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Why Aren’t There More Gay People?


Watching the culture war over gay marriage, you would expect homosexuality to be rampant in America. Not even close.

I have a sensitive, inconvenient, and undoubtedly politically incorrect question: Why aren’t there more gay people?

I ask because there’s something confusing about our “culture war.” Given the prominence of the issue, you would expect homosexuality to be rampant in America. When asked to estimate how many gay people there are, most people guess that it’s on the order of 20% to 25% of the population. But yet another study has been released by the CDC giving a more scientific estimate, and it finds that almost 97 percent of Americans describe themselves as straight — the actual number who describes themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual is 2.3%. So the public’s perception is off by a whole order of magnitude.

It’s almost as if someone has been conspiring to elevate this issue way beyond its actual cultural significance. That is precisely what we find, and both sides are to blame.

For the moderate left, gay rights have to be magnified as a social issue because they want to keep alive the legacy of the civil rights movement. They know how much they gained by remaking the Democratic Party, the home of the old Dixiecrats, into the party that claims exclusive credit for the entire civil right movement—while smearing Republicans as racists. Their exaggeration of the culture war over homosexuality is partly an attempt find a new civil rights movement to fight over so they can maintain a manufactured moral high ground.

This explains why they demand, not merely tolerance for homosexuals, but a kind of mandatory obeisance enforced by the state. You don’t want to actively cooperate in gay marriages by, say, making their wedding cakes? Too bad. You will be tolerant, you bastard, or we’ll bash you over the head.

This also explains a lot of bizarre proposals that can only be described as a form of trolling: deliberate attempts to provoke an outraged reaction. I’m talking about things like demanding as a matter of principle that transsexuals be allowed to use school restrooms that correspond to their artificial gender identity rather than their biological one. If homosexuals are about 2.3% of the population, transsexuals are a much smaller group. Even an analysis that argues that their number is underestimated (if you include many who are not out of the closet) still places the figure two to three orders of magnitude smaller—from about one tenth of one percent to one one-hundredth of a percent of the population. Such cases are so rare that you would think they could be dealt with reasonably in their individual and local contexts. But no, it has to be magnified into a national social cause, and anyone who’s not on board has to be denounced as a bigot, just as bad as an enforcer of Jim Crow.

Why? Because the left needs a new civil rights movement, and they will try to manufacture one wherever they can.

For the far left, there is a worse motive. They take up homosexuality as a cause precisely because it is out of the mainstream. Some of them are even regretting their largely successful campaign for gay marriage, because it might end up (literally) domesticating homosexual relationships, when their real goal was to make sure that “existing social institutions are abolished.” Hence one of the well-noted contradictions of the left: that marriage is only something to be celebrated when gay people do it. To these leftists, homosexuals are only interesting insofar as they can be used as an instrument of subversion.

So what about the other side?

Part of the reason I don’t really care about homosexuality as a social issue is that I’m an atheist, so I don’t view other people’s sexual preferences or practices as having any theological significance as some kind of metaphysical offense against God. In which case: live and let live.

The other reason is that I don’t see homosexuality as having any great cultural significance, either. This is not the first time that I’ve heard the real scientific statistics about the number of homosexuals. Some of the first proper studies on this came out in the 1980s, and the results were pretty much the same. What strikes me is how invariant the number of homosexuals is. Over the past three or four decades, public awareness and acceptance of homosexuality has grown by leaps and bounds, yet none of this seems to have made any converts.

This implies that homosexuality is a preference not amenable to ordinary social pressures. No one becomes gay just because it’s cool now. The gays will always be with us, so to speak, but they will be a relatively small subculture, somewhere on the order of Renaissance Fairs or, say, Star Trek conventions (not that there’s anything wrong with it!). Again, live and let live.

Which is to say that homosexuality only plays a leading role in the culture to the extent that it is recruited as a stalking horse for some larger social force — as we saw above, the far left’s desire to smash all institutions that might compete with the state. Religious conservatives may argue that gay rights and gay marriage are somehow the thin end of the wedge, but it’s a lot more reasonable to regard them as the tail wagging the dog.

Let’s put it this way: which is a more important issue, a couple of hundred thousand gay marriages — or the millions of heterosexual couples who, for larger social reasons, are not getting married and not forming stable relationships, with all of the negative consequences for their own lives and the lives of their children?

Perhaps it’s time to spend a little less time worrying about gay marriage and more time worrying about plain old regular marriage, among other cultural disasters.

In effect, the religious right and the cultural left have formed a kind of Baptist-and-bootlegger coalition to inflame this particular cultural issue beyond its actual importance in the real word. A conservative friend of mine recently noted to me how bizarre it will be a decade from now to find out that still just 2 percent of Americans are gay, that perhaps 15 percent of them are married, and that the country overturned millennia-old traditions and had a huge culture war to accommodate the sensitivities of about half a million people.

It would be equally strange if those who say they want to work for the moral reform of our culture let themselves be preoccupied for decades by such a small issue.

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