Hi Jake,

I’ve been living in Manhattan for almost eight years now, and I’ve been kind of in denial about how expensive it is. I feel it’s especially hard being a gay man, because if I want to dress good for the New York scene, go to all the “it” restaurants and bars, and live in a trendy neighborhood.

My friends are always inviting me to things and it ends up being hundreds of dollars for a random night out, but I never really say no, because I don’t want them to think I can’t afford it. Add on top of that the timeshare in Fire Island, trips to P-Town this summer, and other jaunts around the world (Tel Aviv Pride this year, for instance), and it’s an insane hit to my pocketbook.

I have a pretty well-paying job, but I think my friends kind of see me as a “power gay”. What they don’t know is that it’s a charade. I just added up my debt, and over the last eight years my credit card deficits and loans have climbed to the six figures. I don’t think I can sustain this anymore, but if I suddenly stop my lifestyle, everyone will wonder what’s up and realize that my life has been a sham.

What do I do?

A “Dour Gay

Dear A “Dour Gay”,

It sounds like you might be channeling your inner Anna Delvey here (minus the pathological lying and illegal activity), and we all know from Inventing Anna that eventually the facade comes crashing down.

One of the theories behind why Anna Sorokin created her affluent persona is that she had a deep-seated desire for status, in order to gain acceptance. A lot of times, we can feel better about ourselves if we perceive that we have the approval of our fellows, especially those that we look up to because they represent something important to us.

In your case, I’m wondering if you see the lifestyle of a “power gay” as something you need to sustain in order to feel good enough, because living a lesser life would somehow make you less worthy.

It’s one thing to be privileged enough to afford the penthouse in Hell’s Kitchen, the membership to the SoHo House, and the Cherry Grove timeshare. It’s another to try and achieve that life when we really can’t afford it, simply to create some false sense of ourselves.

Pretending to be someone we’re not is something that many of us as gay men are used to. After all, we grew up most likely trying to pass as straight at some point in our past. We often learn to become keyed into what we think other people want from us, and pay attention to what garners the most acceptance and approval, simply as a survival technique. Now that being out as gay is not an issue, I’m wondering if this pattern of seeking approval has simply taken another form in your life.

In our society, and especially in gay culture, we often ascribe value to those that have wealth, success, and prosperity. If we are living the “high life”, it is seen as a good thing that is deserving of our admiration.

As exemplified in The Velvet Rage, the gay man’s Bible that unfortunately still holds up today, gay men are often unconsciously driven for success and wealth as a way to overcompensate for feelings of unworthiness. After all, we can’t help but absorb messages in childhood that being gay is “different”, and sadly, “different” is often treated as “less than” in our culture.

What appears to be happening now is that seeking validation from outside yourself is ironically the very thing that is unraveling your self-worth, because your financial life is in ruins. Part of self-esteem is taking care of our financial health, and at some point, going into this much debt is simply self-destructive.

Your task now is to do some internal work to build up your self-worth in ways that are more substantial, and put an end to the charade. You may no longer be able to go to that Michelin star restaurant, or maintain the membership at Equinox, but you’ll be increasing your financial health, and ultimately your positive sense of self (having a budget or financial planner can help with this as well!).

If people are shocked by the sudden change in status and financial freedom, so what? You’ve survived worse, including probably at one point being perceived as straight! If your friends disappear, maybe that says something about how substantial those connections were, anyway. Those who see your value without flashing the Black Card will remain.

Just like Dorothy when the Wizard of Oz pulled back the curtain and revealed himself to be an illusion, you’ll begin to learn the qualities you were seeking have been there all along. That said, you might want to return those ruby slippers.

Ask Jake is our advice column by Queerty columnist and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist Jake Myers. If you have a question for Jake, please email [email protected] for consideration.

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Queerty’s licensed mental health professional helps readers navigate questions related to relationship dynamics, sex, gay culture, and more, all through a lens of releasing shame and living authentically.

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