Are Queer Folks Really In the Minority?
A think piece on the prevalence of queer sexual identities
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This week, I chose to write about a thought I’ve been sitting on for a while. Most of my friends have already heard this thought at some point, but I’d like to share it more widely.
My aim of sharing this is to:
push your thinking on queerness and the prevalence of queer people within our different communities
test the waters to see if there’s anyone out there who has a similar thought or maybe an even completely different perspective on the subject
Very often, when we think of ‘queer folks’, we think of a distant community of strange people in the ether. But what if those queer folks are actually much closer than we think?
Disclaimer: I'm not an expert on gender/sexuality studies. I’m only a 22-year-old man trying to find answers to unusual questions.
I’d like to begin this think piece with a somewhat basic question:
Who is ‘queer’?
I’ll describe queer folks as those who, in their different ways, are not totally heterosexual. I know that in academic theory (and, most importantly, in real life), ‘queer’ identities are a lot broader and a lot more complex than that. But for the sake of simplicity in this piece, please allow me this slack. I beg.
There are two ways I think about people who can be classified as queer.
The first way is based on activity. That is, describing queer people as those who have actually engaged in non-heterosexual sexual acts.
The second way is based on capacity. That is, describing queer folk as those who may or may not have actually engaged in non-heterosexual sexual acts, but are aware of their ability to.
Most of us think about queerness simply based on activity because it’s more blatant, more substantial and, as a result, more measurable.
But what if we included capacity to the way we think about who can be classified as queer? It’s a lot less visible as it mostly only exists in the form of internal monologues and mental pictures. But do we discount those simply because they haven’t manifested yet? I’ll leave you with that.
At the foundation of these different ways of thinking about who can be classified as queer lies a much-contested question:
To what extent does one’s sexual activity influence one’s sexual identity?
There are different schools of thought when it comes to this question, but I belong to the school that believes that one’s sexual activity does affect one’s sexual identity.
I’ll begin my explanation by digging into people’s motivations of engaging in same-sex acts in the first place. I think that people tend to engage in same-sex acts for one of three reasons:
to explore, or
The enjoyment crew 😎
These are the folks who have accepted their queerness (to themselves, at least) and have acknowledged the fact that they enjoy engaging in same-sex acts, however (in)frequently.
The exploratory crew 🥴
These are the folks who engage in same-sex acts to find out if it’s something they’d enjoy. Their curiosities, however, don’t just emerge from out of the blue. Often, you’d find that their curiosities had always been there, latent but suppressed due to a range of personal or societal factors. But when such folks find themselves in a space where they feel free (and safe) enough to explore their curiosities, they almost always do. However, not all of them end up enjoying it. Some try same-sex acts out, enjoy it, and end up permanently leaning more closely to the non-heterosexual spectrum, while others try it and go: “Yeah, no thanks. I’ve tried it. I’m now sure this isn’t for me.” They move on and continue being exclusively heterosexual.
The performative crew 🥲
This crew comprises the gay-for-pay folks and those who engage in same-sex acts simply to arouse another person. The gay-for-pay folks are the straight-identifying folks who only engage in same-sex acts if they’re paid to. Their ability to summon their latent homosexual selves depends on how much you’re offering them for their troubles or how desperate they are for money or other rewards. This category of gay-for-pay is comprised mainly of men. On the other hand, more women tend to fall into the sub-category of folks that engage in same-sex acts simply to arouse another person, usually a man. This isn’t surprising when you consider commentaries that discuss how lesbian action is one of the chief turn-ons for most heterosexual men.
Regardless of which crew Person X may belong to, the underlying truth is that Person X is queer (read: not 100% heterosexual).
Some of my friends have argued that the people in the performative crew and the exploratory crew who dabble in same-sex acts for a bit revert to being exclusively heterosexual can’t be classified as queer because, well, they went back to being straight. That argument makes sense, but I disagree.
Instead of classifying them as straight, I refer to them as ‘mostly straight’—which is actually a real term btw. It’s discussed more broadly under the subject of heteroflexibility, which is in itself a different shade of queer. Confused yet?
I’ll explain that a bit further using a scale that Zibusiso, one of my closest friends, introduced me to a few years ago when I was trying to better understand my sexuality. That scale is referred to as the Kinsey Scale.
Understanding the distribution of sexual identities using the Kinsey Scale
The Kinsey Scale was developed by Alfred Kinsey and two other sexologists (yup, it’s a real thing) in the 1940s to highlight the breadth of diversity in sexual identities. It was groundbreaking at the time because it showed that sexuality wasn’t as binary as people had initially believed. Instead, it’s more of a spectrum.
