Thursday, May 18, 2006

Gay Culture vs Gay Business

I've been pondering for some time the nature of the relationship between gay culture and those businesses that provide things for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered folks.

I remember years ago there was pressure to "support gay businesses", which was often phrased as "support the gay community". However, it has become increasingly apparent over the years that gay or gay friendly businesses aren't much different from any other businesses. Sure, they may provide gay folks with some of the things that we want, but at the end of the day, they're interested in making buck, not in fostering a genuine sense of community.

Like many other businesses, gay businesses want to try and keep us consuming, and to encourage us to consume more. However, consumption isn't fundamentally satisfying, and the risk to businesses is that we will eventually start to look elsewhere for something that is satisfying (such as a committed relationship).

To meet that threat, the response has been to encourage more and more extreme behaviours and normalise them. I first started becoming aware of this about 15 years ago, which was when I first saw S&M being turned into a lifestyle choice, and slightly sanitised to make it more palatable to the masses. So now some behaviours that would previously have been considered extreme (such as watersports, fisting and so-called rape fantasies) are surprisingly commonplace.

It's all a bit alarming, really. I fought for the right to express my love on an equal footing with my straight contemporaries, not for the right to find fleeting satisfaction in being able to abuse someone in a backroom for our mutual, transitory gratification.

I have a whole load more thinking on this, but clearly, it hasn't yet developed to the point where I can articulate it effectively, so I'll leave it for now, but may well have some further thoughts if anything provocative turns up in the comments.

I'll finish with the observation that comparing my relationship with my experiences during periods of rather slutty singledom is like comparing a good steak to a MacDonalds. This analogy holds particular truth with regard to the combination of the unsatisfactoriness of MacDonalds, and the fact that the satisfaction they fail to provide can incline you to have another one to try and fill the gap. And then another. And another ...


On a completely unrelated note, I just met the one person who uses the "Journal" facility in Microsoft Outlook.

Oh, alright. I'm only kidding. No-one uses it. What's it for?


Inexplicable DeVice said...

Yay for me! I'm the first!

Great McDonalds analogy there. I hate McDs! Everything is so tasteless and limp (see what I did there?).

I'm curious about this Journal malarkey - I'll have a look when I'm at work tomorrow. Although it sounds dull...

Qenny said...

I'm not sure if I did catch what you did there. What did you do there?

The journal thing is dull. Deadly dull. But dull enough to make you want to look at it and say "why????"

Da Nator said...

I'm not entirely sure I agree that the greater emergence of S&M is directly related to consumerism. You could just as easily say that gay marriage is, considering many of the marriage rights we want are property-related, and gay weddings are a whole new potential money-maker (ask the florists and B&B owners in Vermont and Massachusetts about this).

I'd like to hear more on your thoughts on this, however. This is definitely a topic that could be further explored.

Dan Project 76 said...

Hurrah for a sensible yet amusing Blog by A Gay Who Is Married.

I assume you're actually 'married' i.e. that almost a marriage but not quite a real one thing that we now have. Any hints? I have one looming on the horizon in just over five weeks!

And yes I agree with you about the whole S&M thing. I don't want to disassociate myself with the whole gay thing but I find it a bit tacky most of the time these days.

Qenny said...

da nator:

I probably didn't explain myself correctly, and I missed out a key bit of the argument as well, namely that these extremes are provided so that instead of looking for fulfillment by pursuing a committed relationship, young gay men are persuaded to fill the void by experimenting with more and more extreme methods of sexual gratification. I think a lot of guys feel unfulfilled, and they turn to the scene to find that fulfillment. But the scene can't give them the fulfillment they want, and besides, it isn't in the interests of the businesspeople who own and operate the scene to fulfill their customers. The fulfillment those men want actually comes from the satisfaction of sharing your life with someone; or from doing something real for a community or an individual: taking meals on wheels to people with AIDS, helping to clean up your local park, going shopping for an elderly neighbour. You can't buy those things, and gay businesses can't make money selling them to you. No-one who owns a business that makes money out of single or polyamorous men (e.g. a gay sauna) is going to tell their customers: "Come in, but if you're looking for fulfillment, you're in the wrong place." It can take a long time and many meaningless shags to learn that lesson.

I think that the rise of more extreme forms of sexual expression does come in part from gay businesses trying to make more money out of the people that they sell to. And fair enough, that's what they're in business for.

