There's been a lot written about what it means to be defined as a sexual minority, whether that concept be seen as 'gay', 'bisexual', 'transgender', 'lesbian', 'intersexed', or any of the other identities included in the expansive community. Gay men in particular have been saddled with an image of being flighty, self centered, and impulsive: in other words, the ultimate Western consumer. What else better exemplifies the ideas of the "Me" generation and the "Want it Now" generation than an entire subculture of men perceived to consistently buy what they want, when they want it, and who cares about the price. For a time, it's been a stereotype, a bias, accepted by a certain portion of the target group.

What about now? We are knee deep in a recession, and the 'buy, buy, buy' attitude of the 90's and half of the new decade just don't fly. The new concept is to 'save' and to 'put off buying', a belief system that has, slowly but surely, begun a process of insinuation into the American consciousness. How is that affecting a perceived group that has always been on the pinnacle of purchase, as the 'pink dollar' is highly touted as a competitive financial market no community could dare ignore. Have gay men cut down their spending, and are they beginning to eschew the images of old?

The answer to the first part of the question is 'yes'. Gay men aren't anomalies, and aren't going to spend willy nilly simply because. We're beginning to see evidence of the much vaunted "gay male disposable income" being something of an urban legend. Some aspects seem unchanged. As Kralev (2009) noted in his article, gay travel hasn't dropped; it has actually increased during the recession. Companies in the travel industry seem to want to bank on gay men's wanderlust, which can be partially attributed to more and more countries adopting accepting attitudes towards gays and lesbians (Argentina being the most recent). It was even brought up on the floor of the Argentine Senate that a reason to pass gay marriage in the country would be to increase tourism.

This raises an important question: did retailers go to gay men (in particular) because of the perceived image of a huge disposable income and desire to spend money? It would seem the concept of the 'big gay wallet' has been its own undoing, as individuals might have now found themselves as targets to ad campaigns vying for monies that may or may not be there.

Regan (2009) points out the clear duality of the situation, as he points out that "conventional wisdom holds that the gay community ignores recessions", but highlights the businesses, clubs, and organizations that are now gone, casualties of the recession. He further indicates the core reason why "gay" doesn't mean recession resistant: this is, in part, about jobs, and layoffs (and business closures) don't discriminate. If we wish to believe 8-10% of the population of the U.S. is made up of sexual minorities, then we must freely admit that a correlative percentage of those without jobs are of our community.

Now to the second question - are gay men shredding the old image? There's no empirical proof to say this is so; no studies done by behavioral scientists or quantitative surveys. But anecdotally, if you look at comments on listservs, boards, and listen to the community, it's there. The before mentioned Regan article had seven comments to it, all rather critical of the flighty, jet-setting image of gays that many embrace. The responses spoke to real hurt and pain caused by a recession, like cutting back expenses, being laid off, suffering from depression. These are not representations of a 'disposable income' community who is not impacted by a financial downturn.

How gay men will fare once the recession is fully over is anyone's guess. It could be that a self induced austerity survives well into the future, permeating itself into the younger generations. It could be that gay men ramp up the purchase power as soon as they get the 'all clear'. Regardless of where the community goes, this might speak to the need to take a look at what's real and what's 'disposable' among gay men.

Further reading:

Kralev, Nicholas (2009), Gay Travel Endures Amid Recession, .

Regan, KL (2009), Gay Men and the Recession: How are We Faring, .

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