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How many LGBT folk are there?

Timothy Kincaid

April 8th, 2011

Some time ago I set out to discover to just what extent are gay and bisexual people infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). But to do that, I had to figure out just how many people are gay or bisexual. But, as I noted at the time, this is not an easy demographic to define:

To know how many gay people there are, one has to explain what one means by “gay person”. And there are several ways to approach this.

Just a few decades ago, self identification would be a useless parameter. Two men could have lived together for decades and been known to friends and family as a devoted couple without either being willing to be publicly identified as “gay” or “homosexual”. Even today, epidemiologists are careful to use terms such as “men who have sex with men (MSM)” so as to include for health purposes those who do not use LGBT identifications.

But sexual behavior is also not a good indicator. Some gay or bisexual persons may identify publicly as gay and yet for personal reasons choose not to be sexually active. A self-identified gay Christian, for example, may elect celibacy or may defer sexual activity until united in the bonds of a committed relationship but they are no less “gay” than the man with a life partner or the woman living for her next sexual conquest.

Perhaps the best definition would be those who are exclusively or primarily attracted to the same sex. But this definition might also include ex-gays and others who would object to being so identified. And for purposes of discussions of “gay community”, it’s hardly fair to include those who have no communion with other gay persons.

Others, thinking in terms of community, might include as “queer” all persons who do not identify at heterosexual. But to my way of thinking this is far too broad for our purposes, including asexual persons, anti-sexual persons, and those who choose to avoid labels, regardless of sexual attractions.

But, relying on what was, at that time, the best info available: an abstract of the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth put out by the Centers for Disease Control, I came up with an answer. And as the Survey allowed me to look at more than one possible definition – and as I got to the same result either way – I could state with a measure of confidence the following:


I think it fair to state that at least 2.3% of men are gay and at least 4.1% are “gay or bisexual”.

I think it fair to state that at least 1.4% of women are gay and at least 4.1% are “gay or bisexual”.

and

Although this is based on assumptions, by applying the above percentages it is reasonable to state that there are at least 5.3 million gay or bisexual men and at least 5.5 million gay or bisexual women above the age of 15 living in the United States, for a total GLB Community of at least 10.8 million people.

I have generally stuck with my limited analysis waiting for additional or better information. But now Gary Gate of UCLA’s Williams Institute has undertaken the task of assessing the available data and coming up with an answer to that elusive question.

Gates is perhaps the foremost demographer studying the LGBT community. The information that has now become recognized about where gay families are (virtually everywhere) and what census data could tell us about them came primarily from Gates and the Williams Institute. When his Gay and Lesbian Atlas came out in 2004, it tossed over the apple cart of presumptions about same-sex families existing only in the cities.

So Gates’ findings have been given a level of credibility that has not been questioned. He is a specialist talking about his specialty. And, to my initial smug pleasure, Gates arrived at estimations that are not far from my own.

  • An estimated 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and an estimated 0.3% of adults are transgender.
  • This implies that there are approximately 9 million LGBT Americans, a figure roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey.
  • Among adults who identify as LGB, bisexuals comprise a slight majority (1.8% compared to 1.7% who identify as lesbian or gay).

But while I am impressed by his scholarly contributions and defer to his understanding of demographics, I am shocked at some of his premises, methodologies and conclusions. I think that as he further continues his work that he should challenge some presumptions both in analysis and in presentation.

Averaging averages

Perhaps the weakest possible method for reconciling variances between study results would be to average them. Not all studies have equal likelihood of accuracy, equal methodology, equal statistical significance, or equal credibility. Outliers ought not have the same input, and a survey of ten people does not carry the same weight as a survey of ten thousand.

Additionally, the purpose of a survey weighs both on questions asked and the conclusions drawn. And let’s not pretend that a survey of Californians says much about Americans as a whole. Which leads me to question the inclusion of both the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions and the California Health Interview Survey.

So I am troubled by a methodology described as:

However, combining information from the population-based surveys considered in this brief offers a mechanism to produce credible estimates for the size of the LGBT community. Specifically, estimates for sexual orientation identity will be derived by averaging results from the five US surveys identified in Figure 1.

I cannot tell from Gate’s description of his methodology whether he gave weight based on sample size or took other steps to smooth the results. Nor is it clear what sort of margin of error can be relied upon in Gate’s calculations.

But considering that we are talking about small numbers to begin with, I am concerned that “averaging results” can lead to results that are statistically meaningless.

Adopting the lowest possible estimate

I recognize and appreciate the value of estimating conservatively. This is the hallmark of a good demographer and demonstrates professionalism over advocacy. However, when dealing with a population which you know for certain is underestimated, it is not accurate to set the lowest estimate as though it were the the truest estimate.

