement itself. These concerned whether United States adults considered transgenderism to be a choice or a mental illness, whether people are open to friendships with transpeople and to what extent people may be open to dating transpeople.1
But the full report, when broken down to its demographic components, has a lot more to say and raises many questions as surveys should. It reveals just how the past couple of decades of activism succeeded in bringing greater acceptance. But the survey doesn’t attempt to investigate the core beliefs that lead to the positions respondents took.
Altogether, 16 basic questions pertain to the YouGov survey. The first 5 establish the demographic makeup:
- Are you comfortable being asked and answering questions about sexuality and sexual behavior?
- On a scale from 0 to 6 where 0 is “completely male” and 6 is “completely female, where, if anywhere would you place yourself?
- With which ONE of the following groups do you MOST closely identify? (pertaining to sexual orientation)
- Have you felt that your gender identity differs from what is typically associated with the sex you were assigned at birth?
- Do you personally know any transgender people? Please select all that apply. (family members, friends, coworkers, or others)2
Additionally, the survey managed to incorporate respondents’ region, race, education, marital status, income, whether they have children under 18, and social media membership. No special question appears to have been asked in the survey to determine these factors as far as one can see from the survey itself. Presumably, answers were matched with data already existing for each respondent within the YouGov database, probably asked when respondents initially took membership. Any adult could apply and readily gain membership in YouGov.com and each member can participate in a rich array of unpaid surveys.3
The reader is left to this presumption because description of the actual methodology including weights, disqualifications, any skip logic, nowhere appears in the full report. In some specifics, most notably pertaining to the gender scale, lesbians, queers, asexual people, and those with specific transgender family members have been assessed with less than 30 respondents, leaving those cases as less than marginally reliable as population samples in their own right. Nevertheless, the survey is useful for the time period therein represented.
Of the 2211 respondents in the United States, 2181 actually made up the base of all adults. Of these, 1093 were designated as “male” and 1098 as female. The gender binary was readily imposed despite a gender scale depicting only 769 identifying as “completely male” and 824 as “completely female.” Another 84 ranked themselves “1” on the scale of 0 to 6 indicating a general sense of maleness and another 70 ranked themselves as (5” indicating a general sense of femaleness. Those not fitting this scale included 5 who considered themselves neither male nor female, 22 as both male and female, and 3 as “something else.” Yet another 16 indicated that male and female does not make sense to them as categories and another 10 indicated they “don’t know.”4
This approach to the gender binary was also reflected in the category, “Transgender Lean” as established with the 4th demographic question, “Have you felt that your gender identity differs from what is typically associated with the sex you were assigned at birth?” A “transgender lean” as depicted in the study automatically presumes that trans phenomena must be an aberration of the established binary. It ignores what kind of transgender such may be and, in fact, the only variations offered consist of “transgender man,” “transgender woman,” and “non-binary transgender person” in the individual questions. Transpeople appear in far more variations than these. Is “non-binary transgender” supposed to include intersex individuals? Not all intersex even identify as trans. To what extent did the ones who identified as “both male and female” pertain to intersex individuals as opposed to those bigender, some other identity, or simply regard themselves as both as a philosophic system of belief? We don’t know from the information given.
But we can establish something else. Of the 171 people who indicated they were a gender other than those assigned at birth, the scale shows a marked difference from the 1682 who did not. The following chart compares the 2 sets of percentages:
Clearly, those identifying as having a so-called “transgender lean” are more likely to consider themselves to not fit the gender binary than those who do not. It’s a statistic that speaks to those transpeople inclined to ostracize “non-binary” people as not properly transgender, a way of trying to redefine those we should support out of the demographic. Doing so clearly is a denial of facts.
But a real surprise arises when examining whether or not respondents already know anyone transgender. The total of all adults in the United States indicates 50% do not know a transperson and another 6% don’t know whether they do or not. These numbers appear to be pretty evenly spread between those identified as male and female. Consider the transgender group. You’d think the percentage of those not knowing would be quite low. However, this doesn’t appear to be the case. We find 31% of those transgender do not know another transperson and another 5% don’t know if they do or not. That indicates to us that a third of the trans community remain disconnected from other transpeople. Of those not transgender, 61% do not know a transperson and 7% don’t know one way or another__ almost twice the rate of disconnectedness as transpeople themselves.5
What’s strange is that we expect that kind of disconnect with those not transgender. After all, most of us don’t go out of our way to divulge our trans status. But we should expect far better from the trans community itself. Our decades of outreach through support groups simply have not done the job they were intended to do, and the main issue strikes at every support group who failed to answer inquiries from prospective visitors and members.
