Wandering like a lost soul in a department store recently, I ran into a friend of a friend. He looked me up and down, but unfortunately not in a lustful way.
He took in my boots (a recent splurge on shiny new Sketchers for about $75), my pants (about $5, to be honest), my shirt (on sale for $29 from Club Monaco) and leather jacket (my ex’s with the lining all in tatters) and I could see him adding it all up. If I could afford to be strolling among $4,000 leather sofas, his gaze suggested, I shouldn’t be dressed like a Value Village model. Didn’t I get it? We’d been there before. Once at a party he asked what kind of underwear I was wearing. When I replied, “Briefs,” he rolled his eyes with impatience and followed up with, “I mean the brand.” Duh.
The most daunting thing about urban gay life isn’t sex. It’s the obsession with status, particularly the status bequeathed by a high income as demonstrated by the right clothes, car, pad and neighbourhood. As challenging as it is finding a co-operative and attractive body to fuck, you’ve also got to worry about that body’s bling bling. Or lack of bling bling.
There are exceptions: Media circles award points for celeb-daubed conversations, artsy circles award points for quirky non sequiturs and geek circles award points for a high friend count on Friendster.com. But the social currency that’s accepted almost everywhere is purchased with a big fat paycheque.
Gay taste in music, theatre and film might have in the past provided something of a flag to march under. But with so many people from all walks of life coming out nowadays, our interests have splintered, leaving the gay shopping gene to sort the wheat from the chaff.
The queer knack for materialism pervades brand-name bar chatter that makes Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho novel seem quaint. It can verge on self-parody. A couple I knew demonstrate their connection by using matching plastic bags as wallets; one was emblazoned Gucci, the other Prada.
As vacuous as that may seem, I have to admit the wallet thing came across as less gross than if, say, they went around wearing a lock of one another’s hair. There’s safety in building your image around glossy advertising. You can avoid mockery more easily knowing way too much about whether Tom Ford will end up at Versace than way too much about environmental policy or lyrical poetry.
Whereas gay life once promised freedom from the social boxes of class, income and sometimes race – imagine a bond broker and a construction worker meeting in a public washroom and having an intimate relationship without worrying about whether to call themselves boyfriends, partners or fuck buddies – a contemporary queer can look around and see nothing but obstacles. It starts with income: Can I really hang out with somebody who makes that much less than me? But the doubt taps into bigger questions: Can I really hang out with somebody whose background, ethnicity, values and taste are fundamentally different from mine?
Perhaps there’s so many openly gay people around these days, we need to put up barriers so as not to end up in a massive cluster fuck (that could get messy). Perhaps, like everybody else, we’re merely insecure.
Or perhaps it’s because we fear our lives playing out with a script we can’t control. The next two items on Xtra.ca, Joseph Couture’s piece on gold diggers and Maureen Phillips’ piece on intergenerational relationships both make clear what happens to people who chose relationships that aren’t seen as a perfect matching of twins – others heap judgments upon them.
The question is why, among people who know all the words to “Nothing Really Matters,” these judgments sting us so much that we’ll give up following our own desires to avoid them.
Paul Gallant is Managing Editor for Xtra.