“Pink Dollar” vs. “Purple Lira”

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This week, an article came out in L’Orient le Jour, Lebanon’s French daily newspaper, entitled “Les Pink Dollars, ou les tendances de la consommation gay“(tr. The Pink Dollars, or the gay consumption trends).  As one can guess from the title, the article described the booming purchasing power of Lebanon’s LGBT community.

And by LGBT, it meant upper-class, older, worldly gay men.

According to interviewees in the article, Lebanon’s gay community orders more expensive wine and leaves bigger tips than its heterosexual counterparts. And it does so because gay people don’t have children to spend their money on, they travel more so they are better at gastronomy and the finer things in life, and they are obsessed with their appearances so they must spend money on their looks.

Predictably, many gay activists were quick to express their disgust and outrage at the article, describing it as narrow-sighted and shallow. And they are right, it is elitist and classist and an oversimplification of economics.

But it also strikes a chord that we – as the LGBT community – should not continue ignore: our purchasing power. I will call it “The Purple Lira,” to distinguish it from the “pink dollar” referred to in the article. By “The Purple Lira,” I mean the collective purchasing power of certain, diverse groups within the queer community in Lebanon – from the ultra rich gay man to the lesbian student on financial aid, from the working class transgender woman to the bisexual middle class ent20000repreneur. Yes, we cover as vast an array of social class as we do of sexuality, gender ethnicity, education, and religion. And yet, if we are choosing to organize as a community around a certain identity – in our case sexual orientation / gender identity – we must acknowledge that we have stronger financial power in numbers.

While the Pink Dollars article overgeneralizes the community, it does point to a visible, vibrant niche of consumers who are indeed out there in Beirut. And then there’s the rest of us. But we spend money too. One need only take a glance at the growing list of gay places in Beirut (and Sin El Fil) to see that the growing demand is leading to a growing supply. Back when I was in college, I remember we only had Sheikh Man2oush and Acid nightclub. And I remember gay male friends constantly asking me to cover them for $5 or $10 so they can make the $20 Acid entrance fee. Today, there are dozens of places spread over the city – and not all of them expensive. As we become more organized and more socially aware in our different queer communities, new opportunities present themselves. The equation is simple: we have stronger purchasing power collectively – no matter what our individual capacities are.

The real question we should be asking ourselves is: where is our Purple Lira going?

Is it going to bars and pubs that are owned by homophobic people? Is it going to coffeeshops that are owned by collectives of people rather than a handful of shareholders? Is it going to healthy, drug-free spaces? Is it going to corporate pockets with no social responsibility or giving back to the community? Is it going to places that ban transgenders from entering? Is it going to lesbian-friendly places not just places that favor gay men? Is it going to youth-friendly places for LGBTs under 18? Is it going to a place that has an affirmative policy of employing transsexuals? Is it investing in something rather than just consuming? Is it aware of the problems with consumption? Does it try to recycle before it buys? When it buys, does it buy green, eco-friendly products? Is it going to any business that involves something other than partying, drinking, and smoking? Is it donating something to Helem or Meem or other queer initiatives? Or is it only out paying for the sash of Mr. Bear Arabia?

Unfortunately, unless we mobilize economically, we are all contributing to the culture of the gay community and its extravagant gourmet dining.


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