Polling company Gallup reports that the number of Americans identifying as LGBT is up to an all-time high, at 5.6%, and that this identification is especially high amongst the younger generations. Most surprisingly to a lot of people, I think, has been the rise in the number of (declared) bisexuals, which you can see from the numbers above has shot up considerably in recent generations. Likewise the number of (declared) trans folk is way up in younger generations than it is in previous generations. But in every case, the number of folks who are out in each generation is growing.
This will no doubt freak out some extremely conservative “family values” folks — the recruiting is working! — but I think the reason for the rise is pretty obvious: The number of LGBT people across all generations is almost certainly constant, what’s changed is the level of open social acceptance that comes with being LGBT. There’s a huge inflection point in identifying as LGBT that starts with Millennials, who are the demographic group who came of age when same-sex marriage started becoming legal in the US; Gen Z is the first group becoming adults in an era where it is completely legal.
Millennials and Gen Z are also the demographic groups who regularly see positive and varied LGBT representation in common culture, with, I think, trans representation being especially changed in recent years. As a Gen X person, nearly all my pop culture trans people were people with something to hide, played for comedy or disgust. Millennials and Gen Z get to see trans people in a far wider range of roles and situations, and sympathetically. And that matters. When you see yourself, you can be yourself.
Not that we live now live in a perfect world for LGBT folks, of course, particularly for trans folks. Transphobia is the new conservative hotness these days; having lost all the other culture wars, this is where they’ve decided to plant their flag. As someone who knows and cares for trans folk, it’s exasperating (to use the mildest possible term for it) to see the conservative outrage machine revving up on them. But that’s American conservatism for you, isn’t it. The American conservative prayer is Jesus Christ, let me have someone punch down on. Trans people are who they’re punching down on today.
Also, seeing the increase in the number of people identifying as bisexual, the thought I immediately had was I bet that’s driven by women. Anecdotally, the number of women I personally know who identify as bisexual is far higher than the number of men who do so. The Gallup poll seems to bear out that anecdotal observation of mine: “Women are more likely to identify as bisexual — 4.3% do, with 1.3% identifying as lesbian and 1.3% as something else. Among men, 2.5% identify as gay, 1.8% as bisexual and 0.6% as something else.” I personally don’t suspect women are actually more bisexual than men; I think men think they lose “man points” for coming out as bisexual. Patriarchy! It’s a hell of a drug.
(Also, not appearing in this poll: Non-binary, genderfluid and ace folks, who, again anecdotally, I see far more openly represented in Millennials and Gen Z than I do in older generations. I’d be curious to see the numbers there and how they interact with the other components of the queer spectrum, in terms of identity.)
We have more work to do before everyone feels free to be who they are. But it’s still nice to see more people feeling they can be so. If you feel more able to be who you are today, then I’m happy for you. And if you don’t well, I hope I can be part of making the world be a place where you feel you can.