And even if one is estimating those gay and lesbian people who so identify (as opposed to other measures), it is a given that public surveys under-count your population. There are virtually no people who will identify on a survey as being gay when they are not. But there are a not-insignificant number who do identify as gay – to themselves, their friends, their family – but who will not disclose their orientation in a survey.

So language that says “are” rather than “at least” falsely implies that the lowest number is accurate.

Male and Female Sexuality

Gates does note that the gay/bi breakout is not mirrored between gay men and lesbians. But I don’t think that he adequately emphasizes, or perhaps even recognizes, the extent and complexity of this difference.

Based on my experiences writing here, reviewing the literature, and discussing the issue with others who approach sexuality from different perspectives, I’ve come to conclude that male and female sexuality is very different. Men and women, and especially gay men and women, experience attraction differently, respond to it differently, and have differing incidences of fluidity in sexual desire.

So it is not only a simplistic presentation to ‘average’ the results of male and female sexual identity, but it presents a false picture of both. So while “Women are substantially more likely than men to identify as bisexual” is informative, the following is a useless statistic:

Among adults who identify as LGB, bisexuals comprise a slight majority (1.8% compared to 1.7% who identify as lesbian or gay).

A better set of bullet points – less likely to be distorted by dishonest or lazy media – would be to report what the demographics tell us about each group (to the extent that they do). For example, Gates would have been both more informative and more accurate to say:

  • At least 3.5% of adults in the United States, around 9 million people, identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

  • Of men, at least 2.2% identify as gay and an additional 1.4% as bisexual. Of women, at least 1.1% identify as lesbian and an additional 2.2% as bisexual.

And even that is not fully informative. Those of us in the community are well aware that identifying as bisexual rather than gay is often as much a matter of caution as it is a reflection of internal perception.

International skewing

For some reason Gates found it necessary to discuss difference between the sexual identity, sexual behavior, and sexual attraction of Americans by looking to surveys in Canada, the UK, and Australia. I think it fairly obvious that distinctions between attraction and identity are driven to a large part by culture. And it is also fairly obvious that Australian attitudes do not well explain the identity of Americans.

Transgender estimates

While his estimates of gay men and gay women were sloppy, his estimates of transgender Americans are, at best, fanciful.

Gates achieves his estimate by averaging two surveys, one of which was at 0.1% and one of which was at 0.5%. This is nonsense. Frankly there isn’t enough data to make any credible estimate, and Gates should know better.

When you are averaging two numbers, one of which is five times the other, and both of which are pretty much in your margin of error, anything you come up with is little more than a guess.

Gates should simply have noted that there is an additional demographic, likely less than one half of one percent of the population, of persons who identify as being transgender and left it at that. Even “likely less than one half of one percent” is aggressive, considering the scarcity of raw data.

To put a numerical value (0.3%, or 700,000) is to distort reality and misapply his profession. This does a service to no one.

Conclusion

I was initially pleased by Gates’ efforts. Finally someone credible was attempting to answer that oft-guessed-at but seldom analyzed question as to just how big the LGBT community might be. And I also felt validated that his answers so closely mirrored the conclusions of my limited efforts. Points for me!

But upon closer inspection, this report is notable as much by its limitations and failings as it is by its effort to provide an answer.

I don’t disagree with Gates’ conclusions, necessarily. They are in the ballpark of reasonable, however shoddily he got there. And they serve a purpose in that they can – I hope finally – put an end to Kinsey’s 10% figures.

But this report should be treated as nothing more than a stepping stone. An interim effort on which future work can build. And it is on this that Gary Gates and I agree:

Understanding the size of the LGBT population is a critical first step to informing a host of public policy and research topics. The surveys highlighted in this report demonstrate the viability of sexual orientation and gender identity questions on large national population-based surveys. Adding these questions to more national, state, and local data sources is critical to developing research that enables a better understanding of the understudied LGBT community.

Comments

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EZam
April 8th, 2011 | LINK

The best way to determine how many people are LGBT or straight is by using tests that determine attraction to a particular sex. Most of these “studies” rely solely on identity; it’s like saying how many people have cancer based on those who BELIEVE they have it or not.

tim
April 8th, 2011 | LINK

Whatever percentage I hear regarding the percentage of the population that is gay it is always more than the percentage of the population that is Jewish. And yet wing nuts have no problem pushing or supporting their agenda.

Ron
April 8th, 2011 | LINK

I’ve got to come out in support of Kinsey. I don’t think the survey (or this analysis) really takes into account the spectrum of sexuality, or more importantly in this case, the ability or willingness of individuals to label their personal sexual or gender identity to an anonymous surveyor.

I am one of those folks who has misrepresented myself to an reputable survey. By no means does this confirm that I represent a silent-but-larger-than-expected contingency, but I have to emphasize that this survey only really provides the number who -identify- as LGBT.

