One in TenrnA Gay Mythologyrnby Philip JenkinsrnGav issues are likely to remain central to social and politicalrndebate in this country for many years to come, whether inrnthe form of gay rights referenda, gay service in the military,rnschool curricula, or the adoption of children by homosexualrncouples. It should not be too long before one specific issue, thernrecognition of gay marriage by federal law, ignites a legal andrnconstitutional crisis. Such controversies usually involve a familiarrnrange of principles and rhetorical styles, above all the confrontationrnof moralistic and libertarian approaches, and a fundamentalrndifference over the rights of the “consenting adult”rnversus the traditional social consensus. However, to a startlingrnextent, both supporters and opponents of gay rights tend to acceptrnas factual certain ideas about the nature and prevalence ofrnhomosexual behavior, notions which in reality range from therndubious to the downright bogus. Based on incorrect assumptionsrnand misleading research, a whole mythology has attainedrngeneral credence in academe and the media, with profoundrnconsequences for the ongoing social debate. This is no case ofrnconspiracy theory, as the exponents of this fiction are overwhelminglyrnguilty of optimistic self-deception rather than anyrnmore calculated motives; yet the results are more effective thanrncould have been imagined by the most Machiavellian schemer.rnThe rarely challenged assertion that homosexuals representrn”one in ten” of the population has proved a rhetorical weaponrnof immense force.rnDifferent societies accept different forms of argument asrnPhilip Jenkins is head of the reUgious studies program at PennrnState University. His latest hook is Pedophiles and Priests:rnAnatom- of a Social Crisis (Oxford University Press).rnproviding confirmation for a given statement. While the ultimaternwarrant was once the scriptural text, the knockout blow inrna controversy today is normally delivered in the form of a socialrnscience statistic, proving that some inconceivably vast proportionrnof the population is subject to ills like child abuse, domestiernviolence, or ethnic intimidation, each of which must thereforernbe treated as an “epidemic” in need of eountermeasures.rnThese figures are most likelv to develop a cultural life of theirrnown if they come in some easily memorable form, preferablyrnincorporating a pleasingly round number like “fifty thousand”rnor “three million.” Perhaps the best-known of these killerrnstatistics is the estimate for the number of homosexuals in therngeneral population, which, as everv schoolbov knows, is “tenrnpercent.” This statistic is crucial for gay rights activists, for itrnshows that homosexual legal and political rights are a criticalrnmatter for a large portion of the population, and that a largernnumber of individuals are suppressing their sexual nature forrnfear of the consequences. In the 1980’s, the National Gay andrnLesbian Task Force claimed to represent “23 million gay andrnlesbian persons,” while some activists (and the mass media) oftenrncomplained that the ten percent estimate was conservative.rnThese, then, are the huge numbers of individuals supposedh^rnsubject to social and legal discrimination, who suffer whenrnchurches refuse to ordain gay clergy or perform same-sex marriages,rnor when the Armed Services exclude homosexuals. Thernsuggestion of a huge “dark figure” of secret homosexuals is alsornconvenient, as someone who opposes gay rights can be dismissedrnas being a closeted and self-hating homosexual.rnThere are countless problems with the “ten percent” theory,rnbut two objections are decisive: one, that the research fromrnOCTOBER 1996/15rnrnrn