Where does the public stand on sex and gender issues?

27 July 2022

Carys Moseley, policy researcher for Christian Concern, comments on new data showing how public opinion on trans rights has changed in recent years.

Polling company YouGov recently published evidence that public opinion on transgender rights has changed in important ways since 2018. The full data tables showing the responses are also available. How are we to understand these latest findings?

Fewer people accept ‘trans women are women, trans men are men’

The single most important finding is the decline in public acceptance of the claims that ‘trans women are women’ and ‘trans men are men’. The YouGov survey is the third in a series started in 2018. Back then 43% agreed and 32% disagreed with these claims. Now in 2022, these figures have changed to 38% agreeing and 40% disagreeing with ‘trans women are women’, and an even split of 39% agreeing and disagreeing with ‘trans men are men’.

This is good news that more people are acknowledging the biological realities.

Public opposition to gender self-identification

The survey shows what was already known from other surveys, namely that most people oppose the legal changes that had been proposed to the Gender Recognition Act.

Half the population (50%) opposes changing the law to make changing gender easier, with only 26% supporting such a policy. A majority (60%) think a person should have to obtain a doctor’s approval to change their legal gender, with only 17% disagreeing. Similarly, 59% of people think a person should have to provide evidence they lived in their new gender for at least two years before they able to change their legal gender, with only 15% disagreeing.

Opposition to NHS provision of gender reassignment for adults

YouGov finds that 38% of people think cross-sex hormone treatment should be available on the NHS, and that 33% think that gender reassignment surgery should be available on the NHS. This means only a minority of people agree that the NHS should fund these procedures.

However, we should compare these findings to a ComRes survey in November 2014, which asked people whether non-emergency procedures such as sex-change surgery should be halted by the NHS in the event of a funding crisis. The survey found that 72% of people agreed that they should be halted, with 12% disagreeing. This means that in the space of 8 years support for NHS funding of sex-change or gender reassignment surgery has nearly tripled.

Strong opposition to puberty blockers for children

The majority of people (78%) oppose children under 16 having gender reassignment surgery. A smaller majority (68%) don’t want teenagers to be given cross-sex hormones either. A mere 4% support gender reassignment for children, with only 10% supporting cross-sex hormones for them. Finally, two thirds (65%) of people oppose the prescription of puberty blocking drugs to under-16s, with only 12% supporting this practice.

Is the public waking up to the risk to women?

The survey results suggest sections of the public are waking up to the risk posed to women. When asked whether male-to-female transgender people should be allowed to take part in women’s sporting events, only 16% agreed that they should, with 61% disagreeing. On whether they should be allowed to use women’s changing rooms only 34% agreed, with 43% disagreeing. Regarding the use of women’s toilets, 38% agreed with allowing this but 41% did not.

The only case where the public believed male-to-female transgender people should be allowed to access women-only spaces was the case of women’s refuges. In cases where they were victims of rape or assault, 39% of people think male-to-female transgender people should be allowed to access refuges, with 36% disagreeing.

Age makes a fundamental difference

Understandably, these survey results have been celebrated in the press and on social media as a victory for common sense. However, great caution is required in handling this survey. The reason is that as we look down the age brackets, people become more supportive of men identifying as transgender women accessing women-only spaces.

This begs the question as to how long the current consensus in favour of protecting single-sex spaces will last. The same is true regarding attitudes to gender reassignment on the NHS and puberty blockers. Interestingly however, responses to other questions in the survey reveal a more complicated picture underneath.

Close observers more concerned about prejudice against women

The survey tables correlated questions on prejudice against various groups including women and transgender people with responses to a question asking how much attention people had paid to the transgender rights debates. YouGov’s article only reports the results relating to prejudice against transgender people. These show that 65% of the people who pay a lot of attention to the transgender debate think that anti-transgender prejudice is a major or significant problem. However, slightly more people – 67% of the same sub-group – think that prejudice against women is a major or significant problem.

This finding is rather important, because it reverses the trend found in responses to this question. People who respectively paid ‘a fair amount of attention’, ‘not much attention’ or ‘no attention at all’ were more likely to believe that prejudice against transgender people was a major or significant problem. The exception is the finding that more of those who are most attentive to the debate are concerned about prejudice against women than about anti-transgender prejudice. How interesting that YouGov did not bother reporting this finding in its article.

The actual overall results suggest that closer scrutiny of the debates makes people, especially women, realise that prejudice against women is a factor in trans activism. This is rather different from YouGov’s write-up which gives the impression that paying more attention to the debate simply results in people becoming more concerned about anti-transgender prejudice!

