“Everyone’s Gay!”: Why Some Readers Have Trouble with LGBTQIA+ Worlds
“I don’t mind gay stuff, but I don’t know. In these books, everyone’s gay. It just doesn’t seem realistic.” You’ve probably met someone who’s expressed this sentiment.
That’s bunk! The reason these readers have trouble is because they believe some pretty heterosexist bullshit. There’s some interesting psychological phenomena that play into this, which I’m going to explore a little. And then, of course, there’s the glaring historical fact that human beings have always been at least a little bit gay.
So, despite protests to the contrary, worlds where (almost) “everyone’s gay” are probably some of the most accurate, realistic worlds we have.
To see the problem with this argument, we have to take issue with worlds where everyone is straight. A character is straight until confirmed otherwise in most media.
So you can think of all kinds of sitcoms spanning the ages, from I Love Lucy to Friends. Movies default assume people are straight. And most books and comics assume heterosexuality of characters until it’s deliberately said otherwise. I mean, how many people figured Dumbledore was gay until JK told us so?
So, if there can be a world where everyone is straight, then a world where everyone is gay is conceivable. The difference is that worlds where everyone is straight don’t feel abnormal or strange. They still feel realistic, even though they’re not.
This is because we’ve been told over and over again that straight is normal, natural, and default. “Gay” or queer or whatever else is abnormal, strange, weird.
Biologically, historically, and mathematically speaking, worlds where everyone is straight are just as unrealistic as a world where everyone is gay. In fact, it’s likely more unrealistic.
The Biological Fact
Human beings have two very close relations in the primate family. Pretty much everyone knows about the chimpanzee. The other, lesser known “cousin” is the bonobo.
Chimps tend to be violent. Their society is structured on what amounts to warfare. Bonobos, by contrast, tend to resolve issues by having sex. Basically any time a bonobo is upset with another bonobo or concerned about social status or whatever, the solution is to have sex.
Bonobos are sexually promiscuous, meaning that individuals participate in straight sex, gay sex, group sex, and so on and so forth.
Humans are kind of the worst of both put together. We’re torn between solving things with sex or with violence (and sometimes both). If some of our closest cousins freely engage in homosexual activity, why the hell wouldn’t we be naturally inclined to?
Although there’s little evidence for exclusive homosexuality in the animal kingdom, there’s plenty of evidence for homosexual activity. In many species, sex has evolved beyond just a way to reproduce. It now serves other functions, such as maintaining closeness, establishing intimacy, or even providing comfort or showing dominance. In this context, homosexual activity can make perfect sense.
Historically, Humans Have Always Been Gay
Other cultures around the world have understood homosexuality and gender quite differently. Historically, concepts of gender and homosexuality also varied. At different points in European history, homosexual activity was either lauded or considered depraved. During the Renaissance and into the Enlightenment, some European kings even engaged in homosexual activity. The ancient Greeks held love between two men to be the highest, purest form of love.
And this sort of thinking isn’t the exclusive reserve of European cultures. Take a trip around the world and you’ll encounter homosexuality, third genders, and more. The peoples of Polynesia still to this day live with a concept of a third gender, as do peoples in other parts of South Asia. A third gender also existed in Indigenous North America.
In Japan, during the Tokugawa era, shunga was in style among the samurai warrior class. The kings of Hawai’i had male “friends” who attended them.
We know from the writings of the bible that homosexuality existed in some form or another during biblical times (otherwise, there wouldn’t be a stricture against it). The same is true of transgender individuals living in Europe and North America during the 19th century. There were laws on the books about wearing the opposite sex’s clothes, so people must have been doing this!
The Idea of a Spectrum
The idea of “homosexuality” is relatively modern. It grew out of early psychology, from the writings of Freud and Jung. Darwin’s theories on evolution and natural selection, of reproductive fitness furthered the notion. Exclusive homosexuality doesn’t necessarily make scientific sense; until recently, exclusively homosexual individuals wouldn’t be likely to reproduce. It was likely their genes would die with them.
While Kinsey has long been discredited, the important theoretical contribution from his work in the 1950s is the idea of a spectrum. On a spectrum, very few individuals identify as a hundred percent homosexual or a hundred percent heterosexual. The rest tend to fall somewhere in the middle. Bisexuality represents the exact split, and everyone else leans one way or the other.
We’ve since complicated this by recognizing additional sexual identities, such as asexual and pansexual individuals, to say nothing of gender identities and more. Nothing is clean cut or simple.
Yet the idea of a spectrum can help us. If we take the poles and the middle, we’ll note “exclusive heterosexuality” and “exclusive homosexuality” would actually be the minority of the population, even when taken together. Collectively, the majority of the human population identifies somewhere in between—meaning most of us are somewhat “gay.” Or, depending on your perspective, all somewhat “straight.”
History Bears This Out
We can see the “spectrum” idea bears out in history. People rarely identified or understood themselves as one thing or another. A man might have relations with women and men just as easily. He might even engage with a member of the third gender.
Attraction is thus unbound throughout human history. Here we look more like our bonobo cousins, where sex has been repurposed to serve a variety of social functions. In this context, it doesn’t matter if you’re “gay” or “straight,” per se.
Shifting paradigms and cultural variance also speak to this fluidity. Forcing ourselves into rigid categories is a Victorian invention, one that doesn’t exist in except in the last 200 years or so. Is that maybe why we have a “problem” now?
I’m not saying individuals who engaged in homosexual activity or identified as third gender or anything else were never discriminated against; that would be wholly untrue. I’m also not saying today’s understandings or identities are invalid. Rather, the idea was different.
Everyone Is Gay Is More Realistic
What this all adds up to is a strong argument that “everyone is gay!” worlds are at least slightly more realistic than “everyone is straight!” worlds. This is partially because “everyone is gay!” worlds are often at pains to represent multiple sexualities, not one exclusively. A character might be pansexual, while another is aro or ace. One is bi, another identifies as a lesbian, yet another is a transgender man who likes women and is thus straight.
This is all queer, but it’s different formats of queer—which makes it much more diverse and reflective of actual lived experience.
There’s a final thing at work here, and it’s the perception of equality. There’s a few studies on men’s perception of the point where women’s participation in a conversation achieves “equality.” Shockingly, men believed the conversation was equal when women spoke just thirty percent of the time. That is, men believe women were doing fifty percent of the talking, when in reality women spoke only thirty percent of the time.
Above that threshold, men tended to believe women were “dominating” the conversation or talking too much.
This is perception at work. The men thought small increases in women’s talk time balanced out. When women actually did their “fair share” of talking, men perceived inequality.
This same phenomenon is at work in the “everyone is gay!” argument. If you’re used to seeing nothing but heterosexual couples, anything more than one “token” gay couple begins to feel like inequality. When queer characters begin to truly represent anything approaching half, it can appear as oversaturation—thus giving the impression everyone is gay, even if this isn’t true.
Refute the Arguments!
So the next time someone tries to tell you a world where “everyone is gay” just isn’t realistic, ask them how realistic a solely heterosexual world is. Chances are, since it’s reductionist and showcases just one of the myriad ways to be, it’s not very realistic at all.
Chances are also good that this person has never stopped and truly questioned this either. Why is a world populated solely by heterosexual characters more believable than one populated with any number of other sexualities? Why is homogeny more believable than diversity?
Critical thinking soon reveals homogeny can’t possibly reflect the diversity of human beings.