The number of people that experience same sex attraction, in my opinion, will not really be known until a decade after full equal rights, and a stronger measure of acceptance than is present now.

Sean
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

Three notes, to add onto your analysis:

1. I was surprised at the brevity of the report and the lack of detail regarding methodology. Maybe I’ve been spoiled in the hard sciences, but I normally wouldn’t even read such a sparse report unless it was the summary of a larger work.

2. Figure 5 is a bit sleazy. One does not specify the size of populations to 7 significant figures. People who understand statistics won’t buy it, and to everyone else, it’s deceptive.

These populations are a bit fuzzy anyway. I appreciate sincere attention being paid here, because we do need serious meta-analyses, but this one simply doesn’t have the rigor required.

3. “Those of us in the community are well aware that identifying as bisexual rather than gay is often as much a matter of caution as it is a reflection of internal perception.”

In addition, some bisexuals feel serious pressure not to identify as such. When I was growing up, bisexuality was associated with “questioning” or uncertainty, or with being promiscuous, or with attention-seeking. The information and research I had access to at the time rarely mentioned bisexuals at all. So, even though I’m a Kinsey 4 (and probably could have guessed this as early as 11), I flip-floped between identities, settling for straight until I was 18, and then came out as bi. If there was less cultural baggage involved, it’s hard to say where either the gay/bi or straight/bi lines would be drawn.

Of course, without said cultural baggage, these identities wouldn’t matter as much in the first place.

Tony P
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

Ask someone who studies the mind, they have a better insight into it so seek out your local psychologist or psychiatrist.

They KNOW that the range for exclusively gay is 5 to 10 percent of a population. So take 7.5% of 330,000,000 people in the U.S. and you arrive at 24,750,000 lesbian and gay people in the U.S.

Now, those same psychs will tell you that the incidence of bisexuality runs much higher, in the 30% to 40$ range, again midpoint 35% – that would mean 115,500,000 bisexuals in the U.S.

Combined we number 140,250,000. But through the devices of divide and conquer we’ve been held down too long.

Priya Lynn
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

And they serve a purpose in that they can – I hope finally – put an end to Kinsey’s 10% figures.

No, they won’t put an end to Kensey’s figures because there is much evidence to support the 10% figure.

“In 2003, Pathela’s team performed telephone interviews with nearly 4,200 New York City men. They conducted the interviews in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian; a translation service helped with interviews in Greek, Korean, Yiddish, Polish, and Haitian Creole.
In nearly every study of sexual behaviour, the percentage of men who report sex with men is higher than the percentage of men who report being gay.

– Nearly one in 10 men who say they’re straight have sex only with other men, a New York City survey finds.
And 70% of those straight-identified men having sex with men are married.
In fact, 10% of all married men in this survey report same-sex behaviour during the past year.”

http://www.webmd.com/sex/news/20060918/many-straight-men-have-gay-sex

You ommitted a key part of the CDC study on the percentage of gays. Yes 2.3% said they were homosexual and 1.8% said they were bisexual. But 3.9% said they think of their sexuality as “something else” and 1.8% refused to answer. Its a safe bet that given the stigma associated with being gay and the word “homosexual” that virtually all of the 3.9% who said “something else” (gay, likely rather than “homosexual”) and all of the 1.8% who refused to answer were same gay as well, particularly given that the New York survey showed up to 10% of gay men lie about their orientation. That makes for 9.8% who said their sexuality was something other than heterosexual, again, very close to the Kinsey 10% figure.

http://www.webmd.com/sex/news/20060918/many-straight-men-have-gay-sex

A Canadian study of teenagers showed that 14% have some degree of same sex attraction:

“Online interviews were conducted in October 2005 by Ipsos Reid with 1,171 Canadian teenagers aged 14 to 17. As well, 1,139 mothers of teenagers were interviewed, but these weren’t the mothers of the teens who were surveyed. The results are considered accurate to within 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

In addition, the study found 86 per cent of girls said they were attracted to boys only, while 87 per cent of boys said they were attracted to girls only.”

http://www.saskatoon.ctv.ca/servlet/an/plocal/CTVNews/20080121/teen_sex_080121/20080121/?hub=TorontoNewHome

So, no there will be no “putting an end to the Kinsey 10% figures”. The best any of these surveys can tell us is a minimum figure for the percentage of gays, the upper end is, and will remain unknown, but certainly 10% is a realistic figure.

Priya Lynn
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

I got my second link wrong, it should be:

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/pubs/pubd/ad/361-370/ad362.htm

Reed Boyer
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

Gs and Ls, but “where are the Bs and Ts?”

enough already
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

Priya Lynn has correctly assessed the matter.

I don’t much care about the “B” part, but as for the “T”, we know that about 1% of children are born with visible qualities of both sexes. Because the evil practice of “snip and sew and pronounce boy or girl” still governs too many delivery rooms, I imagine the real number of people trapped in the wrong gendered body is much higher than normal sampling methods can show.

