light refreshments, we were given an icebreaker in which
the moderator asked us each to say something about
ourselves. This was it – the moment I would have to
confess my ‘straightness.’ I was a little nervous and
hoped that my outing would be convincing. As we went
around the table, most of the men mentioned their wives
and kids – but not ‘Grey Top.’ Curiously, he instead
referenced his partner, without any pronoun attached.
When my turn came, I decided to play it safe by just
using a non-gendered, ‘we’: That ‘we’ lived in a outer
Canberra suburb, that ‘we’ had lived in Sydney and the
Gold Coast before, and that ‘we’ both enjoyed shopping at
proceedings were being videotaped, I took extra care to
look and sound convincing enough as a faux straight man.
I made sure that I kept my hands under the table so that
they did not flap around. I also tried to keep the pitch
in my voice monotone, repressing any impulse to raise it
too revealingly high when I talked.
focus group wore on, we all relaxed and I found it
easier and easier to pretend to be straight. At one
point, during an exercise requiring us to select
positive and negative images about potential shopping
centre development in the nation’s capital, I picked up
the stereotypical image of a happy family going
shopping. When my turn came, I waxed lyrical about them:
“This photo makes me think of my seven year old boy, and
myself going shopping. This photo makes me think of my
wife and myself holding hands and walking through the
shopping centre.” Of course, the seven year old boy I
mentioned was really my seven year old cat, but my story
was met with the approval of the other men.
point during my story, I realized that my hands had
unconsciously appeared from under the desk and where
attempting to speak on my own behalf, punctuating my
verbal sentences with corresponding hand gestures.
Immediately, I whipped them back under the desk and
resumed without the visual accompaniment. Thankfully, I
don’t think anyone particularly noticed.
extra points for my straight performance when I choose
an image of an attractive woman dancing to the
accompaniment of a violin player. As it turns out, most
men picked this one (as apparently did the women’s
group). I played my straight card by saying that I
thought she was attractive, which got a pretty good
response from the blokes! They also said that they
wanted to see more attractive women dancing in shopping
some minor controversy when I said that “my wife” and I
both liked the post-modern National Museum of Australia
in Canberra. My straight pals seemed to think that it
was ugly. Being the good husband that I was pretending
to be, I jumped to my ‘wife’s’ defense by saying that
many people probably said the same thing about the
Eiffel Tower 100 years ago. Much to my surprise, ‘Grey
Top’ agreed with me, noting that this was indeed the
Top’ also had another clue to send my way when it came
to his selections: they were, shall we say, a bit
‘different.’ While most men picked out stereotypical
images of happy, cuddly, hetero family ones, ‘Grey’
selected images foregrounding the architecture of the
place, rather than the people. Perhaps his most
revealingly deviant selection was that of a woman with
her tongue pierced. He was the only participant to make
might not have been clear about ‘Grey Top’s’ sexual
orientation, I was quite sure about the other men in the
group and what they wanted out of shopping – from a
market research point of view. In a perfect world, they
wouldn’t shop at all, opting instead to sit at home
watching television sports programs. But since they were
occasionally obligated to accompany their wives, they
wanted shopping centres that they could get into and out
of as quickly as possible (no multilevel car parks!).
fellow marketing research participants, I loved to shop.
I could spend hours shopping - looking for that
wonderful new shirt to go with that sexy and tight pair
of jeans. But – at least based on this group of men – to
be straight required two things: a hatred for shopping
and a love for sitting in front of the TV watching sport.
the only other deviant shopper in the group, however.
‘Grey Top’ admitted that he loved going to shop at
Newtown. But wait – it gets worse. He didn’t just love
to shop, he loved to shop for second hand books!
A silence came over the group. Obviously, the other men
were not used to hearing straight guys ever admitting,
publicly at least, that they loved to shop.
By the time the focus group ended, I had managed to pass as the real thing: a
straight, married man with kid right under the noses of
my straight colleagues. My performance ended as soon as
I picked up my pay check and headed out the door. Oscar
Wilde would have been impressed!
was happy to have succeeded in my efforts, I was
relieved to remove the straight jacket that had been
hindering my behaviour for two hours. If the experience
taught me anything, it was that to keeping up such an
act all your life would be exhausting, if not
impossible. I knew that no matter how hard I prevented
my hands from flying into the air, the pitch of my voice
going above a bass level, or avoiding ‘chick flicks’,
there would always be something that would give me away
– I love to shop. Give me the wide, open,
air-conditioned malls, Sale Time and my MasterCard over
a place on a couch watching boring TV sports programs
about hot, sweaty men playing with their balls any day!