How Many People are Gender Diverse?

A Lack of Data on Gender Diverse People in Victoria

There is little data on the percentage of people in Victoria whose gender identity does not conform to binary sex and/or gender expectations.

This lack of data is due to factors such as the:

  • limited amount of available research
  • difficulties collecting accurate data across a broadly-defined population
  • barriers such as social stigma and expense that prevent many gender diverse people from accessing services where they might be counted
  • reluctance to disclose one’s gender identity
  • lack of support and referral services (who might collect such data) available for gender diverse people in Victoria.

Prevalence of Gender Diverse People: Some Existing Estimates

Many studies citing a low prevalence of gender diverse people use data such as the number of people presenting to legal entities to receive a gender recognition certificate or the number of people who present to clinics to receive medical treatments such as hormones or surgery.

Studies citing a higher prevalence either use survey data of the population or estimates calculated from other prevalence data using broader definitions of sex and gender diversity, including people who cross-dress and people who identify as gender diverse and who do not seek medical interventions.

The following is a discussion of some of the available estimates of how prevalent gender diversity might be in the population.

In 2002 Professor Lynn Conway at the University of Michigan produced a paper with calculations of the prevalence of gender diverse people. Conway used a broad definition of gender diversity including people who identify as transsexual, transgendered, crossdressing, and people who might have transgender feelings but who would not seek to transition.

Conway estimated that as many as 1 in 20 men might cross-dress at some point in their lives, 1 in 50 people might have strong feelings about identifying as a gender other than their birth gender, 1 in 150 might have very intense feelings about identifying as a gender other than their birth gender, 1 in 200 might transition without undertaking surgery and 1 in 500 might transition with surgery. Using these estimates:

  • 8.4% of the population could be defined as gender diverse
  • 1.9 million people in Australia could be defined as gender diverse
  • 466,000 people in Victoria could be defined as gender diverse.

However, Conway’s figures are higher than the often-quoted prevalence of 1 – 2% by advocacy groups and much higher than the figures presented in sources that use medical transition only as their definition. For example:

  • In 1994 the American Psychiatric Association estimated that 1 in 30,000 adults transition from male-to-female and 1 per 100,000 adults transition from female-to-male (DSM IV, 1994). These estimates are now widely regarded to be out of date
  • A more recent paper published in 2010 by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society at La Trobe University in Melbourne cites a statistic that 1 in 11,900 adults transition from male-to-female and 1 in 30,400 adults transition from female-to-male (Leonard et al. 2010).

In 2009, the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK funded the Gender Research and Education Society to study the prevalence of people with gender dysphoria* in the UK (Reed, Rhodes, Schoefield & Wylie, 2009). They found that:

  • The number of people presenting for treatment of gender dysphoria in 2008 was 20 per 100,000 people, or 10,000 people in the UK, of whom 6,000 underwent medical transition
  • The true prevalence of people presenting for treatment of gender dysphoria is likely to be a around 0.24% of the UK population.

How Many People in Victoria are Gender Diverse?: A Range of Estimates

In summary, due to the different definitions of gender diversity used in current research, it is useful to give a range of possible prevalence estimates when planning services for these groups. If at 30 June 2010 there was an estimated resident population of 5,545, 932 people in Victoria then:

  • Narrow Definition (people who transition legally and medically as estimated by Leonard et al. 2010): 1 in 11,900 trans women and 1 in 30,400 trans men = 466 trans women and 182 trans men or 648 Victorians in total
  • Broader Definitions [people who seek treatment for gender dysphoria but who may not medically transition as estimated by Reed, Rhodes, Schoefield & Wylie, 2009 (lower bound) and advocacy groups (upper bound)]: 0.24% – 2% of the population = between 13,310 – 110,918 Victorians
  • Broadest Definition (including all people who are gender diverse but who may not identify as transgender or medically transition as estimated by Conway, 2002): 8.4% of the population = 465,858 Victorians.

The ZBGC will be a resource that caters for all people who identify as sex and gender diverse using the broadest definition. It is also important to note that information, support and referral services need to cater for the families, friends and loved ones of sex and gender diverse people, as well as related service providers across many fields. Therefore the total number of people in Victoria who might need to access a support and referral service such as the ZBGC will be larger than the numbers suggested by prevalence estimates alone.

* Gender dysphoria is a psychiatric diagnostic term attributed to people who experience their gender as different from that assigned at birth and who experience significant psychological distress as a result.

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