Growing share of Americans say they know someone who is transgender

Story at a glance


  • Relatively few U.S. adults – about 1.6 percent of the population – identify as transgender, according to Pew.

  • But a growing share of Americans say they know someone who is.

  • In a Pew report published in July, 42 percent of adults said they personally know someone who identifies as transgender, up from 37 percent in 2017.

Most transgender adults have been aware of their gender identities since their early childhood, new research shows, even if they didn’t yet have the right words to describe the gender dysphoria they were experiencing.

“I always knew that I was male, since my earliest memories,” said a transgender man in his late 30s. His comments are part of a larger qualitative essay published Tuesday by the Pew Research Center that explores the lived experiences of transgender and nonbinary adults in the U.S.

Another transgender man, in his early 30s, could recall experiencing gender dysphoria as early as kindergarten. “I started to feel very uncomfortable,” he said, “just existing as a young girl.”


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The essay, which collected responses from 27 transgender and nonbinary adults from across the nation, provides a small, albiet valuable, window into the ways in which adults across the gender spectrum view and experiece the world.

Relatively few U.S. adults – about 1.6 percent of the population – identify as transgender, according to Pew, but a growing share of Americans say they know someone who is. In a Pew report published in July, 42 percent of adults said they personally know someone who identifies as transgender, up from 37 percent in 2017.

About one-in-five adults in a 2019 Pew survey reported knowing someone who does not identify as a man or a woman. A recent report published by The Trevor Project found that awareness of gender-neutral pronouns like they/them are on the rise, particularly among younger adults and Generation Z. In the same report, nearly half of adults surveyed said they would be comfortable if their child began using gender neutral pronouns.

In the report published Tuesday, a majority of respondents said they were “well into adulthood” before discovering the words to accurately describe their gender identity, although the ways in which they made that discovery varied.

“I knew about drag queens, but I didn’t know what trans was until I got to college and was exposed to new things, and that was when I had a word for myself for the first time,” one transgender man in his early 40s said.

Others said courses in sexuality studies helped them “feel seen.” One nonbinary person, in their early 60s, said their path to self-discovery began with a chance encounter with the 1964 LIFE Magazine article “Homosexuality in America.”

“We didn’t have language like we do now, or people were not willing to use it,” they said, adding that “homosexuality” was one of the first words “that resonated with me at all.”

Nonbinary respondents tended to view the “nonbinary” label as an incredibly expansive one that encompasses multiple gender identities. When asked to describe themselves, most said they were “gender queer” or “gender fluid,” according to Pew.

According to respondents, deciding how open to be about their gender identity is a “constant calculation.” Others said talking about their gender identity depends on the specific person or situation, with an emphasis on personal safety.

Transgender and nonbinary people in the U.S. experience outsized rates of violence, and 2021 was labeled by the Human Rights Campaign as the deadliest year on record for transgender and gender nonconforming people in the U.S. Respondents in the Pew survey said educating people about things like gender identity and sexual orientation may help create a more accepting society, and one that’s safer for people across the gender spectrum.

Many, but not all, of the respondents in the Pew survey reported receiving gender-affirming medical care, including hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgery. Most respondents reported barriers to accessing gender-affirming care, including the inability to access treatment at all.

Legislation seeking to restrict access to gender-affirming care has been under consideration this year in more than a dozen states. Alabama earlier this year enacted a felony ban on providing gender-affirming care to minors, carrying a prison sentence of up to decade.

Still, some respondents in the Pew survey did report having positive experiences in seeking gender-affirming medical care.

“[My doctor] is basically the first person that actually embraced me,” a transgender woman in her late 20s said, “and made me accept [who I am].”