Wikipedia's article on "Acquired Homosexuality" begins:
Acquired homosexuality is the discredited idea that homosexuality can be spread, either through sexual "seduction" or "recruitment" by homosexuals or through exposure to media depictions.
Au contraire! As I explain in my book on human genetics, twin and adoption researchers have long credited some version of this “discredited” idea. While almost all studies find that genetics matters, virtually none asserts that the heritability of sexual orientation is even close to 100%. Ergo, homosexuality must, to some extent, be “acquired.” While that hardly implies that any specific mechanism - such "recruitment" or "media depictions" - works, the idea that homosexuality can be spread is the unheralded scientific consensus.
Recently, however, the evidence in favor of acquired homosexuality has become overwhelming. Check out the results of the latest Gallup poll on LGBT orientation.
The numbers for bisexuality are especially shocking. Over the course of five generations, bisexual identity has multiplied by a factor of 75! Lesbian identity has multiplied twenty-fold, transgender identity ten-fold. Even gay identity is six times as common in Generation Z as among traditionalists.
What's going on? The answer is clearly not, “Gay genes exploded in the population.” Gays have far fewer biological children than straights. Fertility was conceivably equal back when almost all gays lived in the closet, but there can be little doubt that during the last fifty years, gay genes have become less prevalent.
Could the rising LGBT share merely reflect the decline of closeting? In part. Still, if that’s the whole story, why is there such a massive generational pattern? Why would older LGBTs stay in the closet as the stigma plummets?
You could appeal to age-segregated social circles. Octogenarians fret more about the intolerance of fellow octogenarians, and draw little comfort from the tolerance of today's teen-agers. But the elderly plainly care about the opinions of close family members - and the older you get, the more likely your close family members are to be markedly younger than you are. Nevertheless, Traditionalists' total LGBT share still sums to just 1%.
The evidential elephant in the room is the massive shift from Gen X to Gen Z. Being part of Gen X, I confidently assert that we were far less intolerant than earlier generations. Yet our self-reported LGBT share stayed under 5%. Even if later generations turned the intolerance dial down to zero, why would this relatively minor change multiply Gen Z's numbers more than four-fold?
Another weakness of the closeting story is that mainstream stigma against bisexuals was always milder than against any of the other groups. Yet it is bisexuality that has exploded.
You could argue that stigma has actually reversed, leading young straights to closet as LGBT. This might be true in rare social bubbles, but it's still hard to believe this is common. Even if your parents are officially gay-positive, mild parental dismay when you come out is probably the norm.
What’s really going on? The best stories are the very mechanisms that Wikipedia dismisses: recruitment and the media.
Let’s start with “recruitment.” On reflection, this is just a slightly conspiratorial synonym for socializing. When the Mormons next door invite you to come to their church, you could call it “recruitment,” “outreach,” or “just being neighborly.” Tomato, tomahto. Whatever you call it, this is a good way to make more Mormons.
Similarly, the more openly LGBT people you socialize with, the more likely you are to consider giving their lifestyle a try - especially if the costs of trying are low. When stigma falls, this doesn’t merely lead confirmed LGBTs to come out of the closet; it also means that lots of straight-by-default people start socializing with LGBTs. Which is a good way to make more LGBTs.
Don’t misunderstand me. Some people won’t become gay, no matter how many gays they know, just as some people won’t become Mormon, no matter how many Mormons they know. None of that changes the obvious fact that hanging out with Group X causally raises the chance that you become an X. And one strong predictor of hanging out with Group X is outreach by Group X.
This is especially clear for the orientation with off-the-charts growth: bisexuality. The current cost of "trying" bisexuality is low. You barely have to act on it. Even today, self-identified bisexuals rarely marry - or even co-habit - with same-sex partners. So why adopt the label? To live in communion with LGBT friends… even if you live a nearly-straight lifestyle.
Much the same goes for the “media” channel. As Michael Chwe might observe, positive media depictions of LGBTs create common knowledge that (a) LGBTs exist, and (b) prestigious people like them. Both of these, at minimum, lead to “questioning”; and once many people question their straight identity, at least a modest share will reach an LGBT answer.
Lurking in the background is a deeper force than either recruitment or the media: human conformity. Human beings naturally want to “fit in” with other people around them. Implication: Small behavioral changes readily snowball over time. Being the first person to call yourself an X is terrifying. Being the tenth person to call yourself an X is daunting. As the number of self-identified X’s grows, however, the fear falls. Once you reach critical mass, people may call themselves an X first, and ask questions later.
You might think that sexual identity is too ingrained to change. The Gallup poll says that for the elderly, that’s basically true. Younger people’s identities, however, have turned out to be much more flexible than I ever would have imagined back in the 1980s. Though granted, the identity that has grown the most is the identity that asks the least.
