|What happens to sexual politics during a time of economic retrenchment? Good question.
In an earlier depression, it was the case that centre-left governments were elected, engaged in public spending, and then embarked on the Second World War. During that period, there was austerity yet mass production for the communal war effort, and massive shifts of population, as well as gender roles, and increased sexual opportunities for lesbians and gay men, whether in uniform as members of the armed forces and their auxiliaries, or in convenient blackout areas which became opportunities for communal male frolicking during air raids. Unfortunately, the end of the war saw economic prosperity yet renewed gender and sexual conservatism, which continued onward until the birth of the New Left, feminism and LGBT rights in the sixties.
During this recession, several things changed beforehand. Women now have access to higher education, reliable contraception and abortion access and have experienced long periods of economic retrenchment in this country beforehand, such as the nineties. During that time, abortion access went up, birthrates went down and so did marriages, as highly educated women deferred parenting either altogether, or until such time as they chose, and when economic conditions were more convivial. Male homosexuality was decriminalised in the mid-eighties, and lesbians, gay men and bisexuals were protected under anti-discrimination laws during the early nineties, while civil unions arrived in 2005.
For all those clichéd, hackneyed social conservative ruminations about 'political correctness', only the most hardcore fundamentalist Christian fringe dweller fails to believe that those particular social advances aren't well-bedded in.
So, what happens to us this time? Given that civil unions were intended to parallel heterosexual marriages through providing equivalent rights and responsibilities, will lesbian and gay couples think twice about taking that major step in their lives and moving toward a legally recognised monogamous relationship? Will we see hesitation in family formation amongst lesbians and gay men who were intending to embark on same-sex parenting before the recession happened? In short, will our life opportunities and strategies more resemble those of heterosexuals in similar situations?
And what about singletons? What happens to the hard-up single gay man who wants to make a packet if he's laid off? In Britain and the United States, there have been reports of redundant white collar gay male movement into high end sex work, although apart from investment and finance companies, and some manufacturers, there haven't been all that many high profile corporate failures in New Zealand yet. However, it does raise some questions about what happens to sex work during a time of recession.
In a previous column, I reported that two Anglo-American callboys reported that the market was still buoyant (or should I say, tumescent), although at the same time, gay male erotic magazines have closed down, even that venerable dowager of New Zealand gay publishing, Out magazine. However, that may be attributable to changes in the erotic entertainment industry toward DIY tubesites rather than glossy professionally produced DVDs. Furthermore, German sex industry reports indicate a contraction of the market for heterosexual sex workers, although that may not apply to German gay male sex industry participants. Or, it might. Gay men may find that we have less disposable income, or are made redundant, and may restrict our erotic consumption accordingly to tubesites or sex on site venues, rather than spending money on erotic entertainment or gay sex workers.
On the other hand, how might all this affect sexual boundaries? During the last two decades of relative LGBT and feminist social progress, we're not as segregated from straight men as some of us used to be. Metrosexual straight men have reformed their gender repertoire to include communication skills, informed apparel and fragrance choices and culinary education, primarily under pressure from heterosexual feminists. At the same time, some lesbians and gay men have become affluent market segments as economic mobility has increased for some of us under the impact of antidiscrimination legislation, EEO policies and occupational feminism.
This has had mixed results. Lesbians now apparently find themselves besieged by straight female 'tourists' who visit the shores of Lesbos, dabble for a while, then drift back to heterosexuality. As for gay men, we face a different source of proximity. After the eighties and nineties New Right and advances in LGBT rights during the nineties and most of last decade or so, it may well be easier for bi-curious men to have sex with men. Added to which, there's the perception that gay men have disposable income, and may well spend it on sex workers. This could lead to a rise in male sex work, especially considering that in New Zealand, the Prostitution Law Reform Act 2003 effectively removed most of the barriers to consensual adult participation.
To give one example, the latest Australian DNA has a back cover shot advertising a site called "BrokeStraightBoys.Com", with two doleful shirtless twentysomethings in cargo pants looking out at us. Or are they? Or is this just marketing, because they want us to think they are, so we'll spend money visiting their pay-for-view website? Come to think of it, what about the other way around? Are there incentives for a 'BrokeGayBoys' website and "straight for pay" services for well-heeled straight women?
We honestly don't know. This recession is the first in which there's a climate of social liberalism insofar as sexual and gender politics are concerned, and how it may or may not affect our communities is still unknown territory. Craig Young - 13th June 2009