I’ve taught since the ’80s. Unless I had some very unusual students, I’d guess the numbers are about 10% or so homosexual.

That’s not scientific, but anytime I have a young man who can follow the lecture, talk to his classmates, take notes, text and ask me pertinent questions all at the same time, it’s not surprising to see him between classes in the quad with his head in the lap of another boy or holding hands. Ditto the lesbians – they’re just a little bit more awake aware and interested than average.

Of course, being transexual and or intersexed has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation. Absolutely nothing.

Richard Rush
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

enough already,

. . . anytime I have a young man who can follow the lecture, talk to his classmates, take notes, text and ask me pertinent questions all at the same time, it’s not surprising to see him between classes in the quad with his head in the lap of another boy or holding hands.

At the risk of going off on a tangent, I’m wondering exactly what you were suggesting by that. On the face of it, it seems as though you were suggesting that gay students are smarter(?). The answer to the question may tie in to something I’ve been thinking about.

enough already
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

Not smarter. One look at the comments on any gay blog would disabuse you of that really fast. There are, however, some independently repeatable studies showing that gay men and most straight women share a brain structure which is superior at coping with several speech processing and object tracking demands at once.

Maybe the comparison is better made between how straight men are enormously good at tracking one thing, like parallel parking and the tasks of coordinating a sit down dinner party for eight on the phone while cutting Mrs.Waverly’s hair and not missing a frame of OLTL and pulling Mrs. Johnson’s curls out from under the dryer at just the right time.

That doesn’t make us smarter, but it would be useful for all the stereotypical jobs gay men and mothers of young kids are good at.

I’ve no research to cite, but nearly all simultaneous translators I’ve worked with were gay men or straight women.

Sean Santos
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

“Ask someone who studies the mind, they have a better insight into it so seek out your local psychologist or psychiatrist.

They KNOW that the range for exclusively gay is 5 to 10 percent of a population. So take 7.5% of 330,000,000 people in the U.S. and you arrive at 24,750,000 lesbian and gay people in the U.S.”

Er, how do they know that? Being a mental health professional of any type doesn’t give you the ability to accurately measure from small, self-selected sample sizes, based on vague recollection rather than detailed records. And not all psychologists/psychiatrists know the sexual orientation of all of their patients. Mine didn’t know about me until last week, because I only talk to him about career and ADHD issues, and it simply had never come up.

@Priya Lynn

I feel a bit underwhelmed by the studies you mentioned. One is a study conducted only of citizens of New York City, the results of which have not been replicated in any other group (or, to the best of my knowledge, in NYC). Discussion of precisely this issue can be found here.

Notably, the authors say: “Whether the “true” proportion of MSM who identify as straight is 1% or 10%, our large city and other metropolitan areas have sizable (>10%) populations of MSM. There will always be a number of straight-identified MSM who will not benefit from public health messages targeting gay- identified men. Medical providers must learn to inquire about sexual behavior rather than identity to serve their patients well.”

The authors themselves were perfectly willing to grant that their results regarding straight-identified MSM may be atypical of the country as a whole. And they were only willing to grant a >10% MSM population to NYC and “other metropolitan areas” (not specifying which ones), not to the country as a whole. It should be noted that some MSM really are “straight” in a socially relevant sense; they may be having sex with men only due to availability or experimentation, rather than typical preference.

With regards to the “something else” and “did not report” categories for the CDC report, I don’t grant that it’s a “safe bet” that they are all gay. This includes people who were confused or uncertain, or even people who were bored and started recording random answers.

Take this puzzling fact: “Among the much smaller group of those [males] reporting themselves as homosexual, 74 percent said they were attracted only or mostly attracted to males, but 23 percent said they were attracted only to females.” Similar results obtained for women

This may cast doubt on the precise percentages, but if the study has some error in it, that surely isn’t evidence for the 10% number. It’s just evidence that we need other studies in order to arrive at a number.

The same might be said for the Canadian teen survey, which didn’t examine in detail the 13-14% of teens who didn’t assert that they were definitely attracted only to the opposite sex. How many of those had a dearth of sexual experience and didn’t feel confident in answering? Or felt a small twinge of same-sex attraction, but not enough that they are ever likely to actively pursue it? We can’t know from that report.

These aren’t really studies in favor of the 10% number. They are only studies that don’t completely rule it out. It doesn’t change the fact that the great majority of surveys have placed the number significantly lower, nor that the original Kinsey report that generated the number had flawed methodology.

Richard Rush
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

enough already,

Okay, I thought you may just be referring to multitasking, although I’ve always assumed that people with good multitasking ability must be smarter. Maybe that’s because I am terrible at multitasking, so that’s where my assumption comes from.

