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Wall Street's Secret Society

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Jenrette is just as vehement in response. "I've always thought a person's sex life is their own business," he bristles when asked about criticisms such as Kramer's. "I don't see why I have to declare my sexuality. I don't need to have a confessional. I think it's terrible: Are you gay or straight? People are everything. I think it sets a worse example if everyone declares how they do it. Orally, anally, with the family dog? One's personal life is a very private thing. I think my personal life is my own."

While many younger Wall Street gays cite Jenrette's unwillingness to take the lead as a disappointment, Andrew Tobias, the best-selling financial writer and gay memoirist, believes the reticence of people in Jenrette's generation is understandable. "They came of age at a time when to be gay was an abomination, like cheating on your wife," he says. "The younger, more junior gay people on Wall Street are proud, but they say, Why jeopardize the chance of making big money?"

In fact, for younger gays, many of whom came out in the liberal atmosphere of college only to find themselves pushed back into the closet at work, the transition can be especially difficult. "The anti-gay jokes are common, accepted, and almost encouraged," says Robert Fenyk, a young Merrill Lynch broker who left the firm in disgust in 1994. "When traders make anti-gay jokes, they really do it because they are anti-gay, versus just 'busting' on a Brooklyn guy because he has an Italian accent. I don't think the straight community on Wall Street wants to know you're gay. They don't want to learn how to deal with gay men. I don't see full acceptance in my lifetime, and I'm 31."

While there are no particular fiefdoms at the big financial firms that are uncommonly tolerant of homosexuality, some institutions and divisions are reportedly more tolerant than others. Most gays and lesbians take pains to avoid the trading floors -- raucous boys' clubs that one gay trader compares to "a holding pen at Rikers -- but less refined."

Nevertheless, there are exceptions. One trader began his career in mergers and acquisitions but transferred after just two years, partly because he figured that the trading floor would be easier to take than the suburban-country-club socializing expected of investment bankers: "Sure, there's an awful lot of machismo on the trading floor. There are guys who smash phones. There's a lot of shouting, talking about football, going out for beers after work. But I don't find that particularly problematic. I always thought that M&A was a more difficult environment to be out in, especially at a senior level, when you're forced to take clients and their wives to golf events."

While Wall Street may talk up the meritocratic ideal, its entrenched culture is still socially conservative. Wall Street firms do keep very close tabs on who produces what profits, but they don't always pay the individuals in direct proportion to their performance.

This discrepancy is particularly pronounced when it comes to bonuses, which often constitute the biggest part of a professional's pay. Elizabeth Goldstein, the former Bankers Trust trader, says that married guys with children are usually able to plead rather effectively for the largest bonuses, claiming they need the money for things like private-school tuition.

Their supervisors -- often family men with financial burdens -- empathize with them and pay up. Single women and gay men tend to be shortchanged at bonus time, because they can't make as effective a case for higher compensation. Since the system rewards married providers with children, it's not surprising that many Wall Streeters seem to have unusually large families and traditional, stay-at-home wives. In this environment, a single gay man with no children -- and a partner whose existence he doesn't dare discuss -- seems conspicuously out of place.

In fact, some find it especially hard to maintain relationships in the atmosphere of Wall Street. "Every time I'd find a relationship, my company would move me to another continent," sighs one trader. "If you're straight, the firm will make provisions to move your wife or girlfriend along. Because you can't be open, they move you around at will."


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