The remaining questions follow:
- Generally how open, if at all, are you to being friends with a transgender person?
- If your best friend told you that they were transgender, to what extent would you support or oppose them? If your best friend has told you that they are transgender, please think about how you reacted at the time.
- Thinking about the last 12 months… Have you dated/been in a relationship with (casually or seriously) with any of the following people?
- How open, if at all, are you to dating/being in a relationship with a transgender person (casually or seriously)? Please select one option on each row.
- If you were to date a transgender person, which, if any, of the following people would you tell? Please select all that apply.
- Still thinking about the last 12 months… Have you had any sexual relations (of any kind) with any of the following people?
- How open, if at all, are you to having sexual relations (of any kind) with a transgender person?
- If you were to have sexual relations (of any kind) with a transgender person, which, if any, of the following people would you tell?
- Which, if any, of the following types of pornography have you watched in the last 12 months?
- To what extent do you believe that being transgender is or is not either of the following? A mental illness? A choice?
- And to what extent do you believe that being cisgender is or is not either of the following? A mental illness? A choice?6
The 6th question, “Generally how open, if at all, are you to being friends with a transgender person?” measured only those who did not indicate having transgender friends or family members. This wasn’t a measure of the entire adult sample (2191). The sample in this case consisted of 1496 people instead.7 This same limitation was applied to those transgender and not transgender:
|Open to friendship||Male
|No Transgender Lean
|Open to trans man||63||73||77||68|
|Not open to trans man||31||21||16||28|
|Open to trans woman||63||72||73||68|
|Not open to trans woman||27||31||21||28|
|Open to non-binary||59||69||66||65|
|Not open to non-binary||35||24||26||30|
Comparing these scores raises a lot of questions as to why these percentages should appear. The YouGov survey indicated openness and non-openness. But it says nothing about why these things should be. It isn’t enough to say that beliefs that transgenderism is mental illness or a choice. Many other triggers can exist on a general level:
- Friendship with a transperson may be restricted by religious decree.
- Friendship with a transperson may be restricted by expectations of exposure to the sex industry when that person wants no such attachment of stigma.
- Friendship with a transperson may be restricted because such restriction applies to all people perceived to be incompetent while the person only wants associates contributing to success in business.
- Friendship with a transperson may be restricted due to political interests.
- Friendship with a transperson may be restricted due to fear of loss of family or marital support.
- Friendship with a transperson may be restricted due to fear of rejection by other friends.
- Friendships may be restricted to one sex or another as a rule.
- Friendships may be restricted to dating expectations in which one specifies a partner who could help propagate children through coition.
- Friendship may not be desired because of bad past experiences with a transperson and one wants to keep those experiences out of mind.
In each of these cases an element of fear definitely plays a role. But which fear or combinations of fear come into play? This survey offers little to connect those attitudes with relations to family, religious, business, and political mores. Income factors do not seem to make much difference by themselves. Acceptance increases with higher income levels, but only slightly so, none of them radically different from men, women, and transgender generally.
But more questions arise concerning non-openness among those with a “transgender lean.” Why would a transperson not want friendships with another transperson? Some additional triggers may come into play:
- Friendships may be restricted to a trans man, a trans woman, or a non-binary person specifically to the exclusion of others. (the survey does not distinguish types of “transgender”)
- Friendships may not be desired because of frustration with past attempts to reach out to other transpeople or may have had actual bad experiences with transpeople such that they do not want to “know” them.
- Friendships may not be desired because of bad experiences with trans organizations.
- Friendship may not be desired because one does not want to be involved in trans activism.
- Friendships may not be desired out of fear of discovery.
Clearly, trans organizations need to do some serious soul searching. The 16-26% rate of non-acceptance by transpeople definitely shows how badly we have dropped the ball. You’d think these numbers should fall well below 10%.
But we find more telltale reactions with respect to Question 7, this time sampling all respondents:
“If your best friend told you that they were transgender, to what extent would you support or oppose them? If your best friend has told you that they are transgender, please think about how you reacted at the time.”8
For men and women the percentages are comparable to general acceptance and non-acceptance so they do not surprise us. But transgender cases at 16% and non-transgender cases at 15% seem odd because one would expect rates of non-acceptance at least double that of the transgender cases. This does not seem seems wrong when the men and women forming 100% of respondents both indicated over 30% opposing a newly discovered trans friend.9
But again, we should question why the rate of non-acceptance should be 16% for transpeople. You’d think transpeople would readily accept a friend who just announced being trans. But the aforementioned triggers, especially fear of discovery could come into play. We can expect that respondents who indicated they would oppose a trans friend to be disconnected from the trans community entirely.