And to make it worse, now you’ve given me something else to be distressed about: I’ve always been proudly confident of being 100% gay, and now that is being called into question. But I do hate sports, so that counts for something, doesn’t it?

PS: Your clarification doesn’t fully tie into what “I’ve been thinking about,” so I won’t carry this any further off on a tangent.

enough already
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

Richard,
I feel it, really I do. There are days (hell, there are decades) when I am dependent upon my husband and our dogs (the cats just laugh at me) to remind me which side of the bed is “out” in the morning.

I truly don’t think we’re smarter as a group. Gay men, that is. We are, however, equipped with the female brain anatomy which, together with male bodies suits us quite well for all those roles which promote survival of the species: Babysitters, hunters, teachers, researchers, policemen, doctors, vets, creative people.

And interior decorators. What would the world do without us?

Sean, I haven’t bothered much lately, but every single survey on our share of the population which I have ever really looked at suffered from major flaws. I don’t, personally, care if we are only one gay man having a simultaneous conversation in his head and multi-tasking it out to millions of computers or 10%, as some studies do show. What matters is that those Christians who hate us be attacked, defeated, destroyed and our full civil and human rights legally established.

Frankly, I don’t know how you could even design a survey for this site – there are quite a few with claims on our community who would rather die than be identified with others among us.

Randy
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

First let me make two assumptions. First sexual orientation is genetic and second that the younger generation is more open about their sexuality than mine (boomer). What numbers would we get if we surveyed a younger generation and then extrapolated the results to the total population? Would this number be more accurate than trying to estimate how many closeted or people in denial there are and factoring the estimate into the results?

enough already
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

Randy,
It would probably help. The problem, though – to my simple mind – is that our rights have been abrogated. We are not even recognized as fully human.

It should not be necessary for us to prove our numbers for those Christians who hate us to be forced to accept our full human status and for us to receive full civil rights.

On a personal level, I don’t really understand the people who rely on anecdotal evidence to make statements such as “3%” feels about right. Where do they live – in a home for pregnant heterosexual women? I’ve lived in big cities, metropolises, the country, Europe and the US, taught for decades and it surely seems like I keep running into more than 3 out of a hundred people who are gay-lesbian-transgender. More like one in ten people has that extra kick which separates us from the cis-gendered heterosexuals. Sort of like looking at a faded photo from the back of your gramma’s drawer and then seeing a Technicolor film.

enough already
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

Drat, clicked the wrong icon. Randy, I agree with you about the genetic basis.

Just as women outlive their baby making factories by decades and thus improve the odds of species survival, so has Mother Nature in her wisdom created us, so more kids survive to reproduce.

It’s really that simple. Mutations are either fatal, neutral or beneficent. Mother nature, red of tooth and claw owns the house, runs the bank, stacks the cards and is over there dealing cards and right next to you, shilling.

We would not exist if we were not advantageous to the species or neutral relative to babies surviving to reproduce.

Sean Santos
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

“Sean, I haven’t bothered much lately, but every single survey on our share of the population which I have ever really looked at suffered from major flaws. I don’t, personally, care if we are only one gay man having a simultaneous conversation in his head and multi-tasking it out to millions of computers or 10%, as some studies do show. What matters is that those Christians who hate us be attacked, defeated, destroyed and our full civil and human rights legally established.”

I agree with the sentiment (although I’d like to point out that it’s not only Christians who are set against us, and that “attacked, defeated, destroyed” is rather more violent imagery that I’d use). It really shouldn’t matter how many of us there are. In fact, even if conservatives were right, and there were “only” as many of us as there are Jews, I think our case would be just as strong, and it would be even more ridiculous that they felt the need to treat us as separate or evil.

That said, I’m a skeptic by nature, and I simply can’t consider your personal experience or incredulity as evidence for how many gay people are out there. Human beings, all human beings, are very very prone to all types of error when estimating this sort of thing.

Secondly:

“We would not exist if we were not advantageous to the species or neutral relative to babies surviving to reproduce.”

I’m not confident about this. Genes can have many effects, and do different things in different people (since genes interact with each other and the environment). Even if homosexuality ultimately reduced the number of children from a family, a gene that promoted it in some people might have some different effect in others. Or multiple effects, such as making someone 25% more likely to be gay, but also giving them a better understanding of the opposite sex, or a different balance of hormones overall. Plus, it seems likely that pre-natal environment plays a role, and not just genes.

Frankly, though, I don’t think the biology matters that much from a moral or social perspective. I’ve never come across a compelling reason that violating gender roles is bad for society (lots of stupid ones, but no compelling ones), and it also seems quite clear to me that the world would be a far poorer, narrower, and less interesting place without us.

Mark F.
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

“We would not exist if we were not advantageous to the species or neutral relative to babies surviving to reproduce.”

