Do Lynn Conway’s transgender prevalence estimates hold up in 2018?

In 2001, pioneering trans woman and VLSI design innovator Lynn Conway posted an intriguing article arguing that the number of trans people in the population was far greater than was estimated at the time. Sources such as the DSM, citing statistics from the 1960s, had stated that the prevalence of gender dysphoria was remarkably low: 1 in 37,000 of those assigned male, and 1 in 100,000 of those assigned female. This perception of incredible rarity contributed to the use of extraordinary stringent criteria for diagnosis and treatment of gender dysphoria in clinical practice; the application of those strict criteria, in turn, kept the number of trans people receiving treatment quite low.

Conway, however, offered a more generous figure, estimating that 1 in 2,500 of those assigned male were not only trans, but had already undergone reassignment surgery. Accounting for those who had not yet presented for treatment as well as those who had not yet received surgery, Conway concluded:

This incrementally-determined value of recent SRS prevalence strongly supports a value of intrinsic TS prevalence of 1:500, and suggests that it is perhaps as high as 1:250.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender healthcare, public health, psychiatry, and history of medicine, integrating these many perspectives and guided by the lived experiences of trans people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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