Research around the world indicates that the number of people identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual is gradually increasing.
For example, data taken from the UK’s annual population survey - which collects information on self-perceived sexual identity from people aged 16 and over - reveals that the number of people that identify as something other than 'straight' has increased from 1.6% in 2014 to 2.2% in 2018. If we look at people aged between 16-24, those numbers increase dramatically - up to 4.4%.
Looking at self-identification statistics such as these gives us some insights, but it's obviously not the whole picture. There will also be social and cultural factors at play when we try and compare statistics across different countries.
It's likely that a rising number of people self-identifying as queer doesn't mean that more queer people are being born, but rather that more people are feeling confident enough to describe themselves as queer.
But what makes us queer?
“It’s a big question…” replied Dr Qazi Rahman, when I quizzed him about queer sexuality. “The short answer is – because of non-social and biological factors.”
Dr Rahman is an expert in human sexuality. He’s a senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience in London.
“We know genetic factors are important in male sexual orientation…” explained Dr Rahman. “About a third of the differences in male sexual orientation are due to genetics. But genes aren’t the whole story.”
“Two thirds of the differences in people’s sexual orientation is to due other biological factors – most likely sex hormones during life in the womb. Girls that are born with congenital adrenal hyperplasia - which results in naturally increased levels of male sex hormones during early life in the womb - show high rates of same-sex attractions as adults. Genetic males who undergo sex reassignment procedures and are reared as girls – because of conditions which mean they were born without male genitalia – are typically attracted to women as adults. The fact that you can’t make a genetic male sexually attracted to another male by raising him as a girl makes any social theory of sexuality very weak indeed. Family environment on the other hand, is not at all important. Your parents can’t make you gay by the way they raised you.”
“The evidence for social causes of homosexuality – sexual recruitment by other homosexual adults, disordered patterns of parenting, or social tolerance – is very weak or non-existent. Gay people have same-sex desires before they act on their desires by many years. So, same-sex desires come before same-sex sexual behaviour – that means that having gay sex can’t make you gay. The children of gay and lesbian parents are no more likely to be gay than the population base rates. Gay men report being somewhat distant from their fathers, but when you account for the fact that gay men are gender non-conforming as children, this link disappears – parents may respond negatively to gender non-conforming behaviour in their kids. Gender non-conformity is also genetically influenced.”
“People in gender studies, queer theory, and social sciences might argue that sexuality is a social construction, or claim that homosexuality is a word that the Victorians invented in the 1860s. This is false. The historical record from different cultures shows that gay people defined by their same-sex attractions – as a “type of person” – existed well before the 1800s. Typologies for same-sex attracted individuals can be traced back to ancient times. In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes describes gay and lesbian lovers. Ancient Indian medical texts from the 1st century contain descriptions of same-sex attracted people, as do texts from the medieval period. Same-sex attracted people have existed throughout history and in many cultures across the world. This near-universal expression goes against any social construction argument.”
So, where does that leave us?
There's nothing new about the existence of people. We're still learning about what makes us queer, but the more visible we are as a community then the more that other queer people will have the confidence to identify as part of the LGBTQ community.