Coming home on the late-night bus from a recent Grapefruit party at Fly nightclub, I overheard three gay men comparing notes on their night out. Two were in their 20s, one in his 30s. The younger two had been to Grapefruit and were complaining about the cost. They’d spent too much money. The older guy had been to a private party and the only money he’d spent, he said, had been at McDonald’s.
He sounded kind of pleased with himself.
I wonder what advertisers would make of that. I mean, we’re all supposed to be rich, right?
Of all the myths that have grown up around gays, one of the silliest and most interesting has to be the idea that we’re all rich, ready to spend and blessed with — love the phrase — disposable income. It’s like we’ve got so much money we’re ready to trek off to a landfill and bury it, like garbage.
As fast as old myths about gays die out, new ones are invented. We used to be sick, flirty, tasteful, promiscuous and addicted to show tunes. Now we’re rich. Or so I’m told, although my Visa card would probably disagree.
The problem began in 1997 when a now-defunct US ad agency named Mulryan/Nash conducted a survey that seemed, at first glance, to show that gay household income was higher than straight. The study’s sample was actually quite narrow but subsequent news reports fudged the results and the image of the rich fag entered the realm of folklore, supported, no doubt, by a healthy dose of wish fulfilment.
The reality is something else. As of 2005, more than half of Canadian taxpayers made less than $30,000 a year and 80 percent made $60,000 or less. The stats make no distinction between gay and straight taxpayers and I doubt there is one. It’s a pleasant and consoling fantasy to think we’ve stepped outside the low-income norm but a mistake to suppose we’ve transcended economic reality.
The only people I see wearing the expensive designer duds are the young and insecure. Everyone else seems to be shopping for underwear at Winners.
Whether or not gays actually have more disposable income (and given the high number of house-poor types around, this would seem unlikely), I’ve no doubt that gays are just as price-sensitive as everyone else. We all like a bargain and nobody likes to be fleeced.
The myth of the rich fag has made us blind to the obvious: Price drives everything. People complain about the proliferation of coffee shops in the city but what else do they expect? Lost in all the complaints about Starbucks, Tim Horton’s and the like is the simple fact that a coffee is now pretty much the cheapest social experience you can have. Where else can you have a date for a couple of bucks? Of course there’s going to be a lot of them.
People complain about a moribund social scene, but what do you expect? It’s always been cheaper to stay home than to go out, but now it’s cheaper to stay home and be entertained. You can rent a DVD for less than the price of a beer and you can buy the whole bloody player for less than a ticket to a major dance party.
I laugh when party promoters complain about fickle consumer interest without ever questioning their own pricing strategies. As someone who’s both poor and cheap, I’m ill-equipped to judge their blandishments. I try never to pay cover unless I’m guaranteed the boy of my choice at the end of the evening and surprisingly few clubs have come through with that offer.
Other people, though, I’m sure, are strategically cheap. They’ve got the money but they’re not going to waste it. For the price of a week of Pride parties, after all, you can throw a big whack of change at the mortgage.
There are rich fags out there but I’m not sure we want to identify the community with a few individuals. People resent success almost as much as they resent failure, and successful minorities have ever been tarred with the brush of their own achievement. For centuries Jews were blamed for being too wealthy. In the early 1990s Hong Kong immigrants got much the same treatment. (Remember all that talk about “Hong Kong money”?) Now, it seems, it’s our turn to take the heat.
For our part, we’ve embraced the myth in part, I suspect, because it’s a way of saying we’ve arrived. It’s not enough to trumpet abstract ideas like tolerance, justice and social progress. These days moral ideals don’t have much purchase. In a consumer society you’re only as good as your latest purchase and we want to be able to say that we can spend as good as the next guy.
But the myth of the rich fag is both impractical and impolitic and, frankly, we really don’t need it. C’mon kids, have a little self-confidence. You’re beautiful just the way you are.