One of the persistent myths about gay people concerns our supposed affluence. Like many myths about us, this one likely originates with heterosexuals who believe our lack of marital ties means fewer financial burdens. After all, gay men have no wives to consult about their spending habits, and lesbians have no husbands to give them grief about the cost of a new dress. OutUK correspondent Brian W. Fairbanks examines the truth.
Well, okay, maybe more gay men than lesbians are interested in spending money on dresses, but that's not the point. The point is most of us are considered single without dependents. Our money is ours to do with as we please, and we have lots of money.

Without a wife and children to house and feed, a gay man is free to pursue a career in presumably lucrative professions like hairdressing, fashion design, fashion photography, and interior decorating. If he comes home each night to a partner, that partner is employed in an equally lucrative (and feminine) field. If the gay male couple has children, they are likely of the four-legged variety, probably French poodles: small and, therefore, cost efficient.

Photography by Andrew Swaine
A lesbian would as likely bring home the bacon as a truck driver, construction worker, or maybe a gym teacher. She may also have a companion, but again that companion is employed. If a lesbian couple has children, they are likely mementos of a previous heterosexual relationship, in which case the male who provided the seed may also be providing some financial support. If the child was produced through ess conventional methods (adoption, surrogates), the lesbian couple knew in advance that they could handle the extra financial burden that parenthood brings.

Like most stereotypes, the one about the gay community's wealth may possess a small grain of truth, but it is true only for a very small portion of the gay population and it has its roots in homophobia. While lesbians and gay men work in every imaginable field, the most visible members of our community are, of course, the most successful.

No one flaunted his wealth or his homosexuality like the late Liberace, but if the celebrated pianist had not succeeded in show business, his "gayness" would no doubt have been considerably toned down and probably denied (Liberace did, in fact, deny he was homosexual, but no one, except perhaps his mother, believed him). Waving a wand, wearing a long white fur coat, and suspended above the Las Vegas stage by wires, the lisping, limp-wristed entertainer was a complete fairy on stage, yet he never alienated his mostly middle-aged female fans.

But if "Lee," as he was called by his intimates (male, of course), had worked as a construction worker or traffic cop, such flamboyantly queer displays would likely have gotten him fired or punched out.

The simple truth of the matter is that most gays and lesbians are not affluent, and many of those who are either work in fields where being gay is acceptable and perhaps even considered an advantage (male hairdressers, for one) or they are closeted for fear that their affluence will be threatened should they reveal their true nature. But even in the entertainment world in which Liberace was once queen, openly gay entertainers, such as Elton John, Ellen Degeneres, and Rupert Everett, are a minority within a minority. As Tom Cruise's recent lawsuits make clear, most performers are just as worried as the rest of us that their sexual orientation, or the mere allegation that they're gay, will hinder their career, and being gay is still more likely to get someone fired than hired.

Most studies, and there have been few of those, indicate that the incomes of gays and lesbians are perfectly average at best, and below average at worst. A study by Ireland's Anti Poverty Agency found that among gay men and lesbians "57%…find it difficult to make ends meet, that a third had been homeless at some point in their lives and that a fifth avoid work for which they are qualified through fear of discrimination." The same study found that "7% reported being dismissed from a job because they are lesbian or gay and a further 14% had resigned from a job because they found it too difficult to reconcile their job with their sexuality."

Many young queer people, facing harassment at school, drop out and give up on thoughts of employment all together, ending up on benefits no matter how skilled and talented they maybe.

Yet the myth persists that we are affluent. In some cases, members of our own community have perpetuated the myth. Gay businesses eager to attract advertising pounds frequently encourage the notion of gay affluence to fatten their own budgets, but the myth is based mainly in prejudice. Just as there are many bigots who believe that Jewish people control the economy and that one successful Black or Asian businessman is proof that racism no longer exists and equality has been achieved, there are many homophobes who use our supposed affluence as a way to suggest that we already have more than most people, and, therefore, are not entitled to equal rights. But it is our lack of equality that has taken a toll on our wallets. Only when we have the rights to which all people are entitled will the lesbian and gay community truly be affluent.

Let the fight continue.


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