Bil Browning

Most Americans now find us adequate human beings

Filed By Bil Browning | May 26, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Gallup Poll, morality

Aren't you grateful and appreciative? For the first time since Gallup started their annual Values and Beliefs survey, more than 50% of Americans now think that our "relations" are "morally acceptable." (What the hell are our "relations?" Do they mean our relationships? Our sex lives? Our basic humanity? I'd like to see them spell it out, because it sure seems like they're asking about our basic humanity to me.)


Now, granted, your perspective of this chart depends on whether you're a glass-half-full type or a half-empty person. The 43% of respondents calling us "morally wrong" is the lowest it's ever been. The change is mostly due to shifting perspectives by men under age 50 and Catholics.

Some of the other results from the poll are even more interesting and conversation-worthy. It's after the jump.


When it comes to where you catch "teh gay," Americans, again, are divided.

The division on this question has been the norm for most of the past decade, although the plurality response has fluctuated. Longer term, however, there has been a major change in Americans' views on this question, with far fewer today than in the 1970s and 1980s believing that being gay or lesbian is the result of upbringing and other life experiences.

Let's just get it right out on the table... No one knows why we have our sexual orientations - whether that's straight, gay or any shade in between. Several scientists are trying to find a genetic reason and most of the scientific community is starting to lean that way. Those are still just theories though; there's not been any concrete evidence to prove anything.

It makes sense that Americans are divided on this question. They could have offered "gay cooties" as an option a good portion could have picked it with just as much faith/proof/guesswork as any of the other religious leaders/scientists/bloggers.

If I were answering the survey, I'd be in the third category: "both." My sexuality is uniquely my own and while I can pinpoint various environmental moments that stuck with me and have influenced my life, they don't answer the basic questions or "Why?" and "How?" adequately enough. I tend to think that there's a genetic switch involved somewhere, but, again, how and why does it get flipped?

What are your thoughts on this? We have a good depth and breadth of experiences here at Bilerico Project so it should be interesting to see all the responses.

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Paige Listerud | May 26, 2010 7:46 PM

Dear Bil,

Please listen to my hair-brained theory.

As a bisexual, I've always had a sneaking suspicion that not all straight people can buy into the "I was born gay. I can't change. Therefore I deserve human and civil rights"--the message that has been the mainstay of mainstream lesbian and gay discourse since the early 70's.

"I was born gay." This statement may be true--like you said, the hard science is still out on that. It's a statement that may make lesbians and gay men feel better about their sexuality, but may not be convincing to straights.

The religious right attacks it constantly to prove us wrong and undeserving of basic civil and human rights.

"I can't change." I'm afraid we fucking bisexuals are to blame for this one. Even though many lesbians and gay men out there still say that bisexuals (pansexuals; fluid sexuality, etc.) don't exist, straight people have been noticing our existence for a long time. Blame it on Freud, blame it on Kinsey, blame it on the bossa nova--but straight people notice fluid sexuality, whether in themselves or in us fucking bisexuals, and they can't get it out of their minds.

Plus, they really don't do a good job at distinguishing between gay/lesbian and bi/pan/fluidsexual. Sorry. It's not my fault. I always tell straight people there's a difference between people whose sexuality is pretty damn fluid and people whose sexuality is "goldstar"--goldstar gay/lesbian or goldstar straight. But, alas, you still find straight people (okay, some bis, too) saying shit like, "Everybody's bisexual."

"Therefore, I deserve human and civil rights." Really? You deserve basic civil and human rights because you CAN'T CHANGE FROM BEING GAY? Is being gay so horribly wrong, is same-sex behavior so beyond the pale of normal human decency, that you only deserve your rights if you CAN'T change?

Yeah. I could never buy/bi into that one. I deserve human right because I'm a human being, motherfucker. If a man can eat pussy and still be considered a human being, then so can I. If a woman can suck cock and still be considered decent, then so can some guy. As for ass-fucking, straight people are gradually getting over the notion that ass-fucking is dirty and degrading. A 2005 CDC study shows that 55% of straight men engage in anal sex and 44% of straight women engage in anal sex; Jon Stewart makes jokes about anal play regularly on The Daily Show; Dan Savage tells straight/LGBTQ readers how to do anal safely and pleasurably; Tristan Taormino, Carol Queen, etc., talk about bend-over boyfriends all the time. Gradually, America is getting over its fear of anal.