But none of these triggers mentioned have been cited as triggers by YouGov. Instead they boxed the following:
“Transgender triggers? To what extent do you believe that being transgender is or is not either a choice and/or mental illness?”10
The “trigger” that transgenderism is a choice is adhered to more strongly among transpeople (38/47% = yes/no) than the female group (36/34%) but lower than men (43/31%) and lower yet against those not transgender (47/37%).11 Two issues give ample reason these numbers should be elevated to the level depicted:
- Strongly conservative religious communities typically teach that transgenderism is a choice and not an innate identity issue.
- The GOP has taken a stance in condemnation of transgenderism in its 2016 platform consistent with the prevailing teachings of religious conservatives, thereby forcing a religious partisanism upon voters.
What this writer would like to have seen is how these numbers compare to religious affiliation, political affiliation, and the degree of involvement in religious and political parties.
It’s also interesting to compare the choice issue to cisgenderism, bringing out a difference between cisgender and transgender beliefs. Men were more apt to state that cisgenderism is a choice (43/21% = yes/no) than women (36/34%) but the transgender group regarded cisgenderism a choice more (35/42%) than those not transgender (31/52%).12
You’d think that far more respondents would deny that being cisgender is a choice. In the past century this would not have been something commonly questioned. It still probably would not be questioned without interjecting any comparison concerning transgender people. The choice issue was part of the final question in the survey, after any questions about friendship, dating, or sexual engagement. It underscores how methods of questioning could result in numbers independent of the philosophic stance of the questioner.
We find a more notable difference when it comes to beliefs about transgenderism being a mental illness. Those transgender scored relatively high in this level of belief (31/54% = yes/no) compared to those not transgender (24/54%). Men scored higher (28/42%) than women (15/50%). The transgender group also scored high when asked if cisgenderism is a mental illness (27/52%) compared to those not transgender (8/72%). Men and women separately also scored much lower levels of belief that cisgenderism is a mental illness.13
Seeing how the numbers of men rose 4 percentage points above the category “No Transgender Lean,” with respect to transgenderism being a mental illness we might infer that the 26% of male-identified and nearly male-identified transgender people feel the greater level of conflict concerning their own mental integrity. But without any further examination in terms of what types of transpeople appear among the respondents, we can’t make strong differentiations in our sub-demographics. One may be male-identified and be any sort of transsexual, a drag king, intersex irrespective of “corrective surgery” or whatever. Besides, without examination of religious and political influences, no real basis for correlation exists in approaches to belief systems.
Several events in the couple of years prior to February 8, 2017 when this survey began, set up the national conversation regarding transgenderism:
- The transition of Caitlyn Jenner aroused immense evangelical condemnation in 2015 and continued as a poster child of conservative ridicule and vitriol in 2016.14
- Pope Francis denounced books including those of trans youth Jazz Jennings as “ideological colonialism” in 2016.15
- Several states, beginning with South Dakota, introduced aggressively anti-transgender legislation, and South Carolina’s HB 2 was the first measure in this legislative drive signed into law.16
- The Southern Baptist Convention and other religious communions took a sharp official stance of condemnation against transpeople and remain major components of “reparative therapy,” also called, “conversion therapy.”17
- The influential Catholic political philosophy magazine The New Atlantis published Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences by Paul McHugh, MD and Lawrence S. Mayer, MB, MS, PhD, emphasizing the idea that transpeople are mentally ill and delusional while attacking science favoring transgender therapies.18
- The Republican Party Platform, 2016 supported anti-transgender legislation and condemned court actions favoring the civil rights of transpeople.19
- Baptist preacher and television commentator Mike Huckabee openly condemned the use of rest room and locker facilities by transpeople.20
- “Alt-Right” gay representative of Breitbart, Milo Yannopoulos, ridiculed transpeople in print and on stage, his diatribes posted on Internet news sites, social media, and television. His expulsion from Twitter for his hate speech also gained mass attention that served to advertise his claims.21
- Fox News ran constant segments ridiculing and condemning transpeople, especially transwomen and non-binary people, while refusing to allow trans representatives to voice their positions.22
While it’s easy to see how expressions of belief could become skewed in this direction, logic seems to have failed for many regarding choice and mental illness. If transpeople are categorically to be regarded as mentally ill, then their “choices” can’t be considered real choices. Choice is an intelligent decision and mental illness impairs decision making. If that be so, then transgenderism cannot be considered an intelligent and conscientious choice. A mental impairment makes choices for the impaired instead. While nothing in this survey directly links how many respondents who considered transgenderism a choice also considered it a mental illness, some very likely did. Logic fails further with respect to those religionists of Calvinist bent. Calvinism, a position prominent among Conservative Evangelicals, denies that humans have any power of choice but all apparent “choices” are predetermined.23 Extreme Calvinists go so far as applying this to a person’s choice in favor of conversion. A Calvinist who believes transgenderism is both mental illness and a choice has not thought through the illogic of his beliefs.