What I dislike is the normalisation of these extremes because they tend to influence people against looking for committment with one person.

There may be differences on either side of the Atlantic, but over in the UK, here's a telling difference: perhaps it's a bit of a stereotype, but lesbians seem much better than gay men at relationships; and the corollary is that the businesses catering to lesbian needs are (relatively) few, those catering to gay mens' needs are many.

If you're in a settled relationship, you still have disposable income, but you spend it on furniture and so on, rather than on clubs, drugs, beer, sex toys, and all that paraphenalia. And since the gay businesses don't do furniture, by and large, they focus their attention on trying to persuade people to stay young, free and single ... and keep spending money with them rather than with someone else.

I completely agree, there is a huge market for gay partnerships / weddings / unions, and we're only beginning to see that happen properly. When my husband and I tied the knot last year, companies just weren't really ready for it and didn't really know what to do. Admittedly, we were only the 10th couple in NZ to do it. (At least, I think we were. Our licence had a #10 on it, and we were in there pretty quick.)

Unfortunately, because the majority of gay businesses are centred around the scene, they create the impression that the scene is what being gay is all about, and that creates an impression that to be committed to one partner is somehow missing out on the party. It's a dangerous, powerful and insidious impression - particularly when many people first encounter the scene when they are so very impressionable.

You're right, though - I'm sure there will be more to talk about on this subject.

BTW, I will do a post about life in NZ. After two nudges from you, I can take a hint :-)
(Of course, you can always flick through my photo album in the meantime to get the visual impression.)

dan: Welcome, and thank you. Yes, we tied the know last year in NZ, not long after the Civil Union Bill was enacted there. In contrast to the UK, the Civil Union Bill is open to everyone, and in fact, the first couple of take advantage of it were an elderly straight couple who wanted legal recognition for their relationship that didn't have any of the overtones of religion implicit in the word "marriage".

It meant we got to make up words like "groomsmaids". If you're interested, feel free to have a snoop around my home page, which has all the photos.

Qenny said...

Yay! I wrote a comment that was longer than my original post!

Qenny said...

And Dan - when you say you have a gay wedding looming on the horizon, do you mean your own? Or are you attenting that of a friend? If the former - congratulations! If the latter - have lots of fun!

frobisher said...

A lot of good points in your post - perhaps too many to answer in one go. I do think that the term "Gay Community" is misleading. I stopped going to Gay Pride in London when they started doing tickets and charging. I used to happily contribute, but if all the gay businesses, companies& artists couldnt forgo profits for ONE day of the year I certainly am not going to increase their bank balances.
Saying that Im glad the "scene" is there, whether I choose to use it or not.

Da Nator said...

Hmmm... I get your points, and in some ways I concur, but in others I do not. I think it is a complicated subject.

Although I personally choose traditional long-term monogamy with my partner, and have trouble understanding people that don't (I may even think to myself that I'm superior to or more mature than them, sometimes), I can't definitively say that it's the best thing for everybody and the main way to life fulfillment. So much else goes into that in so many possible ways, I generally feel that if a person is happy and not hurting anyone, let them judge what their own desired path is, whether it's polyamoury or monasticism.

Naturally, if a good portion of the queer community seems very sensation-oriented, this might lead others - hetero and otherwise - to judge all of us. However, 1.) should we/they really be that judgmental? and 2.) that's going to happen anyway. People group other people and judge.

Personally, just comparing what I see in gay culture now as opposed to ten or fifteen years ago, there seems to be much more of an emphasis on marriage and being an "average" person, not less. If this were not the case, and queers weren't lobbying for it, gay marriage wouldn't be such a huge socio-poitical issue right now.

Anyway, I would venture that, while greater expression of S&M and other categories of sexual activity are probably connected to consumerism (and what isn't?), they are more connected to the greater availability of information, liberalized social codes/laws and, ultimately, demand. If the demand wasn't there, the web sites, toys stores, &c. wouldn't be there - they'd lose money. Yes, the demand may be raised by advertisements and wider availability (as well as trendiness), but that's a bit of a circular effect. People want more to try different sexual things and have fun, and more power to them, I say. I don't think that doing that precludes eventually being in a long term relationship - or even doing it within the context of one.