There are lots of genetic conditions that certainly not advantageous to survival (hemophilia, juvenile onset diabetes, etc.). However, the incidence of homosexuality is rather high compared to these conditions, suggesting homosexuality may be somehow advantageous to survival (the doting gay uncle theory, not really well supported by evidence). My take is that environmental factors are more important than many people think. Identical twin studies suggest some genetic influence, but problems with the sample pools in many studies may mean it is wildly overstated. Certainly the sheer number of gay/straight identical twin pairs disproves the theory that homosexuality is 100% genetic.

enough already
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

Mark, if, through our scientific efforts, we can mitigate those diseases such that the afflicted can reproduce and successfully rear their young, then they are no longer fatal but neutral. If Mother Nature is red of tooth and claw, so is she far more consistent in her objective standards than we are. If it doesn’t help or hurt your species survival then it doesn’t matter.

I am skeptical of the identical twins with differing sexual orientation dichotomy. It appears quite seldom, especially in cultures which consider homosexuals fully human.

There is also the factor to be considered that genotype is not necessarily phenotype. It may well be that one of the twins was genetically coded for the proper homosexual orientation but a mistake in his or her expression arose. I can try to dig out a well written paper on this if you like, it may take a bit of time.

I don’t think every grandmother need be perfect nor every gay uncle doting – though we paid for college for those two of our nieces who wanted to study…it would have been human and vet. med., of course, but that’s life. It is enough that, overall, our existence improves the odds for the young of the species to survive to reproduce and have their young survive, etc.

Of course, this only applies to male homosexuality. One recent study suggests we go hand in hand with a genetic modification which permits women to survive pregnancy at a higher rate and to have slightly more live births than the norm. That surely would lead to the doting uncle!

I imagine their are other factors involved in female sexuality. That female homosexuality exists is a matter of anatomical fact.

It is not surprising that sexual orientation has no co-relation to cis- or transgender status anatomy, given the genetic basis.

Personally, I can acknowledge the possibility that, just as cats can only learn some behaviors within a certain time period, indexed to age, there are certain possibilities which our gay genetic makeup provide us that may or may not be triggered within a certain window during gestation. This is, however, speculation.

Eastside Jim
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

Bravo Priya Lynn, I agree, and you beat me to posting about those studies. The key take away about Kinsey and those studies, are you have to measure sexual ACTIONS not a state of mind which is subject to change depending upon many factors… including cultural oppression, level of percieved threat or danger to self, and feelings of shame. Even geography makes a difference. If I were asked before I left the area in southern Ohio where I grew up, you would get a different answer than you would get now! Of all the studies that measure sexual activity that I’ve seen (and I don’t claim to have seen them all), the 10% figure for male to male sexual activity is relatively consistent.

I personally know “straight” men who have been intimate with other men, but would be outraged to be considered gay, because they are the “pitcher” and never “catch”. This attitude is very common in Mediterranean and black men.

I don’t recall who expressed the opinion in this thread, but I agree that when twenty years of COMPLETE acceptance have passed, then you may BEGIN to accpet self identification.

Lastly, if you want to measure the percentage of HIV in the “gay” community, you should want to start your measure with all men who have sex with men, regardless of self identification… and then measure the number of those men who are HIV+. If a “gay” man doesn’t have sex with men, why would you want to include him in the study? His chance of being HIV+ are vanishingly small…

Richard Rush
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

enough already,

We [gays] are, however, equipped with the female brain anatomy which, together with male bodies suits us quite well for all those roles which promote survival of the species: Babysitters, hunters, teachers, researchers, policemen, doctors, vets, creative people.

And interior decorators. What would the world do without us?

Bingo! . . . now I have to go off on that tangent. What I’m about to say is just my speculation, which is influenced by the fact that I was a teenager in the late 1950s – early 1960s. And, by the way, I’m in a field that people would consider artistic/creative (although my specific work involves a lot on the technical side).

Looking more at the past: While gays have always appeared to be disproportionately represented in artistic/creative fields, I suspect it’s an illusion, and that those traits were not so much a part of being gay as they were a part of other characteristics that gave them the strength to allow themselves to be identified as gay. Or if not identified as gay by others, at least to not go down the path of a faux heterosexual life.

Creative people, in general, are typically non-conformists, and creativity demands seeing the world in alternative ways (how many creative Christian fundamentalists do you know?). I think many (most?) creative young people are already non-conformists, outsiders, and unpopular. And, certainly, many non-creatives are also outsiders, and unpopular. But still looking more at the past: When those people were also gay, I think it was easier for them to accept it and thumb their noses at all the conformists.

Still looking more at the past: On the other hand, when a member of the young in-crowd discovered they were gay, it was much more difficult. They were much more likely to go down the faux heterosexual life path. And, today, one of the major surprises of my life is knowing and hearing about all the people who are escaping from that life in the forties, or beyond.

