35: The Danger of Repeating Statistics Without Looking Them Up

Recently, someone reached out to me about a statistic I used in my article, “Yes, You Have Cis Privilege.”

It seems I had asserted that the life expectancy of trans women of color was 35. This respondent asked if I could provide the source of this statistic.

Of course I can, I thought. I honestly don’t remember where I got it from to begin with, but it had to have been someone whose word I believed. It should have been easy to find the statistic with a quick Google search, right?

Not so much. Instead, I found that, although the situation for trans people of color — especially trans women — the 35 year life expectancy statistic itself is a misinterpretation of facts.

A good explanation of this, along with a link to the original use of the statistic — comes from Trav Pittman, a transgender woman of color.

Although she dismantles the life expectancy assertions, she does point out that it is not exactly a picnic out there for trans women of color.

Why Am I Writing This?

I edited the statistic out of my article (although alluding to the popularity of the statistic and pointing out why — given the violence against trans people of color— it is easy for some of us to take this at face value). I also responded to the respondent, explaining my error and pointing them in the direction of sources detailing the violent situation against trans women of color in this country.

I could have left it at that, but I didn’t. Why? Two main reasons.

First, because I hate it when I read something supported by “facts” or “statistics” that are erroneous (or misquoted, misinterpreted, misrepresented, etc), whether purposely or not. As I’ve mentioned, I had no ulterior motive in posting that statistic. I was not trying to hurt anyone, and — as I’ve said — it is easy to believe given the amount of violence against people of color in general and trans women of color in particular.

That’s not a good excuse, though. I know better than to take something at face value and should have checked. I don’t like seeing that kind of thing elsewhere, so I will not tolerate it in my own writing.

The second reason is because the truth is bad enough. There has been enough violence against trans people of color lately that I don’t need to add an unverified statistic to drive the point home. In fact, a false statistic will only bring into question all the other assertions that can actually be proven.

I will refer you to some articles from Human Rights Campaign (HRC) documenting violence against the trans community, especially transgender women of color.

The second article mentions that 29 trans people were killed in 2017, and at least 26 were killed last year (2018). The first lists the 19 verified cases of trans people killed this year.

The second article also points out women who died under mysterious circumstances, including someone who had been missing and later found in a house fire, someone in custody at Riker’s Island in NYC, and a trans woman just released from ICE custody.

Also please note that I have seen assertions on social media of a 20th trans woman killed in 2019, but cannot find confirmation (fool me once, etc.).

All of these lists are dominated by trans women of color, and that’s my point. I don’t need a false statistic to show the level of violence and discrimination against trans women of color. I simply have to make sure their stories get told.

The Problem is Dire — Real Statistics Can Tell Us That

So, I am most upset at myself for printing this statistic because it could potentially invalidate other data we really do have, at least in some people’s eyes. If someone is inclined to disbelieve statistics about trans people of color, or people of color in the first place, then a false statistic makes it so much easier for them to dismiss the rest.

In the previous article about cis privilege, I pointed out the idea of intersectionality. Privilege is about more than one thing. I have white privilege, for instance, but I don’t have cis privilege. Most men of color people have male privilege and cis privilege, but not white privilege.

So some statistics from the U.S. and world-wide. In the US, African Americans are 2.5 more times more likely than white people to get killed by police, and the statistic specifically for black women is 1.4, according to a study cited in a recent Citylab article.

The Citylab article mentions two studies. The more recent of them contains the statistic I mention. You can go write to the published study link here:

Also, hate crime in the U.S. against African Americans is still high, despite legislation in place to fight it.

As members of a minority, trans women of color are already marginalized. As members of the LGBT, and as transgender people in particular, they come in for even more violence and discrimination.

According to this article from 2018, transgender murders worldwide are on the rise.

And more recently, attacks against LGBT people all together are rising.

Like this from June of this year.

And this from last month:

So Getting It Right Matters

So, it’s pretty clear that there is a great deal of discrimination, hate, and violence leveled toward LGBT people, especially trans people, and especially trans women of color.

That is why I pledge to be more careful with sourcing my assertions from now on. The facts are bad enough.

They do not need to be embellished.

Educator, writer, LGBTQ+ advocate, avid reader. Novelist in progress. Website: http://janelleswritemind.com/ Empowering the LGBTQ+ community one word at a time.

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