3.5 Percent

We’re slowly getting a sense of how many TGBQLX people there are in America. I.e. how many homosexuals, lesbians and transgenders there are in the population. When I was a newbie gay, the mantra was 10 percent. We were “one in ten”. Seriously.

This immediately struck me at the time as a) obviously propaganda and b) ridiculously insecure. There was no way to know for sure, given the ubiquity of the closet back in the 1980s, but ten percent is a hell of a lot of people: 30 million. Why did I keep bumping into faces I recognized wherever I was in the US? If it were really ten percent, where were they all?

And why on earth does it matter if we make up 10 percent or 1 percent? A minority’s civil rights are not dependent on how many of them there are or how large a segment of society they form. Do we say: sorry, guys, you only form 2 percent, you don’t meet the minimal bar for becoming a minority? It’s not like running for the Knesset. It struck me then and now as part of a wearying tendency among some gays to think that every straight dude is just a few beers away from being gay (that’s not how it works); or a desperation to feel somehow more significant because of larger numbers.

Which simply make it all the more of a relief to see that Gallup has finally come up with a believable number of around 3.5 percent. (Check how gay your state is here.) DC is the super-gayest “state” – but that is a little distorted since DC is really the inner city of a larger metropolitan area and the gays tend to congregate there. But there’s also the attraction of politics for gay men. If you’ve ever spent much time among the staffers on the Hill, you’ll know what I mean: the US capitol makes the Vatican look straight.

My pet theory for why this is the following.

For many young gays in the past – and who knows if this will continue in the same way now the stigma has waned so much – the prospect of dating girls was so scary and the prospect of dating boys so impossible that they buried themselves in some kind of nerdiness. I threw myself into scholarship, my repressed homosexuality enabling me at the age of 17 to translate English into different Latin styles, following Cicero or Tacitus. Man, repression can make you smart. Others went into baseball scores; or entertainment trivia; or obsession with PSB B-sides; or knowing how many Republican votes could be found in some Cuyahoga County. Some kind of virtual life – lived with passionate intensity.

Hence the political gay. Hence Mehlman and Ambinder and Nagourney and McGreevey and Wofford and Zeleny and Bruni and Brock and Berke and on and on. Because repression is declining, we may never again get someone obsessed enough to produce the Almanac of American politics. But if that future person exists, chances are they’ll be living in DC. So much gayer than New York.