Minority groups are rarely thought of as something that you can enter into (or leave as the case may be). Though there are obviously various levels of discrimination, it is not always a lifelong thing. It can be experienced by people at specific times of their lives based on their circumstances.
Money is one of the most influential factors in this regard. It can create great privilege and great suffering and is something we all have a relationship with -whether we have a lot or a little. And it’s fluid -most of us will experience different levels of wealth throughout our lives.
It can also impact discrimination related to minority status quite easily. An affluent person from a minority is seen as very different from someone from the same group who has little money. Alexander McQueen spoke of the shift in his family’s attitude towards his sexuality once he became wealthy: “All of a sudden everything’s hunky-dory because I’m solvent. Sorry I just don’t buy that!”
‘Buying’ is an interesting choice of word. Economic status automatically influences how we are seen, how sellable or valuable we are to others, and this is exacerbated by minority status. It’s interesting to think about how money is viewed in the queer community, specifically in a dating context. What role does money play when it comes to dating? Can affluence distract from minority status? Does the queer community have a specific relationship with money?
Below are three interviews with members of the queer community who are either currently unemployed or who identify as earning a low wage. Interestingly, they have all asked to remain anonymous in the article. This perhaps underscores how certain demographics and minority statuses are perhaps more concealable than others. ‘Financial passing’, whilst not an option for everyone, is a perhaps common practice for many, even if it is only for a few weeks… or a few dates. Of course other demographic statuses impact this. Age and education play a huge part with regard to earning expectations. Like previous articles, each of the following experiences are just that. They are not representative of an entire community.
With that said, here are three queer people speaking about their experiences relating to being from a low economic bracket whilst dating…
Person A: 27, Cisgendered Male, Gay/Queer
Person B: 32, Cisgender Female, Queer
Person C: 27, Cisgender Female, Pansexual
When would you usually tell a date about your employment/income situation? What reactions do you usually get?
A: I’m currently in a long term relationship, but I think I receive support from my partner. Initially when we first started dating, it was frustrating because my employment status really wasn’t stable and I felt I had to rush into a job or position so that I could really be invested in the relationship.
B: I’m upfront. I’ve had someone walk away at a house party once when I said I was currently working in retail, it felt like a slap in the face but in hindsight it’s a blessing there was no time wasted with someone so quick to judge. I’ve felt the conversation change, particularly if the other person is very well established in their career or it’s a very high status job. But if dating through a dating site, I’ll usually gravitate towards more socialist, feminist types who tend to put the person before the paycheque.
C: I probably wouldn’t ever mention what my exact income is to a date. I was in a three year relationship and only mentioned the rough bracket after two years. Their reaction was quite shocked given the position and number of years I’ve been employed.
Do you feel you need to compensate for or justify your income to a date?
A: Not necessarily. I do feel self-conscious when I cannot pay for things or treat my partner to something special. If I can’t afford going on the date, I normally just grin and bear it. I’ll pay for it in the end but then the following week is a bit tight. I feel really embarrassed if I have to decline a date night out, but my partner is very understanding anyways.
B: Sometimes, I do feel the need to justify. I’ll often explain that I’ve been focused on my mental health, to the degree that it has affected my career progression. But to be honest, when I’m very low on money I do tend to avoid dating. When things have been tight it has definitely induced anxiety and can affect confidence and I often want to wait until I’m in a better place both psychologically and financially.
C: I wouldn’t say anyone has to feel this way and I wouldn’t talk about it too much, but it has come up when paying for things. Usually they understand or on the same page but I’d say it does affect the quality of the dates.
Do you think dating someone from a different earning bracket becomes more of an issue the longer the relationship continues?
A: Yes, absolutely. I think that once you start going steady, you notice the disparity more and when you want to start progressing (moving in, going on holidays, etc.) I think it becomes painfully apparent.
B: No. The opposite. You get to know people better with time and if you don’t accept them as they are, pay grade and all, I think you figure that out early on. By the time people are signing marriage certs or mortgage agreements – they know who they’re with and why they’re with them. If a disparity in income is a factor I think it would present itself early on (like when someone physically walks away when you share that you work in retail at a party).
C: I definitely do – depending on the wants and needs of the individuals in the relationship. If one person spends more there is pressure on the other to match that and vice versa which can be difficult on both partners.
Do you think anything to do with being part of the queer community (or any minority group) affects how much money you are expected to have?
A: I think there is the perception that queer people are fairly financially successful just due to their abnormal trajectory into adulthood as we’re less likely to have children and have to support a household.
B: When I began to date women, I immediately wanted to have my finances in better order. When I dated men, I felt my empathic skills make up for my economic situation. However, as women were already so emotionally intelligent (just in my personal experience) – being empathic was less impressive. As a result, I felt a big urge to be in a good place financially before dating women seriously. I also have in the back of my mind the feeling that it’s more important to be able to provide for myself and others, when dating women, because we’re more likely to be affected by the gender pay gap and other discriminatory or abusive employment situations than men.
C: I wouldn’t correlate income to sexuality -more to do with gender. I guess they are all related. If I were a man, yes I probably would feel I needed to earn more, but other factors definitely come into play like upbringing and the importance placed on earning from a young age.
Do you think having money or a large income negates (any) minority status?
A: I think that having this large financial success sometimes justifies your identity a bit. It can make queer people feel that they’ve made all the right decisions (coming out when they did, living their life the way they have). Because I would consider myself someone who earns less than they need to spend, I sometimes question what decisions I’ve made, and if I made the right choice with my identity and schooling, everything.
B: No -minorities of any income level, will still be discriminated against to some degree. The good job in Facebook may alleviate some discrimination on a personal level in the short-term, but if you work within a problematic system, I think it would be naive to believe you’ll be able to affect change on a societal level.
C: I kind of do, it gives you more privilege in other areas
What do you think the relationship is between income and attractiveness?
A: I think that attractiveness is entirely objective but in reality, a high income is attractive. Especially if it means that the person will support you and treat you to everything you need. It’s so shallow, but at the end of the day, it’s what most people desire for.
B: Much like other minority groups, financial ‘passing’ is a very real thing. People struggling to pay the rent will often want to hide it in order to fit in socially. Depending on your social circle, cultural capital like the right brand of watch or shoes can be the difference between fitting in and feeling less than. This feeling makes a huge difference when it comes to flirting or chatting someone up. I don’t think Boris Johnson would have had as much action as he’s had if he worked in Spar, let’s put it that way.
C: There could be a link between having a good income and ‘looking after’ your date or partner to being the ‘caretaker’. Though I do believe there should be equality within this, there can also be pressure to be shown as being more generous to be seen as attractive.
What’s the most frustrating thing about dating someone who earns a lot more than you?
A: I think it’s the inward thinking and questioning. Being so close to someone and being in social situations with them over a long period of time make you question ‘What did I do wrong? Why is this person so much more successful than me? Why did I study what I studied? Why didn’t I do that course?’ That’s the part I find the most difficult.
B: I can’t say yes to anything on a whim. I’d also like to add that there are people with inherited intergenerational wealth who won’t mention it, who claim that they are ‘self made’ or assume everyone had an equal start or footing… that is just not true. People need to be aware of how their background or privilege has contributed to their income and earning opportunities more than they do.
C: The inequality and how it makes both people feel, and feeling you have to spend more or to match the other person’s spending.
This article continues the ‘Dating and Difference’ series featured in the Dec 2021 and Feb 2022 editions of GCN.