Transgender dissonance shown in the YouGov survey remains a challenge for the community dedicated to trans advancement. Just as other aspects of this survey tell us that the trans community must do a better job reaching out to transpeople, support groups need to cooperate with the efforts of psychiatric professionals beyond the therapy or discussion group model. Despite the issues of this survey that leave us wanting more information, we can regard it as a useful exercise whereby we can gauge our effectiveness, leading to greater integrity of the trans community.
- (n.a.) 21% of Americans believe that being transgender is a mental illness (May 17, 2017) Web: YouGov: https://today.yougov.com/news/2017/05/17/21-americans-believe-identifying-transgender-menta/. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
- All statistics quoted derive from the full report: (n.a.) Transgender Issues: US_net Sample: 8th-9th February 2017 (March 17, 2017) Web: YouGov: https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/537rxhcloa/US%20Results%20(Transgender%20Issues)%20025%2002.10.2017.pdf . Retrieved May 21, 2017.
- Ibid, pp. 1-7.
- Ibid, p. 7.
- Ibid, pp. 8f.
- Ibid, pp. 8-21.
- Ibid, pp. 15-21.
- (n.a.) 21% of Americans believe that being transgender is a mental illness (May 17, 2017) Web: YouGov: https://today.yougov.com/news/2017/05/17/21-americans-believe-identifying-transgender-menta/ . Retrieved May 19, 2017.
- Op cit, pp. 43-56.
- Ibid, pp. 50-56.
- Green, Emma. The Real Christian Debate on Transgender Identity (June 4, 2015) Web: The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/the-christian-debate-on-transgender-identity/394796/ . Retrieved May 25, 2017.
- Stuart, Lynnea Urania. Francis’ Mixed Message (August 11, 2016) Web: Transpire: https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/08/11/francis-mixed-message/ . Retrieved May 25, 2017.
- Luk, Summer. New report shows rise in anti-transgender legislation in 2016 (February 23, 2016) Web: GLAAD: https://www.glaad.org/blog/new-report-shows-rise-anti-transgender-legislation-2016. Retrieved May 25, 2017.
- (n.a.) On Transgender Identity (2014) Web: Southern Baptist Convention: http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/2250/on-transgender-identity . Retrieved May 25, 2017. Also, Merritt, Jonathan. 2 reasons conservative Christians will lose the transgender debate (May 14, 2016) Web: Religious News Service: http://religionnews.com/2016/05/14/3-reasons-conservative-christians-will-lose-the-transgender-debate/. Retrieved May 25, 2017.
- Stuart, Lynnea Urania. Gender Identity In the Special Report (September 9, 2017) Web: Transpire: https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/gender-identity-and-the-special-report/
- The Republican Party Platform, 2016. Web: https://prod-cdn-static.gop.com/media/documents/DRAFT_12_FINAL%5B1%5D-ben_1468872234.pdf . Retrieved May 25, 2016. 35.
- Bradner, Eric. Huckabee: I wish I could’ve identified as female in high school gym (June 3, 2015) Web: CNN Politics: http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/02/politics/mike-huckabee-transgender-caitlyn-jenner/ . Retrieved May 25, 2017.
- Michelson, Noah. Here’s a Fact-Check On Milo Yiannopoulos’ Incendiary Claims About Trans People (February 18, 2017) Web: Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/milo-yiannopoulos-transgender-people-truth_us_58a84dcae4b07602ad551487 . Retrieved May 25, 2017. Though this report ran after the time of the survey it nevertheless evidences vitriol already being broadcast at survey time.
- Belonsky, Andrew. Watch: Fox News’ Most Anti-Trans Comments (June 19, 2017) Web: Out: http://www.out.com/entertainment/popnography/2013/06/19/watch-fox-news-most-anti-trans-comments . Retrieved May 25, 2017.
- Vicens, Leigh. Theological Determinism (n.d.) Web: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://www.iep.utm.edu/theo-det/ . Retrieved May 25, 2017.