However, the Kinsey Scale isn’t perfect. While it challenged the existence of binary sexualities, it was designed on the assumption of binary gender identities and, although it’s a great start, it still doesn't encompass the full breadth of sexual identities that exist.
It also focuses only on sexual attraction, without accommodating for romantic attraction. That’s a huge oversight as new thinking shows that sexual attraction and romantic attraction can be mutually exclusive. As in, a 100% straight man who is sexually attracted to only women can still be romantically attracted to another man. That’s a topic I’ll write about another day. Let’s move on.
Despite the limitations of the Kinsey Scale, it’s pertinent here because it’s one of the easiest ways to explain the distribution of sexual identities.
Here’s how I interpret each level on the Kinsey Scale
Level X — asexual; no sexual attraction to anyone
Level 0 — 100% heterosexual; can’t even imagine themselves with someone of the same sex.
Level 1 — 90-99% heterosexual; has fooled around (or is able to) with someone of same sex 1-2 times in their life as one-off experiences
Level 2 — 70-89% heterosexual; fools around (or is able to) with same-sex occasionally but not half as often as with the opposite sex
Level 3 — Your average bisexual, just as regularly fools around (or is able to) with either sex
Level 4 — 70-89% homosexual; fools around (or is able to) with the opposite sex occasionally but not half as often as with the same sex
Level 5 — 90-99% homosexual; has fooled around (or is able to) with someone of the opposite sex 1-2 times in their life as one-off experiences
Level 6 — 100% homosexual; can’t even imagine themselves with someone of the opposite sex.
Returning to the conversation about the different crews of people who engage in same-sex acts, can you start to see how they are all different degrees of queer based on the different levels on the Kinsey Scale?
Let’s say those who experiment with same-sex acts once or twice and revert to being exclusively heterosexual are a level 1 on the Kinsey Scale. Do you see how, based on the scale, even level 1 is some degree of queer? It reads “only slightly homosexual”.
Remember the earlier classification of queer folks I made based on activity and capacity? If we add to the queer spectrum those capacity folks who may not have engaged in any same-sex activity but are aware of their ability to, do you still think queer people will be in the minority?
Another thought experiment…
If we assume that there’s an equal number of people in each level on the Kinsey Scale from x/0 to 6, doesn’t that mean that the people in the minority would be the folks in level 0 who have no iota of homosexuality? If that’s the case, does that mean the folks that have varying degrees of proclivity for homosexuality are actually in the majority?
In other words, does that mean that queer folk are actually in the majority?
As much as I’d like to, I don’t have a solid answer because the underlying assumption of there being an equal distribution across the different levels on the Kinsey Scale is unproven. But it’s still fascinating to think about.
But if the assumption is actually valid and queer people, based on the scale, are actually in the majority, why then does the rest of the world believe that queer people are in the minority?
I have a few thoughts on why that’s the case. Keep reading.
Unpacking why queer folks seem to be in the minority
The widespread belief right now is that queer folks are in the minority and that heterosexuals make up a majority of the world.
But what if, according to this thought experiment, that belief is false? What if the flaw is that the world assumes that everyone who engages in heterosexual sexual activity, however seldomly, is 100% straight? What if that assumption exists simply because the world sees ‘mostly straight’ folks as totally straight? Maybe we just don’t know the difference.
I don’t know for sure why (or if) the belief that queer folks are in the minority is true/false, but I know why it exists and why it’s mainstream.
I think it’s because of two things:
A lot of us go through periods of questioning and experimentation alone and in secret. As a result, we think that it’s only us who are grappling with the idea that we may not be as straight as we think. Internally, we identify and confront our latent/active queerness. Externally, we project total heterosexuality. Because we can’t see what is going on inside other people’s silos, we can only see what’s on the outside—unquestionable heterosexuality. As a result, those who project their queerness externally appear to be uncommon and in the minority.
But what happens when we step into other people’s silos and see that there are a lot more people who are questioning and experimenting? We finally feel like we’re not as alone. That makes us more comfortable to be ourselves. A bit of that is already happening, as the chart below shows.
The past few decades have seen great strides in LGBTQ+ visibility and acceptance. We now see a lot more queer people in books, film and in everyday life. We’ve also seen more portrayals of nuance in the spectrum of sexuality, which has allowed more queer people to feel seen and comfortable enough to lean into themselves.
The chart above is proof. More people in the Gen Z demographic are identifying as queer than any other demographic. There are two ways to interpret that.
