Rich gay man, poor gay man...

Despite the widespread perception that gay men as a group tend to earn more than typical straight Joes, there are plenty of queers in stockrooms as well as boardrooms. And, since our sexuality is really related to the sum total of who we are, our financial status often affects what happens in our bedrooms, too.

Many middle- to upper-class gay men operate under what we'll call the "Lady Chatterley Principle," the notion that working-class men are earthier, more masculine, and more utterly sex-driven. As fallacious as this stereotype may be, generations of queer pornographers have celebrated the horny trucker, the sweaty construction worker, the brawny farmhand. Because of the importance many gay men place on archetypes of "masculinity," this love of "Rough Trade" is sometimes reflected, not just in Tom of Finland's bulging-crotch drawings, but in real-life sex as well.

Non-monogamous gay men, able to cultivate fleeting sexual friendships without promising marriage or taking a trick home to Mother, often screw outside their social class. It can result in some erotic tension that adds spice to the mirror-image aspects of same-sex coupling. Working class boys, tired from a hard day at work, can be swept into more-than-comfortable surroundings and treated right, while rich guys can have sex without worrying about maintaining their social status, able to screw without having to discuss the opera season afterwards. It's an oft-stated theory, in fact, that class barriers are more fluid in gay male culture than society at large simply because a hard-on is _the_ great social equalizer. It's harder to estimate someone's bank account once the clothes are off.

Which is not to say that class barriers are always breached. Some well-to-do fellows would rather not worry, justifiably or not, about discovering stuff has been stolen by their tricks. Many a working stiff would rather avoid potential snobs. Even reverse snobbery can play a part. "I'd much rather have sex in a place with piles of dirty laundry next to a mattress on the floor," says one firmly middle-class man, "than in some piss-elegant bedroom that looks like it hasn't been used since the decorator left. I just feel more comfortable."

The power dynamics of all of this are pretty slippery. While money confers a lot of power in society at large, a muscle-y, tattooed, rough-trade hunk conveys a power (and a threat) all his own. Most working-class men are, of course, no more unprincipled or vicious than the average CEO with a Rolex on his wrist and Bruno Maglis on his feet. Though the wealthy connoisseur of street boys is playing with fire, and the poor boy expecting a rich man to offer more than a quick, dismissive roll in the hay may face disappointment, the results of interclass tricking can oft be more delightful than dire.

Gay culture has a tradition of mentorship, young guys being taken in and helped out by wealthier, older, more experienced men. While this sort of arrangement has its pitfalls (and what kind of ongoing relationship doesn't?), it can indeed be an "everybody wins" situation. Plenty of proteges make great boyfriends, and many a rich guy is generous and kind.

But this sort of mentorship is less frequent than simple interclass messing around, and often, the signifiers of class are simply little fetishes that make life more interesting. "I had sex with this hairy guy with the best New Jersey accent, all guttural street-corner overtones," one well-educated fellow recalls. "He turned out to be, of course, a software salesman. But those Jersey-boy vowels sure got me hard."