COMMENT | Are gay people more creative?
There’s a common speculation gay people are more creative. This is foremost rooted in the observation that gay people are over-represented in creative pursuits. But is this speculation true? And if it is, why are gay people more creative? Let us discuss.
The idea of over-representation is an interesting one. It emerged anecdotally but has attracted scholarship in recent years.
In 2016, London School of Economics published their analysis of datasets from the 2008-2010 American Community Survey and the 2008-2009 U.S. National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to comment on this. They found that gay people are “drawn to a different set of occupations”. Among those with the highest proportion of gay workers are creative ones: producers and directors, urban and regional planners, and web developers.
Their analysis suggests that gay people tend to be attracted to occupations with higher levels of social perceptiveness. This is based on the idea that knowing how to read social cues might be an important skill for gay people to acquire as they are more likely to have experienced the threat of discrimination from a young age.
Now for a quick lesson in creativity. Creativity is an inherently social process. The idea that it is a solitary process has fallen out of favour. We now appreciate that creativity emerges from dialogue, interaction, and practise with others. Though Kafka worked in solitude, his work was the product of his relationship with his father. His creative output is therefore the product of a social process.
It is thus unsurprising that the experience of gay people and its impact on social processes may affect their creativity too. At present, there is little hard evidence though. There are only a couple of major studies on sexual orientation and creativity.
The first, by Christine Charyton, a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University, published in 2007, reviewed the historical, empirical, and present literature existed on the relationship between sexual orientation and creativity. The study concluded that there is little evidence to support that speculation that gay people are more creative.
The second, carried out by Sultan Idris Education University, published in 2013, assumed that gay men share more typically female personality traits to disentangle the speculation. The idea behind this being that females are more creative than males. However, its findings mirrored the study by Charyton. It concluded that there is no ‘gay advantage’ to being creative.
It is acknowledged that more research is needed to draw definitive conclusions though. Current research is limited and its scope narrow. Indeed, the latter study measured only self-perceived creativity. The idea of being well-qualified to be creative by being skilled in reading social cues is one possible avenue for future research.
The truth is we don’t really know whether gay people are more creative. The speculation that they are is compelling though. I am left thinking that we need to continue to approach the question from new directions. Are gay people more inclined to creativity because of the escapism it provides? Or is queer culture fundamentally creative in its quest to break the mould?
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