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Sex and Gender

Trans polling doesn’t tell the whole story

One possible inference is that the British public wants to be kind to transgender people, but they are less keen to yield to every demand from the transgender community.

New research about trans equality is misleading

A new survey has found that 46% of Britons think that a transwoman is a woman, but only 19% think that transwomen should be allowed to compete in women’s sports. How does that work? Are we women or not? or does it depend?

The data comes from a survey of 5000 people from across England, Scotland and Wales. The data is certainly interesting — nearly half of young people know a transgender person and well over half thought that transgender issues should be taught in schools. But percentages tell us only part of the story. Why do people think that transwomen are women? Unless — it seems — where women’s sports are involved.

One possible inference is that the British public wants to be kind to transgender people, but they are less keen to yield to every demand from the transgender community. That’s fair enough. Other people also have rights, which is why we should have single-sex spaces, for example.

In another part of the survey, only 24% thought that transwomen should be welcomed into the women’s changing rooms. But that percentage doubled when it was specified that the transwomen had undergone gender reassignment surgery. It seems that inclusion depends on bodies as well as identities.

So when a survey like this hits the press we need to be very careful when interpreting the results. The Guardian suggested that ‘Britons [are] not bitterly polarised over trans equality.’ That makes sense. Away from the maelstrom of Twitter, most people probably don’t think about transgender issues very much, and why should they? I’m trans and transgender politics doesn’t fill up my days either. My concerns are pretty much the same as everyone else’s: juggling deadlines at work and trying to work out how to pay the bills.

But get people into a focus group and ask them questions, and the conflict of rights cannot be ignored. Sports and changing rooms crystallised the issue for many. Transgender people enjoy widespread rights and acceptance in liberal societies like the UK, and we have the same opportunities as everyone else. But transwomen are not women — we are the other sex — and we cannot expect to be treated in exactly the same way as women.

We also need to clarify what “transgender” actually means. The survey suggested that many people considered gender reassignment surgery to be important, at least in some contexts. But the prevalence of transgender people is apparently skewed towards the young, a group that has historically been prone to break social gender norms and identify with fads and fashions.

Are we talking about transsexuals — a group that makes significant changes to their bodies — or a much wider group that includes transvestites and gender non-conforming people? The survey doesn’t say, and as such its findings are rather limited.


Debbie Hayton

* This article was first published by Unherd on 16 June 2022: Trans polling doesn’t tell the whole story.

By Debbie Hayton

Physics teacher and trade unionist.

2 replies on “Trans polling doesn’t tell the whole story”

I remember here in the U.S. when some organization went around to people’s homes and asked them if they were gay or straight. The result of that survey said that 1% of the population was gay. The people who conducted the survey never figured out that twenty or thirty years ago (when the survey was done) there were almost NO gay people who were going to sit in their own homes and tell a stranger that they were gay, especially since their names and addresses were known. So the way that a survey is done is VERY important, in addition to the way the questions are asked.

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I find myself becoming increasingly disturbed because the trans activists seem to be winning the battles, even here in the U.S. Your average American isn’t focussed on this issue; and even though a majority feels that trans women should not go into women’s sports, an increasing percentage seems to think that the trans ideas that gender identity determine gender and that people have an obligation to use special language to talk about them, are taking hold. Every time some publication has an article on trans people, they seem to include some video of a trans activist explaining to the dullards in the general population what gender is, and why trans people should have special rights. These activists are always smug and self-confident that society has rolled over and accepted their ideas, and I find myself wanting to reach out and smash their smug faces.

The trans activist Blaire White (who agrees with Debbie on these issues) made a video in which she said that Lia Thomas here in the U.S. would show everyone how wrong it is for trans women to go into women’s sports (Thomas is 6’1″ and looks like a big man), but I am seeing plenty of articles praising Thomas. The fact that she looks like a man doesn’t seem to be phasing anyone. Why don’t more people have common sense?

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