It does seem unfortunate to me that so much of sex is seen as a commodity, but since that's been the case pretty much since the beginning of human history, I'm not sure the rise of the culture/availability of sexual accoutrements indicates much that is new. After all, there were prostitutes in the temples, and they've found dildoes made out of stone and bone, haven't they?

Two more points and then I'll stop writing a freakin' encyclopoedia:

1.) S&M hasn't just become more normalized in gay circles - it has in lesbian and straight ones, too. Trust me, the urban lesbians in the U.S. were all over this in the early 90s - I was there. Also, I look at porn sometimes. Heh.

2.) Lesbians, being women, may have a greater tendency to form and stay in monogamous relationships (although there are a lot of dyke playas out there, believe me). However, the real reasons businesses don't cater to us are that we're women (and thus less important), marketing people don't know how to deal with women if they are not trying to please men, and we make significantly less money, on the average, as gay males do. If we had more disposable income, there would be more women's resorts, etc. Unfortunately, we're mostly too busy eary 75 cents on the dollar or less in heroic non-profit jobs while raising cats and children. ;o)

Thus endeth the sermon. Whew!

Qenny said...

frobisher: I agree, I'm glad the scene is there. I just wish some gay business folks would come up with some other ways to make money out of us that lead to a more fulfilling life. Or indeed lifestyle.

Da Nator: Phew! This could run and run. I agree that for some people, monogamy doesn't work. I don't mean to be dictating such a choice to anyone. What I'm railing against is that the scene, in many ways, seems geared up to undermine monogamous relationships. Often, when gay guys get together and make a committment, they tend not to go out on the scene so much, in part because it's geared towards singles. There's an unspoken criticism that if you aren't single and participating, then you are in some way less gay, or you're being selfish and not contributing to the community, such as it is (pace frobisher). Obviously, I'm exaggerating a little to stimulate debate, and I agree, there is a lot happening with businesses gearing up to cater to couples taking up the opportunity to have their relationship recognised by the law.

Interestingly, when the law was passed in NZ, one of the criticisms made by the opponents of the bill was that it affected a small percentage of a small minority group, and it was a waste of parliamentary time - and the public money that pays for that time - to cater to such a tiny number of people. The background to that claim was that the official stats for self-identified gay or lesbian people was 3 - 5%. Of that minority, about 10% had indicated that they would be interested in having their relationship given legal recognition.

(On a side note, in my submission in favour of the bill - which was quoted in the proceedings of the select committee - this emphasis on how few people were affected did much to undermine other claims made by the bill's opponents about how the law would undermine the very fabric of society.)

I'm sorry to see what's happening in the US. Right-wing self-serving bastards have deliberately misrepresented the teachings of the new testament to convince the pig ignorant masses to vote for an incompetent buffoon who is making the world a much more dangerous place whilst lining his own pockets and those of his friends; and at the same time, is seeking to deny anyone other than straight couples the right to have their relationship recognised by the law. However, for those of us who are lucky enough to live countries that have made this big leap in towards more social equality, I believe that the legal recognition of our relationships will actually start to bring a bit more balance to the picture. In particular, with gay businesses selling goods and services pertaining to marriage and married life, there will be competition for the other gay businesses selling good times and sex services pertaining to single life.

I think the rise in straight SM is also affected in the same way by the need to continue finding the next (unfulfilling) highl or plumb the next unsatisfying depth. Or at least, that's a part of it. In the same way that art pushes boundaries because we are taught (as consumers) not to be satisfied with the norm. We've always got to be looking for the new, the novel.

I take what you say about the fact that businesses don't cater properly to women on board. I don't necessarily agree that that's the whole picture, though, since I've known of businesses and ideas aimed at dykes that end up failing because of a lack of interest. Some dyke playas tried to get a female cruising area going in Hampstead Heath years ago (the heath has long been a gay male cruising area). It didn't take off. There just didn't seem to be the same appetite for casual encounters, or at least, not enough womyn with such an appetite.

You touched on something that I'll probably save for another post, but I've been aware for a long, long time that gay men and the gay scene owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to the lesbian community. There seems to be a much higher degree of interest in politics, willingness to actually do something about political issues, committment to non-profit organisations, and so on and so on amongst lesbians than amongst contemporary gay men. It seems to me that lesbians have done more than their fair share of the work, but gay men get more than their fair share of the spoils, and the attention. And this also touches on something in my original post. Doing something like that, actually doing something that benefits other people, is much, much more satisfying than going out to just another sauna for just another mindless fuck.

