Who cares? If you’re a guy who is sexually attracted to other guys, that’s how it is and it has nothing to do with me. Live and let live. If the stats of the latest Gallup Poll are accurate, then so be it. And it’s possible that they are, but not very likely. What they appear to be is another reflection of the youthful ideological self-indulgence, a certain cohort of Gen Z putting on a performance for the benefit of rebelling, being hip, proving their wokeness.
On one level, what difference does it make if Gen Z respondents want to self-identify as being 11.5% bisexual, or that there is a higher percentage identifying as transgender than lesbian? After all, if that’s what they claim, it doesn’t change anything for anyone else, right? And is it not a wonderful thing that young people feel uninhibited from acknowledging their sexual orientation or gender identities? Is it not a sign of progress that the stigma attached to being non-conforming allows people to freely identify as whatever they are?
This should be treated as good news for individual liberty. Resist the urge to see this necessarily as some sort of folly of youth or of the kids trying to be “trendy.” While the percentages look big, it still only amounts to a small increase in the total population self-identifying as LGBT.
Scott Shackford isn’t wrong when he argues that this reflects a freedom that didn’t exist a generation ago. But what is less clear is what aspect of individual liberty is at stake here. Is it the freedom to be gay or trans? The freedom to identify as LGBT? Is it the freedom to have choices and not be “pigeonholed” by societal expectations? Or is it the freedom claim to be something you’re not, whether because it’s trendy or because you believe that by identifying as transgender even if you don’t have gender dysphoria you are supporting the cause?
As there’s no cost to identifying oneself as lesbian or trans in a poll like this, and as the narrative of sexuality has moved beyond “preference” to gender orientation, one would assume a flattening of the statistics. Boomers who might not have been willing to admit, to themselves or others, that they were gay would be willing to say so for the sake of a poll. Millennials, too. But the numbers don’t reflect any consistency, and while some degree of differentiation would be expected, the differences are huge. If people are “born that way,” then how is it possible that only 0.3% of Boomers identify as bisexual when 11.5% of Gen Z does? Can it be that 0.2% of Boomers are trans when 1.8% of Gen Z is?
There is, of course, the possibility that Boomers deny their sexual orientation, or that Gen Z feels far freer to admit it. Maybe even embrace it as a badge of honor or courage.
The alternative is that the identities are performative. One suggestion is that Gen Z women claim to be bisexual, not because they have any sexual interest in other women, but because being sexually “curious” is, as Shackford calls it, “trendy,” or that it costs nothing to claim to be bisexual since you get to enjoy the panache of being non-conforming while still getting to have sex with the gender you prefer.
As for the skyrocketing percentage of transgender identification, there is a schism between people who are transgender in the sense of dysphoria and people who feel that it frees them from being labeled as male or female. They don’t want to conform, so they choose to identify as transgender, even if they’re not. Whether this helps those who are really transgender, by upping the numbers to create the appearance of far larger numbers than reality supports, is a question. After all, it similarly waters down the meaning and significance of being transgender. Will people who use transgender as their identifier to avoid categorization seize the narrative of what it means from people who are really transgender?
The increase in the number of LGBT self-identification is a positive result of allowing people to define themselves and their sexual identities absent government pressures forcing them to conform to majority preferences in order to enjoy the same rights granted to everyone else.
The extent to which “government pressures” impact the enjoyment of “the same rights granted to everyone else” is very much the issue. Putting aside the awkward phrasing of rights being “granted” by the government, polls like this significantly influence our understanding of how government policy should be formulated. Is something a big problem or a little problem? How much of our scarce resources should be dedicated to addressing a problem? If it affects one person, maybe not too much. If it affects 11.5% of the population, maybe a lot. And what do we do when rights and interests conflict and we need to decide whose rights prevail?
And then there’s a less-than-freedom aspect that goes with weaponizing characteristics that might not be as immutable as others, as reflected in Hate Crime laws and the Equality Act, where freedom and fortune are at risk by claims of gender identity. For some, this is about treating non-conforming gender identities with “dignity and respect,” and who can argue against such an obvious good? But when it’s used to enhance punishment or immunize employees from termination or oversight, it becomes a potent weapon ripe for abuse.
If the numbers reflected in the Gallup Poll are legitimate, then that’s what they are. And that’s fine. But if the numbers are performative, woke young people pretending to be something they aren’t whether because it’s the cool thing to do or they believe that it furthers the interests of a marginalized group, then these polls skew our understanding of the nature and magnitude of the issue and what to do about it.
If we’re all in this society together, then it doesn’t serve our mutual interests to formulate policy based on misinformation. And yet, experience suggests that people will seize on numbers like this as gospel and use them to demand change, not thinking far enough ahead of what that change will mean for society as a whole.