It’s not that there’s no good news. In terms of sexual and romantic partnerships themselves, queer women seem to be doing just fine. In addition to fostering some successful marriages and being great parents, queer women have sex less frequently but for much longer durations than straight couples do. And a recent study from the Journal of Sexual Medicine reports that lesbians have more orgasms than literally everybody else, be they man or woman, straight or queer. (Take that, lesbian bed death!)
The biggest struggles for queer well-being appear, for the most part, to begin where our lived experiences play out in the wider world around us. That’s to say—most everything else we’ve got going on besides each other.
Financial woes loom particularly large. Queers are 10 percentage points less likely to consider themselves thriving financially than non-LGBT folks, queer women sporting a slightly higher average and queer men, slightly less. Same-sex couples’ vulnerability to poverty remains one of the most ubiquitous menaces to queer well-being, especially for queer women of color, trans women, and trans women of color. Impoverishment—fueled by factors from employment discrimination to inequitable health-care coverage to familial rejection resulting in homelessness—threatens to permanently entrench the community’s most marginalized members. One of many alarming statistics: Single LGBT adults raising children are three times more likely to live at or near the poverty line than their heterosexual counterparts.
While queer women and men alike take hard hits for financial well-being, across many other categories of the Gallup poll, queer women lag behind straight women where queer men do not lag behind straight men as much—or even at all.
Differences in physical well-being between straight and queer men, for example, are too small to be statistically significant; the overall deficit in physical well-being for the LGBTQ community at large is driven entirely by the low scores of queer women (24 percent to straight women’s 36 percent). Gallup indicates that reportedly high levels of smoking and drinking among lesbians and bi women could be a potential contributor to the discrepancy. I’ve seen from accompanying girlfriends on many a smoke break outside of bars how cigarettes and alcohol remain an obstinate fixture of queer girl culture.
Further, where queer men assess their communities with close to as much contentedness as straight men, queer women feel less connected to where they live than their straight female counterparts. Just 31 percent of queer women feel they are thriving in terms of community involvement, safety, and security, a full 9 percent less than straight women.
A recent national survey from Stop Street Harassment helps explain why queer women feel unsafe. The major finding—that two-thirds of American women have experienced street harassment at some point in their lives—is bolstered by two smaller key findings: Seven in 10 LGBT people have experienced street harassment by age 17, compared to 49 percent of straight people, and 41 percent of people of color say they experience street harassment regularly, compared to just a quarter of white people. Queer and trans people of color are the subsection at highest risk. Queer men report 9 percent more street harassment than heterosexual men, largely due to homophobic and transphobic slurs.