Now, if we could also get America over the fear of two men enjoying anal--oh, and fear of gender nonconformity and fear of the freaky bi/pan/fluid sexual queer. And the lesbians who won't take shit from men ('cause they just give the straight and bi women ideas, you know). I think that pretty much covers it. Oh, wait! Shit! I totally forgot! WE HAVE TO GET THEM OVER THE FEAR OF THE QUEER THAT LIVES INSIDE OF THEM! How could I forget that? That was the original Gay Liberation Movement intention.

Paige Listerud | May 26, 2010 8:01 PM

PS--as far as "catching teh gay" goes, someday they will all want to catch teh gay. 'Cause we're fabulous.

I don't know how to answer the question for why people are gay. From what I can gather from the studies on it, people are born with their orientation, a interplay between genes and environment, but not due to upbringing at all. So, I wouldn't comfortable picking both because I don't think upbringing is an aspect of it, but I want to try to be as intellectually honest as possible and include environmental factors.

If by "born with" you mean something biological then my answer is "none of the above".

Whoopee. Most americans think Paris Hilton is the epitome of class.

Well, on the Kinsey Scale, I'm a 6 and always have been since I can remember. The point is that 'WHO FUCKING CARES WHAT STRAIGHT PEOPLE THINK ABOUT GAY SEXUALITY?' We can fight their bigotry in the courts. We do have a US Constitution that guarantees our rights, so fuck them.

Dan Massey | May 27, 2010 12:39 AM

I think Paige just about nailed it. Fabulous discussion.

Queerness is just a willingness to love your fellow human through the erotic. When you lift your partner to the peak of orgasmic joy, you give them the gift of a brief contact with the "live wire" of god's love for them. You are acting as the hand of god to give them joy. And your loving service is rewarded as well.

Although I feel, myself, that sex and gender orientation are inherently flexible, I realize that my ability to feel and live this way is the result of social privileges and choices. I can remember how it felt to be exclusively gay to the point that the concept of bisexuality made me nauseous. But I was inclined towards erotic adventure, so I explored outside gay.

Others will have different experiences based on genetic disposition and life experience. Surely we can accept that neither is the exclusive factor determining sex and gender choices. I am inclined to think that we are all trans in one way or another. And that's the queer that lives inside of all of us. XYs scared of their feminine side. XX's scared of their masculine side.

We need to help humanity get over these crazy fears and learn that omni erotic behaviors are great. Let's initiate the rest of humanity into the joys of queerness in all its varieties!!!!

Dan Massey | May 27, 2010 12:49 AM

Looking back at my remarks, I note I said " and gender choices." I did not mean to suggest choices literally. A better word might have been "preferences." The idea is that this can be a choice for some people and a preference determined by genetics and/or life experience for others. Some will experience no choice, others will find perhaps a few variations, while still others adventure to the far reaches of eroticism, for which the human nervous system has enormous potential.

Paige Listerud | May 27, 2010 1:43 PM

For me, this is the whole point of queer liberation:

1) Accepting yourself. Accepting what you can't change about your sexuality and/or gender identity--things that you really shouldn't have to change, because THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU. YOU'RE NOT HURTING ANYONE. You didn't choose to be attracted to your own gender, or attracted to people regardless of gender, or to feel more like yourself when you're expressing a gender that contradicts social conventions. You didn't choose to feel that way, why feel bad about it?

Plus, THERE'S NOTHING WRONG with feeling the way you do. It may take some time and support to sort it out for yourself out, but YOU'RE NOT HURTING ANYONE, so why beat yourself up? Why allow other people to beat you up?

2) Be proud about the steps you take to fight back against the dehumanization of you. Whether those steps are baby steps--coming out to your very best friend first; bringing up your sexual orientation/gender identity in a chat room; letting yourself enjoy erotic beauty without guilt;, buying those fishnets you've always wanted. Or whether they are bigger steps--coming out to Mom and Dad; standing up against homo/bi/transphobia; not settling for any erasure practiced by anybody on any queer; marching in your first Pride parade; telling the "smear the queer" bully in your high school to fuck off, etc., etc., etc.!

