Provocative data from Gallup, destined to lead to a debate over whether behavior is changing in younger adults or merely the candor with which they admit their sexual preferences relative to their elders. Either way, the numbers are dramatic: While a mere 5.6 percent of American adults identifies as LGBT, the share of Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2002) that does so is 15.9 percent, roughly three times as much.
Is America turning gayer?
Or are the kids just more honest about what they’re into than grandma and grandpa are?
The grayer the generation, the fewer people you find who call themselves LGBT. There’s a cultural component to that, obviously: If you were raised to believe that being queer in any way was shameful, that lesson may stick with you despite the sea change in social attitudes in the last few decades. Older adults are also more likely to be married than Zoomers are, obviously. Go figure that someone who’s young and single might be more willing to cop to a same-sex attraction than someone who’s been hitched for 25 years and looking to avoid an awkward conversation with their spouse.
The most interesting — and unsurprising — detail is that the biggest share of the self-identified LGBT cohort by far is bisexuals. Among all LGBT adults, nearly 55 percent say they’re bisexual; among Generation Z, it’s 72 percent. In fact, compare each category across generations here and you’ll find that in only one is there a dramatically higher share of Zoomers identifying that way than older adults. Guess which.
Inevitably in a poll like this you run into the question of “What qualifies as ‘bisexual’?” Is attraction to one person of the same sex enough? Multiple people of the same sex? Does a single same-sex experience qualify or do you need to date someone of your own sex to be properly “bisexual”? Different people may identify with the term for different reasons. But that’s the point of the poll ultimately, to test how comfortable people feel identifying themselves with a particular type of orientation. Maybe there’s a lot more bisexual activity happening among Zoomers — or maybe bisexuality has acquired enough cultural cachet as an indicator of tolerance or open-mindedness that some young adults are *eager* to identify that way. Jesse Singal knows:
2/ OBVIOUSLY some of this is people who are really LGBT in a deep-down sense finally feeling free to say so, which is great. But to pretend that, at a time when even 50something women married to men are coming out as ‘queer,’ doing so doesn’t bring you any currency is delusional.
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) February 24, 2021
It may be, in other words, that there’s something of a reverse stigma for younger adults that’s liberating them to identify as bisexual that doesn’t exist for older ones. In that case, Gen Zers may have a lower threshold for what qualifies as bisexual than, say, Baby Boomers do. For Boomers, nothing short of a same-sex experience might qualify. For Zoomers, same-sex attraction may be enough.
Glenn Greenwald flags this revealing detail. Self-identified bisexuals who are coupled up are waaaaay more likely to be in opposite-sex relationships than same-sex ones:
Of Americans now claiming “bi” identity, the vast majority of them in long-term relationships are in opposite-sex relationships (33%) rather than same-sex ones (3.7%).
So 10 times more people who identify as “bi” live in hetero-appearing relationships than gay/lesbian ones: pic.twitter.com/iOIM0tv2ON
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) February 24, 2021
Women are more than twice as likely as men to identify as bisexual, with 4.3 percent calling themselves that versus just 1.8 percent of males who say so. A guess, then: Many of the self-identified bisexuals in this poll are women who are mostly attracted to men, have had one or more same-sex experiences at some point, but feel more comfortable than older women do in identifying as bi because of growing cultural acceptance for nontraditional sexual identifies over the last 20 years.
As for the surprising fact that more Zoomers now identify as trans than lesbian, Greenwald and Katie Herzog have an interesting theory about that.