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7 October

There’s no such thing as being straight

Young people are increasingly identifying as bisexual, which can only be a good thing.

By Marc Burrows

I’m not going to start this article by saying that everyone is bisexual. That would be absurd (some people are pansexual). I’m increasingly of the opinion, however, that there is no such thing as “straight”. For more and more people, “straight” and “gay” are labels for the extreme ends of a spectrum that we’re all on, and each of us is capable of moving up and down that spectrum at different times in our lives. Sexuality, like gender, is rarely a binary. It isn’t uncommon for people living in same-sex institutions such as boarding schools and prisons to have sexual encounters with one another, and in which they form relationships – and then never revisit those urges again after they leave that institution. Are those people gay or bisexual? They might say no, and I respect that. But can they say, in all honesty, that they have always been “straight”? By definition, not really.

Bi-curiosity and opportunistic same-sex attraction, however fleeting, still pushes you slightly away from the extreme end of the scale. No one can say for sure how their sexuality is going to evolve. You can spend your entire life being attracted to one gender of people, never dreaming that you might ever be interested in the other side… and then the right person could come into your life and suddenly you’re not so exclusively tied to gender preference after all. Maybe there’s only a handful of people in the whole world who would turn your head away from your ostensible preference, and maybe you will never meet a single one of them – but that potential still exists in each of us. Prove me wrong.

A recent study commissioned by the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, which involved multiple polling sources, found that “bisexual” was, for the first time, the second-most common sexual preference after “straight”, with 5 per cent of people of all ages identifying as such. In the 16-26 age group, aka Gen Z, that number rises to 10 per cent. Only 71 per cent of Gen Z’s polled identified as “straight”, compared with 91 per cent at the oldest end of the scale – the 56-75-year-old baby boomer generation. The important word here is “identify”. It’s not a question of there being “more” LGBTQ+ people in 2022 than there were in, say, 1982 – that’s a statistic we can never know, partly because our place on that scale can change, and partly because there’s always been a stigma that means some people who will, for a variety of reasons, always be closeted. This is a matter of visibility. It’s a generational shift in what is deemed to be acceptable – that younger people are increasingly less inclined to put barriers and boxes around their identity.

A study by the anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer, published in 1971, examined the sexual attitudes of men and women aged between 16 and 45 and found that the most common reaction to homosexuality was disgust and the second most common was pity – to be gay or bisexual was to be either unacceptably degenerate, sinful even. Or in the very best case, mentally ill. Fifty years later we are still breaking down those barriers. Twenty-nine per cent of young people say that they aren’t straight, with the highest percentage of those identifying as bi. That doesn’t mean all of those people have a 50-50 attraction to both sexes. It doesn’t mean they’ll all end up in queer relationships – some of them might never even have a same-sex encounter. That’s not the point. It’s a gradual, dawning understanding that “straight” and “gay” are restrictive labels. That nothing is set in stone. And that can only be a good thing.

[See also: The real anti-growth coalition is anti-immigrant]

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