Sexual-orientation self-identification, which has been an important area of psychological research and theory, is no longer discussable. The suggestion that people's sexual identities are not innate could imply that they are non-authentic, since they are subject to shifting environmental influences. Such an idea today is considered oppressive. The view that sexual identity may change might be used to support therapy geared towards "converting" homosexuals to heterosexuals, an approach which was outlawed recently in California (for minors), legislation that is likely to spread. Of course, you might say that whatever reason a person has for adopting any identity is their personal choice and must be respected. But this is generally not the way people think. Belief that "homosexuality is a psychological or moral choice," PT blogger Michael LaSala indicates, is wrong and reprehensible.*
So results of new research on orientation self-identification -- “the largest single study of the distribution of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population in the U.S. on record,” in which Gallup asked more than 120,000 Americans if they personally identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender -- reviewed in the New York Times by opinion columnist Charles Blow, are baffling. In short, minority men were more likely to assert such an identity -- young African-American and Latino American men approximately 50 percent more likely, and young Asian men about a quarter more -- than young white men, while African-American women were only somewhat more likely to do so (12%) and Latino and Asian American women less likely.
Among the reasons these different rates for various sexual identities are baffling is because minority groups have been less tolerant of such variations. For example, Hispanics and African-Americans have been far more opposed to gay marriage than whites are. Blow reckons "it’s a positive statistic. It shows that the gay and lesbian community is more diverse than many believe, and it shows that many young men of color feel empowered to identify as they feel most comfortable." But this explanation would be surprising given that African and Latino Americans gave far greater support to the California constitutional amendment limiting marriage to "a man and a woman." That young minority men are more comfortable with acknowledging their non-traditional sexual identities is also hard to match with the observation that young women more readily shift their sexual preferences than young men. (See Leonard Sax's PT post: "Why are so many girls lesbian or bisexual?", which reports that "Girls today are three times more likely than boys to be nonheterosexual.")
If we assume the underlying biological-genetic rates are actually the same for different racial groups, then why is it easier for minority men to acknowledge their genuine identities? Blow asks, "Could it be that some men of color have less at stake financially that could be jeopardized by identifying as gay than their white counterparts?" Suggesting that poor African-Americans have more psychological freedom in this area is a challenging idea, when being a poor minority is often thought to create psychological burdens.
Here are three questions about these results:
- Is it possible that such rates actually vary for different groups, rather than that people in some groups are more willing to answer the survey question honestly?
- Would this indicate social and psychological determinants of sexuality?
- Can we accept such a possibility without displaying prejudice about people's choices of their sexual identities?
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* Since even writing a post like this could get me in trouble, let me note about "psychological and moral choice" that -- if psychological reality is as "real" as biological reality -- then calling it a choice is a contradiction in terms.