A 2009 Pew Research Center survey revealed that 18 percent of Americans feel like “they have been in the presence of a ghost” while a 2015 study from Gays and Lesbians Allied Against Defamation revealed that only 16 percent of Americans claim to have been in the presence of a transgender person. Does the U.S. really have more ghosts than transgender people?
Transgender activist Faye Seidler first brought up this funny statistical contrast, saying, “That means we (trans people) are less represented than things that likely do not exist.”
But wait! Who says ghosts “likely do not exist”? If 18 percent of the American population has felt the presence of a ghost, that’s over 57 million people. And seeing as Wikipedia has at least 428 haunted places listed in the U.S. alone — and if all those seasons of American Horror Story are correct, then many of those locations have several ghosts — meaning there’s at least several thousand ghosts living in the U.S. alone. Naturally, we couldn’t conduct an actual ghost census seeing as most ghosts are deadbeats, tending to disappear, especially when it comes time to pay property taxes.
But even if ghosts do really exist, they’re still probably outnumbered by the trans people living in the U.S. — an estimated 956,571 Americans are trans (0.3 percent of the population). In fact, it’s highly likely that many Americans have met a trans person and just not realized it. So what gives? Why are Americans seeing more ghosts than trans people?
Think of how many films you’ve seen with ghosts in them. Now, think of how many films you’ve seen with trans men in them. You seen more ghost flicks, right? Seidler made this exact point in her interview with HuffPo Gay Voices:
“[Trans people] are less represented than things that likely do not exist… Most people get their idea of what it is to be transgender from movies or television shows. They only see very limited narratives and perspective of what it is to be trans and often they only see stereotypes and caricature.”
So if someone bases their entire idea of what a trans person looks like off of Laverne Cox in Orange in the New Black, Caitlyn Jenner or cis actor Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent, then they only have a slim imagination of how trans people look and act. Meanwhile, the variety of ghosts we see in films runs the gamut: ghosts look like shadows, hanging linens and Patrick Swayze — no wonder so many people have claimed to see them!
Considering that transgender people also experience higher rates of violence and harassment, it’s no wonder that some decide to stay closeted, making it harder for cisgender people to see them. As a result, cis folks will sometimes vote against transgender rights ordinances — just like they did in Houston, Texas — thinking of trans person as “men in dresses” rather than as a large community of people who express gender in a wide variety of ways.
Luckily, trans visibility is on the rise — especially as more trans people use social media to express their #TransTruth and protest their right to piss in peace. In another decade or two, trans people will surely outnumber ghosts in the American landscape and popular imagination.
Previously published December 25, 2015.