These are the steps that you CHOOSE. Be proud of the CHOICE to not take any more shit about your sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression.

Don't run away from a word like CHOICE, it only gives your enemies something to use against you. If you've been out of the closet for a while, then you've already made thousands of CHOICES to evolve into your full humanity and not put up with someone else's bullshit. Those are choices you can be proud of.

Paige Listerud | May 27, 2010 1:49 PM

PS--thanks for your comments, Dan. You're downright poetic yourself

Allison Wunderland | May 27, 2010 3:13 AM

"Don't ask. Don't care." People want to know my orientation, I tell them I have one. But then I'm at a stage in life where I'm not looking to "hook up" or "get married" or whatever.

Dan Rouse | May 27, 2010 3:19 AM

The change is entirely due to young people coming out earlier and old people dying.

I think Dan is probably right about this. In my experience younger people are far more open-minded and accepting of people who have been marginalized over sexual identity and/or gender identity.

Renee Thomas | May 27, 2010 3:49 AM

I'd be curious if "normal" Americans would find the transfolk in their midst similarly "adequate"?

I expect such speculations might force them (and perhaps by extension you Bil) to confront how such liminal alterity is so inherently disturbing.

Good point, Renee. I suspect that a lot of the people asked include trans identity in their definition of "gay."

I also think that liminality is a key factor in higher rates of anti-trans prejudice. Humans, as a herd animal, seem generally predisposed not to like anything different. What's happening is that fewer young people are seeing gay sexual orientation as something different.

But they see far fewer representations and reports of gender identity that is trans. I think they need to see more, and begin to recognize that we all have a gender identity.

glass-half-full type or a half-empty always depends on whether you are drinking or pouring.

Renee Thomas | May 27, 2010 9:47 AM

Because for the record -

The fact that the subjectivities that we each inhabit (and locomote about in) are themselves variously finite, philosophically corruptible and infinitely malleable is at the core of what scares cisfolk the most.

Paige Listerud | May 27, 2010 1:56 PM

Wow, Renee. I'm sure what you just said is deeply profound and accurate, but it's gone way over my head. I'm a bi/pan activist writer who didn't take any philosophy courses in college. And now I regret it.

A late acquaintance, Alan Bérubé, in a personal discussion, once said that even if one was the only gay person in the world, that person's existence by itself was valid. It is tiring to hear the words "acceptance", "tolerance", and similar, especially so because every other civil nation has leaped far ahead of the USA in social progress. Recognizing that gays/GLBTs are the heart and engine of the creative class is a start, as well as recognizing that we are everywhere, we are everyone. Most acceptance efforts only perpetuate the idea that we are outside of society, rather than being in some manner its heart and soul.The very fact that gay folks have emerged as a global force highlights the intrinsic and vital nature of our presence in humankind. Civil society is progressing to rapidly include an understanding of sexual identity and multiple genders. Those who refuse to acknowledge this reality will live in a paradigm that has failed and that is being replaced.

A. J. Lopp | May 27, 2010 3:01 PM

I find it interesting that, according to this graph, the crossover point occurs in mid-2008, very close to the time that people realized that Obama really does have a good chance at getting elected. Although his GLBT track record as president is disappointing, he was the most GLBT-supportive candidate this nation has seen to date, I would say even better than Bill Clinton.

Is this correlation relevant? I don't know, but I suspect it may be. Lively presidential races can change the attitudes of a lot of people on a lot of issues.

P.S. I've always thought the "I was born gay and can't change and thus deserve civil rights" argument was a lot of baloney. Civil rights includes the rights of individuals to make choices, including the right for straight people to have gay sex and/or gay relationships if they decide there is a good reason for them to do so.

A. J. Lopp | May 27, 2010 3:08 PM

P.P.S. I'm with you, Bil, on the causation of homosexuality --- or heterosexuality, for that matter. It is an intricate interaction of genetics and development, and I expect it might still be many decades before a coherent theory about this interplay (between genes and environment, I mean) emerges --- and alas, I fear it may not show up within my lifetime.

jami_bantry jami_bantry | May 28, 2010 11:39 AM

Yes, A.J., I agree, including all the sexual activities that "hetero" Human Beings engage in private, albeit supposedly, with the opposite anatomical sex, while still claiming to be "normal:" activities like, BSDM, leather wear, latex, and a whole "realm" of "hetero-normal" sexual activities.

