Randy Stern: Stereotypes or Cultural Norms- What’s Right?

It is something we grapple with as members of subcultures. We are imposed such ideals that everyone has of us – some of which might have been imposed by ourselves.

Randy Stern

Randy Stern is a past managing editor of the GLD predecessor Midwest Ursine and an automotive journalist. His work is published at Victory & Reseda and Why This Ride You can contact him at randy@randystern.net

It is no different for our choice of automobile. There are some imagery that suggests we drive certain vehicles as an extension of our lifestyle. These vehicles extend the fetish further, thanks to various outlets that cater to our lives and desires.

For example, there was an imposition of masculinity for a chunk of the two decades living as a Bear-identified gay man. That masculinity denotes that I should drive a pickup truck or a true SUV, such as a Jeep Wrangler. However, I found early on that it was just a fallacy. In truth, Bearfolk drove compact sedans – mainly Saturns. It was an interesting observation considering that Saturn was one of the first brands to reach out to the LGBT community.

Unlike some folks entrenched in subculutural communities, I actually got it. Bears were the alternative two decades ago, not the mainstream. Alternative groups tend to take a different approach to outward appearance to distinguish themselves apart from the so-called norm – even if it meant being an alternative to the image imposed by their peers.

Not to mention, Jeep Wranglers and pickups did not represent value, economy and practical needs for a community that was on the verge of growth and presence 20 years ago. Those who could afford the gas, upkeep and could utilize these vehicles could maintain the image better than the rest of those aspiring to become part of the core of the subculture.

Nowadays, Bears are part of the mainstream of LGBT society. Our consumer habits reflect not only the rest of the greater culture, but of society as a whole. It is safe to say that we are just like everyone else – in varying forms of mainstream, that is.

In doing some field observations, a few things remain true while others have evolved over the two decades. For one, we no longer follow “norms” and found freedom in our consumer decisions. Perhaps a better word for this is “realistic.” Once we emerged out of the global financial crisis, Bears, Leatherfolk and our allies understood the economy of scale in terms of working through budgets and credit to make smarter consumers decisions on automobiles. Pre-owned vehicles were at a premium due to low-to-moderate inventories at retail channels, while the online open market flourished with subpar offerings.

New car and truck sales took off when the economy began improving. This was where we made our presence and we chose a wider range of vehicles within a certain budget. Yet, car prices did go up, but more creative ways to finance them expanded towards smarter solutions without fully reverting to the same credit offers prior to the financial crisis.

It was not surprising that the LGBT media confirmed these notions by finding out that our automobile consumer habits actually do mirror those of mainstream society. One report had us buying as many pickups by percentage as, say, Subarus. Another report point to distinctive brands and consumer habits when we shop for automobiles – yes, Subaru, as an example.

Also, do we shop on the basis of which brands love us back? As a former contributor to GayWheels.com, there is a place where you can find which automakers are truly gay friendly back at their office. For example, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota Motor Sales USA, Volkswagen of America and Subaru of America are very prominent when it comes to supporting its LGBT employees, as well creating external opportunities for outreach to consumers. This is supported by GayWheels.com’s own research, as well as confirmation via the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index – a measurement for which we truly find which companies do support their LGBT employees towards making culturally-based consumer decisions.

On the contrary, I found is that most LGBT consumers – along with Bears and Leatherfolk of all sexual orientations – do not pay attention to which brand supports them or not. We will buy any brand, as long as the vehicle is suitable for us. In my dealings with Hyundai Motor America, they might not have internal universal human resource policies regarding employee protections against discrimination, but they do know we buy their products. Do they need to cater their advertising for us? They could, but they choose a universal approach to their marketing strategy.

However, the Leather/BDSM community is not exclusive to the LGBT community. It is not on marketer’s radars as a distinctive cultural group. Maybe that is a good thing, because with play there is freedom. The freedom of choice that opens up doors to you – the consumer – to any vehicle you want. There is no lifestyle specific necessity to bridge product to consumer in this case.

Perhaps that is the best practice in the automotive business. Most manufacturers start off their campaigns by asking subconsciously: “Why do we need specific marketing channels to fit every lifestyle, community, culture, etc.?” The bottom line is expense – it is very expensive to do multiple marketing strategies to fit segmented audiences.

If we love a vehicle, we make it fit our life. That, as consumers, should consider that face alone- regardless of how we identify ourselves.