This article first appeared in Attitude issue 286, August 2017.
The sun is shining and I’m in the mood for retail therapy. I’m off on a spree to Hollister, or maybe Abercrombie & Fitch, because obviously as a gay man I think nothing of spending 50 quid on a t-shirt. Maybe I’ll treat myself to a facial. I’m gay, my world is just spend, spend, spend!
Whether or not this is your specific reality is irrelevant; in our new world of equal rights, it seems to be the mainstream-media-accepted image of “the gay.” And it’s not often the LGBT+ media do anything to contradict it.
It’s all about the “pink pound,” a somewhat dated marketing term referring to the expendable income that gay men are supposed to have. Once we were hated, but now the world has turned; in part because businesses started to recognise what wonderful consumers we were. Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t deserve our equal rights, because we’ve paid for them; not just in sweat and blood, but also in cold hard cash.
It’s true that due to living in a heterocentric world, many of us make the decision to escape, and that often means pursuing educational excellence and getting that top job in media, fashion, finance, design, whatever, so that we can be Billy Elliot and leave the haters behind to make a new life in the Emerald City.
It’s understandable, but so often born out of pain. And once we have our luxury apartment, bling and snazzy threads, designer drugs and gift-wrapped lifestyle, the straight world can ignore our sexual proclivities. We are cash cows now and business is booming.
We don’t all escape though, do we?
And those who don’t are often just running, not achieving. We don’t all get the jobs earning megabucks. We work in Greggs, in factories, the public sector, as sex workers, in shops. Or we’re unemployed; sometimes due to mental health difficulties acquired in part due to growing up in a world that hated us. No pockets full of sparkling unicorn “pink pound.” And that can place us in areas not so accepting of our sexualities, where being different can still be very dangerous.
I gave up on the idea of glossy gay “perfection” and that highly-desired lifestyle years ago. It would be nice to think that our common experience of discrimination would bring us together in a sense of solidarity, overcoming other circumstances. That’s rose-tinted though. How many times have you turned down an invitation to a wealthier friend’s birthday celebration because you can’t afford the inevitable split-the-bill situation after a fancy meal?
It appears that those within our community who live on the economic edge, live on the edge of the community as well, with just two choices: maintain the appearance of being a “proper” gay and max out the credit card and default on bills, buy those designer clothes, and live the lifestyle fitting of our perceived equality, or live like our predecessors in partial isolation, unable to escape less privileged areas of our towns and cities in what could appear to be a gay half-life bereft of the benefits afforded by our fashionable sexuality.
When our equal rights are easiest enjoyed by those earning £40k or more, those without the means are also without full access to equal rights; a dangerous position. The UK is becoming polarised between the wealthy and the less well-off. It’s a sad reality that it also exists within our own community.ow.
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