The Gayest Generation: Trans people’s powerful role in the LGBT demographic shift

It’s fantastic news by any measure: Gallup’s latest poll reports that 5.6% of U.S. adults now identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, compared to only 4.5% just a few years ago.

And Gen Z (defined here as those born from 1997 to 2002) has emerged as the least heterosexual, least cisgender generation ever recorded, with 15.9% identifying as LGBT compared to 9.1% of Millennials (born 1981–1996) and 3.8% of Gen X.

Specifically, Gen Z adults are vastly more likely than Millennials to be gay, more likely to be lesbian, more likely to be bisexual, and more likely to be transgender — a rising rainbow tide.

What’s not to like? Well, to journalist Glenn Greenwald, this poll is just a gift horse and it’s his turn to play dentist:

Adjacent to this data showing that lesbians comprise 0.4% of Boomers, 0.7% of Gen X, 0.8% of Millennials and 1.4% of Gen Z, Greenwald cites that “famed lesbian” Katie Herzog, who claims that “lesbian as a category itself” is “disappearing”.

Is this what a “decrease in the lesbian population” looks like? Compared to Millennials, the proportion of Gen Z that identifies as trans has grown by 50% — and the proportion that identifies as lesbian has grown by 75%.

How can the former be “more people” and the latter be a “decrease”?

Greenwald may also have overlooked the fine print of the previous table, which indicates that “lesbian” and “transgender” are not wholly separated category bins with individuals only able to fall into one bin at most:

“Respondents may choose more than one category.” “You can select as many as apply.” And in the case of trans people, many do apply.

Being trans is not a sexual orientation — trans people have a sexual orientation just as cis people have a sexual orientation.

Those respondents who identified themselves as trans may also have identified themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. In fact, they most likely did: the trans population offers a disproportionately rich vein of queer sexuality compared to the cis population.

The 2017 UK National LGBT Survey (Annex 3) found:

  • 16% of trans men identified as heterosexual, and a total of 69% identified as gay, bisexual, pansexual, or queer.
  • Similarly, only 15.8% of trans women were heterosexual, and 69.7% identified as gay/bi/pan/queer.
  • Altogether, among trans men, trans women, and nonbinary people as well, only 9.4% were straight, and 73.1% were gay/bi/pan/queer.

Greenwald, on the basis of apparently nothing more than an arbitrary sense of when up actually means down, has proposed that a growth in the trans population must come from a reduction in the lesbian population.

But we already know there has been no reduction in the lesbian population at all, only an even more dramatic increase. Most strikingly, because of the overwhelming queerness of the trans population, the fact of more trans people in the population functionally equates to more lesbians, more gay people, and more bisexuals.

We don’t take away from queer people, we add significantly to the population of queer people — because we broadly are queer people:

  • Adding 1,000 trans people to the population — trans men, trans women, and nonbinary people — would at the same time add 731 queer people and 94 straight people to the population.
  • Adding 1,000 cis people to the population, according to Gallup, would only succeed in adding 52 lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, and 867 straight people.

This isn’t simply a matter of whether growth in the trans population does or does not “take away from” the population of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. The effect here isn’t absent — it’s very real. It’s just the very opposite of what Greenwald believes it to be.

If you want the most gay and lesbian bang for your buck, if you really want the population of gays and lesbians to accelerate out of control (and who doesn’t?), you shouldn’t just put away this tired argument and leave us be.

You should be begging for more trans people.

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Trans feminist writer, researcher, and activist. Creator of Gender Analysis. Florida. She/her.

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Zinnia Jones

Trans feminist writer, researcher, and activist. Creator of Gender Analysis. Florida. She/her.