Young adults are concerned about prejudice against women

Earlier I mentioned that the survey shows people’s age is a factor in how they approach these issues. Let’s take the fact that over four out of ten people think there is a lot of prejudice against women in society. This belief is much more prevalent among younger adults and Labour voters (61%). Whereas only 36% of people over 65 think prejudice against women is a major or significant problem, this figure rises to 41% among those aged 50-64, 43% among those aged 25-49 and 44% among 18–24-year-olds. This appears to explain the slightly higher percentage of people who closely attend to the trans debate being concerned about prejudice against women.

I think this is incredibly revealing, as it echoes the massive rise of women leaving the left wing of the Labour party over gender self-identification. It is not surprising that some Labour politicians have been nodding to the importance of biology recently; one suspects secret polling gave them the message the YouGov tables now quietly show.

Why has public opinion shifted since 2020?

YouGov notes that – without exploring why – public opinion on access to single-sex facilities has become less permissive since 2020. It is specifically among women that the shift has happened.

“Tracking attitudes by gender over time shows that, among women, willingness to allow trans women access to female facilities has declined between 2020 and 2022, having previously remained relatively static from 2018 to 2020.

“For instance, while in 2018 women supported the right of trans women to use women’s toilets by 52% to 26%, and by 54% to 24% in 2020, between 2020 and 2022 support dropped to 45%, while opposition rose to 34%.

“This reflects a rising fear that such access presents a risk to women’s safety: in 2018, 26% of women held such concerns, as did 28% in 2020. By 2022 this had shifted to 34%. Over the time period of the three studies, the number of women saying there was no plausible risk fell from 48% to 38%.”

I think the answer to this one is rather obvious – months of lockdowns have made people seriously re-evaluate their priorities in life. It is well-known that domestic violence increased during lockdowns and frankly because of them. Given that concerns about women’s safety in single-sex spaces predate March 2020, the loss of safety – and of practical options for safe places to live – for some women from then onwards would have made its mark on the public consciousness. Toleration of a gender-neutral free-for-all dropped as a result.

Implausible claim to knowledge

The survey design is not without problems. An important claim made by YouGov on the basis of the survey is one concerning the supposed effect of knowing transgender persons. The survey claims a very high percentage of British people who say they know a transgender person.

“Overall, one in three Britons (33%) say they personally know someone who is transgender. This includes 9% who say they have a transgender friend, 7% a transgender colleague, and 3% a transgender family member. A further 18% say they personally know a transgender person who doesn’t fit into any of these categories.”

Given the very small percentage of transgender people in the population (1% of survey respondents say they are transgender), how believable is the claim of the 18%? I suspect many of them say ‘know’ about someone they only follow on social media.

The problem with not really disaggregating these categories consistently is that the survey enables YouGov to make big generalisations. The major one is that the more people know transgender individuals, the more supportive they are of transgender rights. In other words, criticising trans activism stems supposedly from ignorance and bigotry. In reality, the picture is more complex.

Survey fails to distinguish relatives’ response from that of ‘friends’

The survey does not distinguish between being a family member and a friend in the questions regarding single-sex spaces, gender reassignment surgery, puberty blockers and prejudice.

Normally, surveys distinguish between the two as they are very different. Secular liberal toleration often stops at people’s front doors. Many people might tell pollsters they think people should be allowed to ‘change their social gender’ just to keep pollsters from tarring them as beyond the pale. However, one suspects that many of these would not be remotely happy if the person in question was their own parent or spouse or child.

Good polling would measure the level of ‘Not In My Back Yard’ response and ask people whether they would approve gender reassignment in all cases or only for people outside their own family. As it stands, merging ‘family members’ with ‘friends’ serves the agenda of advancing the individualist normalisation of ‘social’ gender change.

Has lack of exposure allowed trans activism to run riot?

Whilst this survey gives some encouragement that more people are realising the damage done by unchecked trans activism, it needs to be handled with care. It shows that younger adults are increasingly diverging from older age cohorts, except interestingly in their increased worry about prejudice against women. People aged 18-24 have the most libertarian attitudes towards trans issues. In one sense this is unsurprising as many polls show this demographic to be libertarian. In another sense it is important to realise that it is not they but women their mothers’ age that are fighting the battles for single-sex spaces.

This should hardly be a surprise, as activism for things like single-sex spaces really requires some life experience as a motivation and a guide for what works socially. Young adults are least likely to be parents or working in management roles so will not yet have had the responsibilities that have led so many people to question trans activism. Trans activism has actually been around for a long time in this country but has kept itself carefully under the radar a lot of the time in order to avoid great public opposition. The majority’s lack of exposure to it may well be what has allowed not only young adults but the population at large to be blind for so long. Surveys like this show what can happen when exposure leads to proper scrutiny.

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