January 6, 2023 - 6:00pm

According to census data just released by the Office of National Statistics, 262,113 people in England and Wales have a gender identity different from their sex registered at birth. That’s around 0.5% of the population.

What this data actually means, however, is harder to grasp. We know that 47,572 people identified as ‘trans women’ and another 48,435 identified as ‘trans men’, but they are in the minority. There were 30,257 non-binaries (sex breakdown unknown), 18,074 with some other gender identity, and a whopping 117,775 who gave no specific gender identity. 

But the usual suspects soon show up on the geographic map. Non-binary people account for around 0.06% of the population overall, but hotspots include Oxford (0.25%), and Cambridge (0.26%). In fact, the data serves to illustrate where students live. Why are there so many non-binary people in Gwynedd (0.09%) and Ceredigion (0.23%), yet so few in Carmarthenshire (0.04%) and Anglesey (0.03%)? It’s perhaps no coincidence that the universities in North and West Wales are in Aberystwyth and Bangor.

Similar patterns show up for ‘trans woman’ and ‘trans man’. If this data shows anything, there is a fad going on among younger people that is passing their elders by. The concept that we all have an innate gender identity that is fixed and immutable is maybe just that — an idea without foundation.

What was most surprising for me was how many people answered the question, “Is the gender you identify with the same as your sex registered at birth?” It was voluntary, but only 6% left it blank. I found it difficult to answer. I might be transsexual – hormones and surgery have changed my body profoundly and irreversibly — but I don’t identify as a gender: I am simply me. In the end, I said “no” and indicated “transsexual” in the write-in box. I am therefore one of the 18,074. Most of my generation and above said “yes”. But is that an acknowledgement of a gender identity, or were they simply going along with what they thought was expected of them? We don’t know.

What this data does show, however, is that a significant number of people identify as transgender. We are not the vanishingly small group that was once suggested. For example, prior to the implementation of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 it was estimated that there were just 5000 transsexual people across the whole of the UK; now there are over 50 times as many transgender people in England and Wales alone.

But these groups are not the same. Transsexualism is a psychological condition that can be treated with drugs and surgery. Anyone can identify as transgender, and it appears that far more people are now doing so. The implications for society could be profound. The Scottish Parliament has just passed a bill that would allow Scots to self-identify their gender — and hence their legal sex. In effect, they have taken a process designed for transsexuals and opened it up to a group considerably larger. A group that may well do what previous generations did — grow up, find work, get married and move beyond the folly of youth.

The ONS plans to release more detail later in the year, focusing not just on sex and age but also on ethnicity and religion. And it is that latter one that really interests me. I’m willing to bet that the correlation between the Jedi Knights and the people who identify as transgender is off the scale.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.