Behavioral geneticists have long emphasized that heritability estimates are relative to your sample. If you collect all your data in a given year, genes will explain almost all the variation in height. If you collect height data for a full century, however, you’ll discover big environmental effects. The same holds even more strongly for the genetics of sexuality. At any given point in time, genes are important, but are far from the whole story. Yet over time, the LGBT phenotype is exploding while the LGBT genotype is imploding. However you evaluate these changes, that’s the world we live in.
Alright, this is the first time I've actually commented on a Substack. I guess this is also where I publicly come out as bisexual since it's relevant to the conversation & can hopefully shed some light. While I find your argument interesting, I think you make a few errors in your reasoning:
You question the decline of closeting by asking: "Why would older LGBTs stay in the closet as the stigma plummets?"
Here, I think you underestimate the power of the status quo. I've talked to quite a few people who have always considered themselves straight, but when the topic of sexuality arises they admit *some level* of homosexuality/homosexual ideation. But these are people with children, sometimes grandchildren, who have been married for decades. There's no conscious or subconscious driver for them to identify as bisexual; they are unlikely to act on it or actualize their sexuality, therefore the risk/reward metric is against coming out. At best, nothing changes. At worst, maybe their spouse or children etc. feel betrayed. I'll specify: I'm not claiming that these people feel repressed against coming out etc. My position is that they've lived as straight for decades, so why bother thinking about their sexuality? They're doing just fine as is.
You then state: "Another weakness of the closeting story is that mainstream stigma against bisexuals was always milder than against any of the other groups. Yet it is bisexuality that has exploded."
I think this fact *supports* the closeting story if anything. Think about it: someone who is only same-sex attracted is more likely to come out regardless of stigma because they are unable to live a romantic life without coming out. However, someone who is able to live a perfectly content life with only opposite-sex partners despite some same-sex attraction has a greater barrier to coming out due to stigma. The decline of anti-gay stigma reduces the perceived costs for coming out, allowing those edge cases (bisexuals) to feel freer to identify as they wish.
Additionally, I would argue that the reduced stigma has further allowed bisexuals like myself to attach words to their attractions. Throughout my entire childhood, growing up in a conservative Christian household with zero engagement/recruitment opportunities, I still held some attraction to my male peers. But in the absence of words to explain these feelings, I viewed these as nothing more than intrusive thoughts, much like the French l'appel du vide (call of the void)—you know, the voice that tells you to swerve into oncoming traffic or step off the cliff despite you having zero suicidal ideation. The reduction of stigma gave me tools to reassess how I feel toward different sexes and realize that while I'm mostly sexually attracted to women, I also hold some sexual attraction toward men.
Additionally, when you say "Younger people’s identities, however, have turned out to be much more flexible than I ever would have imagined back in the 1980s," I wonder what your understanding was of the counterculture of the late 60s and 70s. From the Stonewall Riots to hippie/"free love" culture, I wonder if this is just a failure of imagination on the part of 1980s Bryan and people like him. This isn't a moral judgement, but simply an observation with 20/20 hindsight that the signs have always been there that peoples' sexualities are very flexible, especially at earlier ages where "experimentation" (sexual and non-sexual) is frequent.
You then say "the identity that has grown the most is the identity that asks the least."
I think this gets back to the decline of closeting issue. If my coming out is not necessary for me to live a fulfilling romantic and family life, why would I—a man married to a woman—do so in the face of anti-gay stigma? Now that the stigma is almost entirely gone, it's much easier to come out. Where the only people who came out in the past were those who *needed to* in order to be romantically and sexually active, now people like me are able to come out because, well, it's just how we feel and who cares? Coming out is a much lesser deal for bisexuals now because it's just a matter of "cool, what do you want for dinner?"
Finally, you wrap up with this: "Yet over time, the LGBT phenotype is exploding while the LGBT genotype is imploding ."
I don't know that there's much serious argumentation that homosexuality is heritable. If there is, I haven't seen it. We don't know much about the genetics indicators of homosexuality, but most recent research has shown that it's not *nature VS nurture*, but *nature AND nurture*. Studies have identified a few different genetic markers that *might* be indicators of homosexuality, but they're not entirely reliable. One study estimated that genetics may account for ~25% of homosexual identification. So while you're likely correct that there is some significant cultural impact, I think you misunderstand the opposing view to yours and also overweight the impact of "recruitment."
At the end of the day, homosexuality and its subsets are multivariate in causal nature that we'll likely never fully understand due to the complex nature of the brain that guides them. I think your analysis is likely correct in *some* part, but your weighting is significantly off and your understanding of the motivations of coming out (especially for those of us who are "asked the least") is way off.
Now, I'm just one case of a broad spectrum of different types of LGBT people, but I hope this helps explain some aspects and clarify some confusion. Keep up the interesting conversations and analysis—glad you're on Substack now!
It has become very high status among affluent teenagers to claim exotic sexual orientation.