There is a fundamental difference between gays of the past who had the courage to live a gay life (typically not openly, though), and vast numbers of today’s gay young people. Nowadays, we see gay young people of all types coming out, including conservatives, in-crowd types, and conformists. Just think of the GoProud crowd, who would have surely followed the faux heterosexual life had they come of age forty or fifty years ago. I suspect there are few, if any, creative types in GoProud.

So, I suspect that over time gay men will be no more likely to be artistic/creative that straight men. Among straights, unless there is a study to show otherwise, I don’t perceive men to be any less artistic/creative than women – so even if gay men have some female traits, I don’t see why they would be more likely to be artistic/creative.

I don’t think young gays today can imagine the absolute total isolation felt in 1957 at discovering attractions to ONLY the same sex while 100% of the examples in life and media were opposite sex attractions. As far as I knew, I was the only person on earth who felt this way, and I instinctively knew that it had to be my deep dark secret. In those days homosexuality was unspeakable. There was no speaking out against it – wasn’t necessary because it was universally viewed as depravity.

As a somewhat unrelated point, I suspect there is a higher percentage of gays my age who are atheists (like me) than in the general population. When you grow up with the undeniable reality that such a fundamental part of you is at odds with everything the world is demonstrating, you begin to wonder how many other things are really different than what everyone seems to believe.

Sean Santos
April 9th, 2011 | LINK

@Richard Rush

“While gays have always appeared to be disproportionately represented in artistic/creative fields, I suspect it’s an illusion, and that those traits were not so much a part of being gay as they were a part of other characteristics that gave them the strength to allow themselves to be identified as gay. Or if not identified as gay by others, at least to not go down the path of a faux heterosexual life.”

I’ve always wondered about this. There’s a stereotype about gay men being creative, white, college-educated, upper middle class sorts of people (I guess that this is the “positive” stereotype that emerged against all the negative ones). Of course, such people do exist, and there are all sorts of theories about that (creative roles appeal to gay men because they are more feminine, or maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because gay men go into fields where they think they will be accepted, or gay men have more spending power because they are less likely to be supporting families). But there’s also a very obvious reason, which is that it’s a heck of a lot easier to come out if you are in a socially and financially secure position, and if you have the power to surround yourself with open-minded people.

A lot of homeless youth nowadays are gay or transgendered kids, especially those who are racial minorities. But those kids are relatively invisible because they are socially outcast, and because, let’s face it, how does a black queer homeless kid have a voice in anything?

Donny D.
April 10th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy Kincaid posted:

I don’t disagree with Gates’ conclusions, necessarily. They are in the ballpark of reasonable, however shoddily he got there. And they serve a purpose in that they can – I hope finally – put an end to Kinsey’s 10% figures.

Timothy, two things:

1) This is an apples and oranges comparison. Kinsey et al.’s numbers weren’t of who identified as what, but represented people’s sexual thoughts and feelings. A straight-identified closet case who never acted on his lifelong homosexual feelings wouldn’t have shown up as anything but exclusively heterosexaul in Gary Gates’ study, but he could have been represented as homosexual to some degree in Kinsey et al.’s study.

2) You hope Gary Gates’ figures can finally “put an end to” Kinsey et al.’s numbers? Why? Do you truly want us to be perceived as less numerous than we might actually be?

In the current democratic age it doesn’t help to be seen as less numerous. It’s telling that the anti-gays, when speaking of our numbers, always try to diminish them. They never tire of proclaiming, “They’re only two percent of the population!” Yeah, only two percent of us are openly gay, but we’re just the tip of the LGB iceberg.

And intuitively, it makes sense that we aren’t only 2% or 3.5% of the population: straight people wouldn’t be so wound up about us if that were true. I am intuitively sure that straight male closet cases easily outnumber self-identified gay men.

By the way, good post on a very important subject.

Paul Mc
April 11th, 2011 | LINK

Good post and food for thought for those of us with a smidgin of statistical background. Although UK is different culturally, a very large scale survey found similar results.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/just-15-per-cent-of-britons-are-gay-says-pioneering-survey-2088191.html

The most peculiar thing is the 94% stating that Straight as sexual identity.

The other options were gay/lesbian, bisexual or other – concluding that 1.5% are gay/lesbian/bi seems unusual. I suspect there is a sampling bias – there was an over-representation of professional/managerial and of course big differences in age in relation to readiness to identify as LBG.

My own class in secondary school, 3 people that I know of that are gay out of 60. In another, 2 out of 15 boys were gay. If only 1% was the true figure then this would be highly unlikely set of results.

This isn’t then of the debate – but 10% of people self-identifying as gay seems not to be the case.

enough already
April 11th, 2011 | LINK

And yet – the Kinsey studies aren’t invalid simply because they were done many decades ago.

