ambiguous genitalia and the
SEX, GENDER AND IDENTITY REVOLUTION
Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director
of the United Nations Population Division. This article is reprinted
with permission from YaleGlobal Online www.yaleglobal.yale.edu
With its antecedents brewing for decades, the 21st century has
ushered in a sexual, gender and identity revolution. Increasingly,
members of the LGBTQ community – lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender, and queer or questioning – are becoming more
visible and outspoken, consequently gaining recognition and acceptance.
At least 26 nations now allow marriage equality and 27 others
allow civil unions and partnerships.
societies divided human populations into two sex categories: male
and female, based on reproductive systems. However, some 131 million
people, or 1.7 percent of the world’s population, fall outside
of those two categories based on having intersex conditions.
genitalia can be attributed to an array of health
issues related to hormones, chromosomes, gene mutations and more.
Still, about 70 nations criminalize homosexuality, most in Africa
and South Asia, with the death penalty possible in Iran, Mauritania,
Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the Sudan and Yemen. Brunei announced
strict interpretation of Sharia law in April, including death
by stoning for homosexuality and adultery, but has since said
that the rules won’t be enforced.
with intersex conditions are those whose anatomy or genes do not
fit typical biological definitions of male or female. For example,
an individual might be born appearing to be female with mostly
male-typical anatomy on the inside. Gender, in contrast to one’s
biological sex, can refer to social roles based on a person’s
sex or personal identification of one’s own gender, masculine
or feminine, based on internal awareness or gender identity. With
many terms and definitions used for gender identity, sensitivity
and uncertainty may arise regarding the appropriate terminology.
is adjusting to a multitude of categories. Facebook offered users
more than 50 gender options in 2014 and allows custom pronouns.
The dating app Tinder allowed potential daters to choose among
at least 37 options. The Common Application, used by more than
600 US colleges, also provides applicants with a free-response
box to elaborate on how they self-identify.
there is entrenched opposition to gender identity being culturally
defined or individually determined. In the United States, for
example, the federal government is trying to define gender as
a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.
Such a definition would adversely affect an estimated 1.4 million
Americans who identify as a gender other than the one assigned
The term cisgender describes people, estimated at about 99
percent of the population, whose assigned sex and gender identity
are much the same or in line with each other. A cisgender
person, for example, is male with a masculine gender identity
or female with a feminine gender identity. Transgender describes
people, estimated at about 0.5 percent of men and women, whose
gender identity or expression does not match the sex they
were assigned at birth. A transgender person, for example,
may identify as a woman though born a male or identify as
a man though born a female. Not all transgender people identify
as male or female with some identifying as more than one gender
or no gender at all.
Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association recently
reclassified transgenderism from a psychiatric disorder to a condition
related to sexual health. According to WHO, gender incongruence
is characterized as a “marked and persistent incongruence
between an individual’s experienced gender and the assigned
whose gender is not male or female may use a variety of terms
to describe themselves, including non-binary, agender, bigender,
and genderqueer. While some are non-binary, most transgender persons
have a gender identity that is either male or female. Non-binary
people, estimated at about 0.2 percent of men and women, are usually
not intersex. Generally, they are usually born with bodies that
may fit typical definitions of male and female, but their innate
gender identity is something other than male or female.
statistics on the LGBTQ population are limited, largely by the
fact that most official government records do not include data
on sexual orientation and gender identity. Governments typically
collect demographic data, issue identification documents and establish
policies, laws and programs that distinguish individuals on the
binary basis of sex. Population censuses, civil registration systems,
identity cards, voting rolls and birth, marriage and death certificates,
for example, differentiate people by and large on the male-female
binary classification. Furthermore, due in large part to discrimination
and other negative consequences in many parts of the world, members
of the LGBTQ community are reluctant to reply accurately to questions
about sexual orientation and gender identity. As a result, such
questions typically result in high non-response rates.
population estimates are limited and vary depending on a variety
of factors, including how questions are phrased – whether
based on self-identification, physical attraction or sexual behavior
– and how people are interviewed. Consequently, LGBTQ populations
are likely to be undercounted.
definitional and measurement limitations, disclosure of LGBTQ
status in nationally representative surveys has been consistently
on the rise from one survey round to the next. That upward trend
is likely to continue since disclosure is more frequent among
younger cohorts. In addition, the increasing proportions of people
identifying as homosexuals, bisexuals or transgender may reflect
the general public becoming more accepting.
on data from sample surveys in a handful of countries, some insight
and tentative estimates may be gained on the levels and trends
of sexual orientation and gender identity. In United States, for
example, the proportions of adults identifying as lesbian, gay,
bisexual or transgender have been rising in recent years, reaching
approximately 4 and 5 percent of males and females in 2017, respectively,
or no less than 11 million adults. Also, while females continue
to be more likely to identify as LGBT than males, that difference
may be due to more social acceptance for women.
the 14 OECD countries where survey estimates are available, lesbians,
gays and bisexuals account for close to 3 percent of the adult
population, or no less than 17 million adults. With considerable
variation among those countries, ranging from a low of about 1
percent in Norway to close to 4 percent in the United States,
the overall estimate of 3 percent should be viewed as an underestimate.
reasons, including privacy concerns, uncertainty, stigma and discrimination,
determining the distribution of LGBTQ persons by sexual orientation
or gender identity is a challenging undertaking with considerable
uncertainty. One nationally representative survey in the United
States in 2013 reported the estimates of the community's members:
36 percent gay men, 29 percent bisexual women, 19 percent lesbian
women, 11 percent bisexual men, and 5 percent transgender. Some
transgender adults in the survey described themselves as gay or
sample surveys concerning sexual orientation have been conducted
in Australia, and as observed in the United States, the proportions
of Australian adults considering themselves homosexuals have risen
since 2006. In addition, the proportions identifying as homosexuals
varied by age with peaks of more than 6 percent for those in their
20s and lows of nearly 2 percent for those aged 50 years and over.
However, those age differentials, also observed in other developed
countries, may simply reflect a more accepting social milieu for
younger homosexuals to disclose their sexual orientation.
of accurate and timely statistics and studies on the LGBTQ population
makes it easy to marginalize them, overlook issues affecting them
and delay needed policy reforms. As is widely acknowledged, not
being counted typically means one does not matter for policy purposes.
Official government estimates of numbers and characteristics of
LBGTQ persons are essential for relevant policy development and
evaluation, informed decision-making and appropriate funding priorities.
Without such statistics and studies, current policies and programs
aimed at LGBTQ communities are likely to be misguided, inefficient
© YaleGlobal Online www.yaleglobal.yale.edu
by Joseph Chamie