We could either be having more queer babies or maybe we’re breaking down the silos that made queer people in the past feel alone in their identity and, as a result, identifying as straight even when they knew they weren’t completely so.
In a lot of places, identifying as ‘queer’ puts a target on your back. In those parts of the world, the queer community is demonised, ostracised, and criminalised. So there’s almost no incentive to identify with the queer community. As a result, a good number of queer people dissociate from the label and the group.
That dissociation is referred to as self-group distancing whereby members of a stigmatised group (eg: LGBTQ+ community) cope with inequality by disengaging with the stigmatised group and assimilating into the non-stigmatised group (eg: the heterosexual community).
When queer people distance themselves from their queerness and clump themselves together with heterosexual folks, it strengthens the numbers of self-identifying straight people. Hence, reinforcing the belief that there are fewer queer people than straight people.
But as the queer community gains wider acceptance, will that make more people comfortable to identify with their queerness? Maybe. Maybe not. There are a lot of internal factors that could further limit the chances of that happening. For example, one’s personal religious beliefs that inform what one considers a sin.
Beyond these two reasons though, it could also be that queer people seem to be in the minority because we actually are in the minority. Either way, it’s interesting to imagine a scenario where that isn’t the case. That is what this piece is about.
This was a challenging piece to write because my thoughts on this are honestly still all over the place, as you might have been able to tell. But the point of this piece was not to change your mind about anything. The point was to present an alternate reality that challenges the way we currently think about the distribution of sexual identities.
As you read more of my newsletters, you’d realise how often I sit and think about things that are contrary to mainstream beliefs. There’s a reason this newsletter is brought to you by a “questioning African centennial.” That’s who I am—a questioner lol.
I hope that through this piece, you’ve been able to also question (or find insight into) things about yourself and the larger society. If you have, I’m happy.
🎉 If you enjoyed this post, please take a quick second to share it on social media or with someone you think would find it interesting.
Currently reading 📖 - The Ride of a Lifetimeby Robert Iger
Currently jamming 🎶 - Precious Loveby James Morrison
Quote of the Week
“In order to learn something, we have to see the abstracted knowledge of the different disciplines that make up the world in our own lives before we can comprehend the way it fits into reality.” — Zat Rana
Hmmm... quite interesting to think about, and I guess we'll find out soon. There's also the subject of "identification" (which you do give a nod towards) i.e. if someone chooses to identify as one or the other (i.e. queer or non-queer), can one really say they are something else even if they have existing traits? I really love reading how you dissect different topics, even the ones that are "non-mainstream" like you call it. Also, I don't think the article read in any way that your thoughts are all over the place haha. Can't wait for the next one!! 💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾
Hey, Arinze. This piece set me off for days. Trust me when I say thinking about this was intense mental gymnastics and a cocktail of emotions. Thank you for the experience.
It's correct to believe the population of queer people is suppressed. There is evidence letting us understand how when a sexual identity is less suppressed, their population tends to increase.
Your thoughts became reified with your proposition of the silo and solo-distancing effects. Brilliant.
I hold a similar opinion. I've preached how sexuality is a spectrum. While I don't believe we are in the majority, I believe arguing heterosexuals are in the majority is just as presumptuous. This is because there isn't enough data or even a methodology to allow us pursue these claims.
I support your notion of one's awareness to be 'capable' of executing non-heterosexual activities. Some of my homegirls identified as homosexuals for the longest time before they had sex. Before then, they had gone ahead to determine the sexual positions they believed most suited them. What can I say? Queer Culture is versatile(pun intended?).
However, I'll push back on considering Gay4Pay folk as invitees to our ball. I don't believe their part-time engagement allows them to be qualified as queer people. Are they having non-hetero sex? Yes. But then, you can't casually call my friends and I who hit stage for karaoke singers. I mean, as much as I'd like my talent to be recognized, I'm still not a singer. Lol.
The idea is: after getting paid, do they lose their cishet privileges? Will they suffer the systemic oppression faced by queers who embody Queer Culture? Will they help us bring the system down? At most, I propose we consider them as allies-- if they are willing to put in the work needed from them.
I believe the concept of being queer accommodates your streamlined definition. But probably as long as it keeps to the notion of Queer Theory. We should note that it is not simply how we are yet to take on a more consistent profile. Rather, its indeterminacy is its constituent characteristic. An identity without an essence.
One thing? To be considered queer, the individual must have OPENLY exhibited elements of being at odds with the normal, legitimate and dominant.
Just like you, my thoughts on this are not fully-formed. I understand making this proposition would mean individuals in the closet are shut out from the community. And this is where I couldn't go on.
I'd like to know your thoughts on this.