"Hetero-normal"... until someone finds out. Then, all of a sudden, it is "Gay," "perverted," "sick," etc.

Ahhh... the bedrooms of "hetero-normal" Human Beings... if the mainstream devisive media could only be the "fly on the wall."


A. J. Lopp | May 29, 2010 2:04 AM

True ... and as for being gay, some men are into hairy, muscle-clad leather-daddies, and others of us are into chicks-with-dicks ... and so on ... and all that variation fits into the one term "gay". Does this give cred to Alex's point, above, that possibly many of us are gay or become gay for very different reasons?

Part of the problem with finding the cause of various sexual orientations is that people are looking for "the" cause - most likely different gay people are gay for different reasons, etc. Which only makes it more complicated.

People should get over what causes people to be gay, I know, but it is closely related to how they feel they need to treat us. Maybe, like Paige implies, the folks who are more likely to think that homo/bisexuality is "environmental" are attracted at least a little bit to the same sex and they think that they're controlling it by being in a straight relationship? Might explain a chunk of that population.

Renee Thomas | May 27, 2010 10:15 PM

You know Paige,

I don't think it requires a degree in philosophy. People in general are not afraid of what you do (for it’s indeed primarily fear and not disgust which motivates here) - they're afraid of what you are . . . of what your existence represents.

Liminality is dangerous to an "orderly" society but not for the reasons you might think. Those who, in an act of individual agency, willingly enter the liminal space have the potential to render as entirely meaningless, mistakenly conflated constructions of gender and sexuality or more elemental concepts of embodiment that depend on the more pervasive and time-honored illusions of permanence and solidity which the mere existence of the liminoid completely undermines. Yet, if society depends upon these illusions for its very raison d'être is not society’s response already more than evident?

We don't want to hear that truth . . . their truth – we find killing the messenger to be so much more reassuring . . . and convenient.

Once gay "relations" become acceptable, the antigay bigots have lost. The right wingers already admit that being gay isn't wrong; they now say that only gay behavior is wrong. Once a majority rejects even that notion, the only real argument for denying gay people their rights disappears.

Granted, we could be surer that the bigots have lost if we knew what "relations" are supposed to be. I'm guessing gay sex. The problem is that survey respondents will interpret the question in various ways. Gallup needs to ask two questions, one about gay sex and the other about gay relationships.

On the causes of sexual orientation, I think there's a good deal more certainty than we're recognizing here. At least 15 years ago, a scientist examined dead people's brains and found that part of the anterior hypothalamus was much smaller, on average, in gay men than in straight men. Researchers have found that the lesbians have shorter index fingers, in comparison with their middle fingers, than straight women, and the reverse is true of men. Gay men and straight men have the same average height, but straight men are generally closer to that average than gay men, who are more likely to be either tall or short. Gay men are better endowed than straight men by about one inch. Both lesbians and gay men show greater testosterone activity than heterosexuals. Gay men and straight men have different body hair patterns.

Such a plethora of biological differences are difficult to explain unless there are biological, and probably genetic, factors underlying sexual orientation. These findings also refute the notion of choice: no one chooses to be tall or to have a short middle finger.

Finally, twin studies show that the fraternal twin of a gay man is likely to be gay, and the identical twin, even more likely. This points clearly to genetic causation. The latest line of research shows epigenetic differences, too, between gay men and straight men. As usual, research on women has been neglected.

Still, we're way past the point where we have no idea what causes sexual orientation. Most scientists agree that there is a strong genetic component, but that environmental factors also play a role. Of course, many environmental factors are biological or even prenatal. Suppose a gay orientation were caused by high levels of testosterone in the uterus. This would be an environmental factor rather than a genetic one, but we could still say that sexual orientation is inborn.

It also seems clear that the causes are different for different people. For some gay men, testosterone in the uterus is influential. For other gay people, it makes little or no difference.