If bulk-buying were an Olympic sport, gay men could shop for their countries. We have the gene

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Jesus's mum might be a Mary, but that doesn't make Christmas gay-friendly, despite the almost unseemly abundance of fairies, songs about shepherds washing their frocks by night, or however that dreary carol goes, and the uplifting but empty rhetoric about goodwill to all men. Yeah, goodwill to all men, sure, right on, it's just that there's no room at the inn for the sort of faggot who refuses to burn.

Not that it's the hypocrisy that galls. That's mere substance. What offends the fastidious is the much more important question of style, specifically the lack of. Christmas is naff, not camp; for indulgence to transcend expenditure requires a self-consciousness that is antithetical to the cosy, unquestioning notion of the nuclear family. Still, most gay men find themselves caught up in the festive season nevertheless. It is, after all, the one and only time of the year when a sort of common territory is shared: when the het-up world sees (dress) sense and adopts, for a limited period, the merciless shopping habits we gracious queens (God save us) take for granted and my bank manager - why does he always see red? - takes as a permanent threat to his mental stability. (Sage words to said species: if a customer has more than three Klein, Clinique or hi-fi items on any one statement, consult a shrink now.)

For a few glorious days we are freed from explaining why that pink, patently transparent Westwood shirt with the bat collar and velvet buttons was a snip at pounds 300; why a floating brass and mahogany soap holder can't possibly be considered a luxury purchase, even though the cost makes your platinum American Express card bleed; why a few grand blown on dance CDs, movie star biographies, barbells, steel bracelets and imported skin-care ranges is merely your own humble way of stimulating the British economy, despite realising that what the economy really needs is ECT.

The orgy that is wholesale Christmas consumption dispatches such exercises in twisted logic to the poorhouse: go, walk out the door, don't turn around now, you're not welcome any more. Not that the excuses are ever seriously intended or seriously received. Among those who calmly spend, spend, spend a month's rent on a sequinned jockstrap - "Darling, it's Gaultier!" - excuses are merely amusing opportunities for verbal invention and an invitation to fellow adventure capitalists to give the ritual responses: "It looks fabulous"/"Worth every penny"/"Does it come in black?"

If bulk-buying were an Olympic sport, gay men could shop for their countries. We have the shopping gene. Really: why else would Dale Winton be presiding over Supermarket Sweep? For the retail experience, the eternal pleasure of the purchase, the promise of a brighter you are as central to our existence as cruising and safe sex. Only a pair of D&G leather jeans will never say "No" or quiz you about how many previous pairs you've had before allowing you to slip in to see if we're talking tight squeeze or relaxed fit. For a self/self/self image that's been battered to the point of bitterness (or has little fear of heavy-petting its feminine side, shopping being traditionally considered a well girlie activity) anything that suggests improvement, comfort or a month's or a moment's happiness will be almost automatically tried and tested. I Buy, Therefore I Am What I Am.

Come to think of it, the Tories should kiss our luscious, superbly contoured butts. In the Eighties we were - albeit inadvertently - Maggie's shock troops, the model to which she wanted the nation to aspire; upwardly mobile, with a highly disposable income. (That's the marketing myth anyway. Believe it or not, there are plenty of unemployed gay men. Of course, around this time of year they're on holiday in Gstaad.) Right now we could be the one demographic cluster that grasps the full meaning of the Feel Good Factor. Who knows how vital fun and fleeting distraction are to dispel gloom and cultivate confidence? We know. Shopping is our favourite quick-fix therapy, a Special Offer we can't refuse.

No, hold on. That's sex. Sex is our favourite. Or is it love? No. Definitely shopping. Hmm. Love. Sex. Scratch that. Shopping.

It's easy to get confused. In a universe made from consumer novelties - the retail equivalent of a one-night stand - the danger is in treating the person as well as the product as things to be used, enjoyed and immediately discarded when boredom manifests itself, or an apparently better model hits the marketplace: how much is that body in the window?

People and after-shave aren't the same commodity. One can be splashed all over, but not the other. Only people are applied as regularly as perfume - and those craving instant gratification will bitch that it didn't do much for them, either, as if a partner or pick up's purpose were the same as that of an impulse purchase. But that's what happens when pleasure is mistaken for happiness and a short attention span means you'll never devote enough time to understanding the difference. It goes so: if your boom box or your boyfriend refuse to carry the tune you want to hear - it won't be "The Best Things in Life Are Free" - simply ignore repairs that might make it work and buy another brand. Then you'll be able to listen to the lyrics that speak to the bargain hunter and truly hopeless romantic deep in your wallet: "That's my prerogative."