The Numbers Game

Revd. David Horton


Issue 29
Spring 2005

Over the eighteen years that I have been involved with transgendered people and researching transgender issues I have frequently been asked about how many people are involved. These then are a few thoughts on the subject of transgender numbers.


The majority of transgendered people cross the boundaries of gender and return. They will therefore be transvestites or cross-dressers (the latter especially being the favoured term in the United States where transvestite is often taken to mean drag queen or cross-dressing male prostitute). Over the years there have been a few sources which provide some idea of the numbers involved in this country:

1) 'The 'Woman' Report on Men' was a survey of 5,000 men carried out on behalf of the women's magazine in 1986 and published by Sphere in 1987. In the survey a quarter stated they had cross-dressed of whom 8% reported regular cross-dressing.

2) In 1999 'Elle' reported that a lingerie manufacturer had surveyed its purchasers who in turn had reported that around 1 in 6 of their partners wore their underwear.

3) The 'Mail on Sunday' report 'Sex in the Nineties' reported that 6% of men surveyed (and 4% of women!) cross-dressed. Some were presumably homosexual partners rather than cross-dressers (most of whom seem to be heterosexual). This assumption presumably also applies to the 'Elle' report.

4) The only recent survey of Cross-dressers in the UK that I am aware of is by Dr. Vernon Coleman who for years has provided a tabloid health column and also telephone help lines which he reports are used by 500,000 people every year. By comparing the use of his cross-dresser line to that for high blood pressure sufferers (where the incidence of the problem is known) he computes that up to 10% of men cross-dress.

The conclusion from these pieces of information is that a significant minority of men cross-dress, possibly as high as 8-10%. Even if the level were half that this would still mean over a million regular male cross dressers in Great Britain.

Women's Cross-dressing

I have met two women who identify as transvestite, a negligible number despite the implication of the Mail on Sunday survey. Several studies from the 1950's that I read when I was first researching showed great interest in women clients. Social change soon rendered women's cross-dressing too popular to be stigmatised. For those who would focus on Deuteronomy 22 verse 5 however this remains an important problem. The not 'confounding of the sexes' argument which goes back to the eighteenth century or before looks rather difficult to sustain in a society where women now fulfil many traditionally male roles. The primacy of women in this verse anyway reflects badly on a world where most women adopt masculine styles or garments, including of course women churchgoers. The medieval rabbinical approach that women cross-dress for illicit sex is even less likely to carry weight today, although a similar assumption is still freely offered with regard to cross-dressing men.


When I joined the Gender Trust as an Associate in 1992 their then current handbook estimated that there were 5,000 post-operative transsexuals in the UK The current Gender Redesignation legislation process has also quoted the figure of 5,000, which is apparently based on applications to change identity documents and the like. At present there are up to 250 UK citizens a year having surgery, both here and in many cases overseas. Since there are only 2 surgeons in the UK performing phalloplasty for female to male transsexuals (with the second of these only having started work in late 2002), the preponderance of surgery will continue to favour the male-to-female procedure. (Brain-sex theory would in any case expect this.) Therefore by the end of the decade the current 4,000 or so 'transwomen' will presumably have increased to around 5,000.

The 2002 estimated census figures for Great Britain give a total of 21.6 million men over 18. That gives an incidence for those who have had surgery of about 1 in 5,500. This compares with the traditional estimate of 1 in 30,000 males (whether or not they continued treatment as far as surgery). In the mid-1990's Dutch professionals estimated the figure as 1 in 11,900. Interestingly a study published in 1988 based on Singapore experience reported the level in that culturally closed society as 1 in 2,900. The true incidence of transexuality is thus far higher than previously estimated. Those completing treatment have always been considered a minority of those seeking help. So allowing for those whose treatment is underway, or who cannot or choose not to proceed for personal or medical reasons, perhaps 1 in 3,000 men are transsexual.

Female to male transsexuals

Traditionally the incidence of female to male transsexuals has been estimated at between a third and a quarter of that for male to females. This would suggest around 1 in 17,000 females in Great Britain are post-operative 'transmen'. The traditional estimate for women seeking help as quoted in the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV is 1 in 100,000.

Church Attendance and Weddings

In the debate around the Gender Redesignation legislation there have been some alarmist statements about transsexuals in church, especially from some Evangelical organisations. Sadly, based on the hostility of their reception, few transsexuals are likely to be interested. I carried out a straw poll at a Gender Dysphoria Conference in Manchester in 1994 where 25% of 'clients' indicated that they attended church regularly. In line with national trends this had declined to 15% at the equivalent conference in 2002. Since 15% of 5,000 is 750 and there are more than 40,000 churches in this country then around 1 church in 50 might have a transsexual in the congregation, although from my experience many would not be recognisable as transsexual, and most transsexuals are likely to end up in friendly churches anyway. If it were also 15% of the male cross-dressing population, however, that would mean, statistically, that every congregation in the country would have transgender representation, again presumably without knowing for the most part! My experience of thoughtful believing cross dressers would not leave me surprised if the incidence among men attending services was in fact even higher.

With regard to marriage several follow-up reports on transsexuals that I have read indicate that on average about a third are celibate or asexual and another third change sexual preference during or after hormone treatment. Excluding those with same-sex relationships, or with existing partners, and given the availability of civil partnership services, the call for Christian Marriage by transsexuals seems likely to be limited. As a Church of England minister known for working in this field for many years I have had three approaches since the legislation was introduced, only one of which is firmly committed to this course of action.

Version 1.4 February 2005
Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. Last amended 16.08.06