“Money, money, money; always funny, in a rich man’s world! And who am I to contest such pearls of wisdom, offered by camp pop legends and fellow Swedes, ABBA? Naturally, they are right. As we all know, disco music can generally be relied on to tell it like it is. But in a not-so-rich gay man’s world, money is a pain in the arse…and I’m not talking the good kind”.
It’s a pain because – if you allow me to generalise for a moment – being a respectable queer on the mainstream gay scene requires a flourishing and exciting social life, a flat stacked with the latest trends, a hot gym membership and a penchant for expensive alcohol and, quite possibly, a plethora of other recreational substances. In other words, to be an A-list gay, you need to reflect a certain level of affluence and impress your fellow homos with glamour and dignity. And I can tell you from personal experience that it’s hard looking glamorous and dignified while desperately trying to muster enough cash for a cosmopolitan and ten Marlboros with three different bank cards at the cash point outside the local gay hot spot.
Okay, okay; so I’m pandering completely to the Big Spender Bender stereotype here, which portrays gay men as irresponsible, luxury addicts, who worship weekly in the Church of Consumerism and treat credit cards as a hard earned work bonus. To save my editors from hate mail and readers from having to puff their chests up in unattractive self-righteousness, I should acknowledge that of course such stereotypes are usually exaggerated caricatures and obviously do not apply to all gay men.
But boring political correctness aside, it is in my opinion still the case that a large proportion of gay men are more aspirational than their straight counterparts in terms of material goods and image; and more often than not, the prevailing gay perception of ‘the successful homo’ complies with these ambitions. As someone who isn’t hugely materialistic or trendy, yet has spent practically all my adult life living well beyond my means and had to resort to everything bar prostitution to get my finances straight (pardon the pun), I feel I can afford to indulge in a bit of stereotyping for the sake of making a point.
And if you don’t believe me, a recent, extensive survey on gay/straight spending habits revealed that, on average, gay men and women have 15% more credit card dept than straight people, a figure that experts say point partially to ‘aspirational spending patterns’ and a hunger for ‘stylish goods’ among the gay population.
When faced with these findings and asked to comment, most of my gay mates proved poignantly unwilling to disclose their financial dispositions, even for the sake of my altruistic quest for enlightenment, but the range of reactions to the subject matter was interesting to observe. It spanned from embarrassed murmurs about dept consolidation, credit card transfer and parental donations, to defiant justification and downright refusal to even talk about it. I was left, not with an idea of my friends’ collective debt, but with the impression that this was apparently a rather touchy subject.
And I know how my friends feel; without going into too much vulgar detail, it’s safe to say that my own money situation is hardly peachy. I regularly spend more than I can afford, especially when it comes to eating and drinking out, and I’m a sucker for ending up with a whole new wardrobe when I only really went out to get a much needed new pair of work trousers.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with socialising in the pub in the weekend, or treating yourself to a nice pair of designer jeans for that matter. Lord no! But if you wake up every Monday morning with a lingering hangover and realise you blew your entire allocated weekly budget in two days and did nothing even vaguely cultural or intellectual – although you pretended to be sophisticated by buying the Sunday paper, when really you just wanted the free ‘Best of Judy Garland’ CD – it’s maybe time to stop and take stock.
So why the excessive spending, be it on pints, pants or partying, and what are the implications? Aside from keeping up with the trendy ‘gay lifestyle’ (there’s that nasty, un-PC, generalising concept again!), could it be that gay men, more so that straight people, are scared of missing out on Mr Right or becoming dried up old spinsters in silk robes with only plants and shitzus for company if we’re not always out and about, looking good and having fun? Most gay people after all, have to rely on the scene for regular access to other gays.
Maybe we should take a brief break from the fervent shopping and consider our circumstances…I don’t want to go all doom and gloom on you, but maybe the proportionally higher level of credit card debt among gay men and women is not just a sign of exclusive tastes and aspirational lifestyles – it’s a well known fact that a higher percentage of gay men and women suffer from the likes of depression and alcoholism compared to the straight population. Some might say excessive spending is simply another symptom of the extra stress gay people are inevitably subjected to as a minority outside the boundaries of the heterosexual, nuclear family norm, that though less imposing, still exists.
Or maybe that’s just a load of amateur pop psychology; maybe some of us just like the good things in life a bit too much? Most of the gay scene is a virtual shrine to camp glamour and cutthroat style, wrapped in a bubble of cheesy pop, dusted with a layer of pink glitter, and fastened with a silky bow of extravagance, so who can blame us for getting carried away with the plastic at times?
Whichever way you choose to look at it, the point is; it’s okay to be extravagant if that’s your inclination. Hell, it’s virtually impossible to be financially sound these days and as long as you can afford to pay at least some of your debt off every now and then, you should be fine. Just remember that the most stylish or drunk people at a party are not always the happiest, most enviable or fun lot in the crowd and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of moderation. At least not in small doses.
Individuality, humour and imagination goes further than plastic and, as a very wise and admirably well-dressed friend of mine said recently: you can have fun and look hot without breaking the bank; there’s no need for anyone to know that you occasionally shop in Primark!