I think, between original post and comments, this is probably the longest item on my blog to date. And it ain't over yet!


Jay said...

I have a huge problem with 'gay businesses' like Prowler and Clone Zone that try to peddle cheap t-shirts to gayboys at stupid prices.

Da Nator said...

Hee! Thanks for your responses, Qenny, they do make a lot of sense. I think all the factors we both mention are at play.

And yeah, where are my lesbian spoils? I want spoils, dammit!

Things may also be different for us because we live in different countries. That said, please do pity us for the buffoon. No one I know voted for him, and much of the U.S. didn't (less than half, the first go 'round). Perhaps we should be discussing, instead, how politics are affected by marketing and capitalist consumerism. This is what happens when your national elections turn into a big, product-placed episode of American Idol!

Qenny said...

jay: Completely with you there. And yet, the stepford boyz buy them!

da nator: I believe so, too. And thank you for your input. I like being able to air my not quite fully baked opinions and have some help in giving them some more shape. As for the monkey in the White House, I think it's not so much pity that we feel, although there is that, but also a genuine fear about what he and others like him will do next. Sadly, he seems to have some hold over the UK prime minister, too, and that's also very worrying. Ah well, I'll be back in NZ eventually, where there's a great female PM who refused to have anything to do with the recent illegal attacks on sovereign nations. I don't know how it happened, but the Bush administration seems to have sold the idea that democracy means a country electing a leader of whom the White House approves rather than one of whom the electorate in that country approves, cf. Hugo Chávez.

frobisher said...

I bought a douche from Clone Zone the other week :)

Qenny said...

frobisher: admittedly, there aren't that many places that sell them, although you could probably get them in any other sex shop for much less money. Then you'd have queens tutting you for "not supporting the community", or "not supporting gay businesses", or "giving your money away to people who hate us".

BTW, I apologise to anyone reading this what wants to remind me of the all important distinction to be made between S&M (slave & master role play) and SM (sadomasochism). In my original post, I should have been using SM instead of S&M.

Kyahgirl said...

Hi Qenny,
You write really well and I enjoyed reading the sane, balanced dialogue on this topic. I don't have too many opinions to offer except that I'm glad to have a few more insights into your world.
I hope the day comes when its 'our' world, so that people aren't labelled by their sexual orientation.

Maybe then we can get on with making it a better place.

Qenny said...

Thanks, kyahgirl. I think we've done not too badly over the last couple of decades in terms of making it better. Recent developments in some parts of the world have been a bit of a set-back, but I'm optimistic.

Tickersoid said...

I totally agree.

*Toes colonic irrigation equipement under bed*

david said...

Eeek, well I was going to respond to the original "posting"
- only to discover a very worthy follow-up discussion!

My rather unworthy comment was that "The lady doth protesteth
too much!" :-) This is in the sense that judgements are often made
from where people are now compared to where they were then.
I say this as a friend (non-cyber!) of Qenny and knowing the
unabashedness of his "soul of indiscretion".

However, articulating this issue is good - there is much that is wrong
(at worst) or mis-representational (at best) in the commercial
or visible side of gay culture.

This forum can be celebrated as one such alternative expression.
My suspicion is that we are only at the start of a new
era of gay visibility and this could play out long-term in joyously
unexpected ways. The downside is that I see no precident in
human history (even the Grecian model is mis-representational
to our eyes) and most things that go around have been around before.

Qenny said...

tickersoid: You'll want to make sure you didn't leave any toe jam in it next time you hook it up :)

david: I agree that we are at the start of a new era, but not necessarily one of visibility. I think the next big moral battle, and it's likely to take place within our lifetimes, will be between those who want to dictate monogamy, and those who want to insist on polyamory, with a huge number in between who've tried both and settled on one that suits them. I think this is a natural progression, but is in danger of being hijacked by commercial interests that will push normal sexuality that happens to involve multiple partners into the same corner as much more extreme forms of sexual expression. There is a point at which extreme forms of sexual expression cease to be sex and become something else. Performance art, for want of a better word. Sexual art, maybe? It's difficulty to pinpoint when that change happens, as with many things in the area of aethetics. I'm not convinced that psychological balance is compatible with being unable to express yourself sexually without recourse to something that stops it being actual sex. Discuss. :-)