Producing the gay market: Sex, sexuality, and the gay professional -managerial class
Gay marketing has been both welcomed as offering increased gay visibility and criticized as risking the assimilation of gay subcultures into the mainstream. Using interviews with marketers, presentations on the gay market, articles from the marketing trade and popular press, and other documents, I analyze how the gay market came to acquire its particular contours, in what contexts, and with what effects. In my historical overview, I compare the formation of the gay market with that of the African American market decades earlier, arguing that marketers built upon earlier experiences of market formation to produce a respectable and profitable gay market. I look at gay-identified marketers' professional culture, assessing the importance of gay-specific expertise and a “polite politics” in protecting their employment. I outline the venues in which gay marketing appears, arguing that marketers must navigate between producing recognizably “gay” appeals while resisting offensive stereotypes. I address marketers' working model of gay consumers as usually urban, trendsetting, affluent, white men, how recent research has challenged this view, and how responses from gay and other audiences of gay advertising have helped to shape marketers' appeals. I delve into the gender specificity of the gay market, arguing that lesbians have been largely ignored by marketers because of the difficulty of reaching them in sufficient numbers, but also because of the failure of dominant discourses to imagine lesbian desire. Yet, conversely, since overt queer sexuality is seen as incompatible with gay marketing, the stereotype of the hypersexual gay man has required a rigorous curtailment of eroticism in gay publications. I look at the relation between sex, class, and consumption, arguing that in order to produce a profitable gay market, marketers have emphasized only the most sexually and class-respectable elements of gay subcultures and have disavowed their more politically, culturally, and erotically challenging aspects. I conclude that gay marketing is problematic not because it erases distinctions between gays and heterosexuals, as critics of assimilationism fear, but because it emphasizes the distinctions between privileged gays and others. Affluent, apolitical, sexually respectable gays increasingly represent “gayness” in marketing and elsewhere.