It strikes me that every single study reaches the conclusions which the questions put to the correspondents predicate.

Ask me whether I play any instruments and I will honestly answer: Yes.
Ask me, however, whether I am any good at the instruments I play and I will answer: Konzertmeister im Orchester mienes Gymnasiums do it for you? As for the piano, well, dogs don’t exactly howl and cats run away…

And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

I was visiting a cousin in Montana about 12 years back or so. Woman came out to the ranch and asked questions for the census. Told her twice, I was just visiting, she still listed me as resident. When I pointed out that that was not right, she pointed out that I was worth my weight in federal monies, so unless I was sitting on my luggage with ticket in hand, she regarded me as resident.

Same thing applies to the people asked, the circumstances under which they are asked and by whom they are asked.

We are comparing apples and oranges here. They’re both fruit (oh, gods, I can just see the PC police reaching for their truncheons) but until we actually have commensurable data, we don’t really know anything. I’m sticking with my gut feeling, based on Europe, the US and travels in the Mid-East of 10% of the world are somewhere in the non-cis-gendered-gen-u-whine-heterosexual range.

Jim Burroway
April 11th, 2011 | LINK

And yet – the Kinsey studies aren’t invalid simply because they were done many decades ago.

Actually, that’s not the reason they are invalid. They are invalid because Kinsey did not use a random sample. Nearly half of the “gay” population was sampled in prisons, juvenile facilities and other institutions. Even on conclusions omitting the detention samples, the data was skewed with regard to gender, race, and education. Gebhard & Johnson, Kinsey’s successors who published his data in a more statistical form, note that because of the non-random nature of Kinsey’s data, that it does not represent a random, statistical sample. But for most of the 20th century, it was the largest, of not the best, dataset we had.

enough already
April 11th, 2011 | LINK

I grant you that the sampled populations were not truly random.

It is, however, enormously difficult, if not impossible to achieve randomness in all aspects of a population group.

His results are not invalid, they are subject to question relative to the bias of the groups sampled.

Which, sadly, can be said to greater or lesser degree about all the other studies on the matter I’ve read.

I’m not saying this to disagree, I’m pointing out that we aren’t doing very much better sixty years on.

In fact, now that we know there are anatomical differences between gay men’s brains and brains of non-gay men, we have to ask whether it is even going to be possible to design studies which don’t weight the inherent capacities which might lead to an over-representation of gay men in certain group (professions or studies requiring better hemispherical coordination) or under-representation in groups which select against female brain structures.

Timothy Kincaid
April 11th, 2011 | LINK

Donny,

Kinsey et al.’s numbers weren’t of who identified as what, but represented people’s sexual thoughts and feelings. A straight-identified closet case who never acted on his lifelong homosexual feelings wouldn’t have shown up as anything but exclusively heterosexaul in Gary Gates’ study, but he could have been represented as homosexual to some degree in Kinsey et al.’s study.

Yes, exactly.

But that is not how his numbers are thrown about. Kinsey’s ten percent is tossed out like it answers the question “how many gay people are there?” It does not.

And as the pertinent question in regards to politics, social advancement, civil equality, and religious inclusion is about gay people, not prison inmates, that is what I try to answer.

I don’t speak for the closet or for the downlow. To the extent that our writings here speak for anyone, it is for those who – to a greater or lesser extent – see themselves as being gay.

Why? Do you truly want us to be perceived as less numerous than we might actually be?

No. But there are no studies – of which I am aware – that suggest that 10% of Americans are gay. Or certainly not in the sense that we can say that they are suffering from discrimination or support equality.

And by now there are plenty-o-folk who know it. So when we come in and say “Mr. Congressman, 10% of your voters are gay and they want…” we are flat out lying. And he probably is aware of that.

And I’m not sure what anyone thinks might be achieved by saying 10% of Americans are GAY but 70% of them are ashamed of it and perfectly capable of living according to heterosexual conventions.

Priya Lynn
May 31st, 2011 | LINK

Timothy said “But there are no studies – of which I am aware – that suggest that 10% of Americans are gay.”.

I posted two such studies. Your pretending they don’t exist won’t make them go away.

Priya Lynn
May 31st, 2011 | LINK

Timothy said “And I’m not sure what anyone thinks might be achieved by saying 10% of Americans are GAY but 70% of them are ashamed of it and perfectly capable of living according to heterosexual conventions.”.

Your finding the idea distasteful doesn’t mean its not true although I would point out that just because many, perhaps most gays aren’t forthcoming about it doesn’t in anyway mean they must be living according to heterosexual conventions.

Priya Lynn
May 31st, 2011 | LINK

And not being forthcoming about one’s orientation doesn’t necessarily mean one is ashamed of it either.

Timothy Kincaid
May 31st, 2011 | LINK

Hey Priya Lynn, the sky is blue!

Okay, now your turn.

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