That thing we don’t have to do anymore because they’re finally getting married!
Hold on please, my producer is speaking into my earpiece… Okay, my producer is saying that evidently legal integration into the institution of marriage is actually not the final and defining achievement of queerdom.
Our clear-eyed, big-hearted Patreon donors have requested an article on how queerness affects people’s finances. It’s good timing because I just finished watching The Haunting of Hill House and I’ve never felt bi-er! (And yes, before you ask, my official order is Theo > Shirley > Luke > Nell > dead kitten > Steven.)
I am ready and raring to accept my crown as queer queen of bummer-ass articles!
Note: Throughout this article, I will use the word “queer” to encompass all people who are not both cisgender and heterosexual. I’ll talk a lot about gay people and trans people specifically because those are the populations that usually have all the good scientific studies and economic surveys to shellac my ramblings with a gorgeous patina of Facts.
But we love all you aces, aros, bis, enbies, pans, polys, intersex individuals, questioners, queens, and whatever the hell other gender and sexual minorities I left out.
How does queerness affect one’s finances?
Earlier this year one of my best friends texted me, asking me for a recommendation on a printer for his wedding programs.
“I thought you printed those months ago!” I said.
“We did,” he told me. “I got a letter in the mail yesterday. My parents said that they prayed on it, and they decided not to come after all. So I need to take their names off.”
For my readers who have a good relationship with their parents, I really want you to imagine what it would feel like to receive a Dear John letter from them, saying they didn’t want to come watch you get married.
For my readers who are parents themselves—is there any circumstance in which you can imagine telling your child this? Think of your son standing alone, watching his husband dance with his own mother, knowing you chose not to be there to dance with him. Who could endure that? I’d rather dig my own heart out of my chest with a child’s plastic sand shovel.
Social isolation is the root issue of the financial struggles queer people face. Your family is your first and most important safety net. Your next is your community—your church, your school, your workplace. When these nets chuck you out, there’s nowhere to land but the cold, hard ground.
Queer people are big on the idea of “chosen families”—a mix of related or unrelated people who repair each other’s broken safety nets. Chosen families rock, but it can take you your twenties, thirties, and beyond to create them. And they’re often comprised of other queer people, who have the same instabilities as the rest of the community.
A more recent study estimated that queer youths are 120 times more likely to experience homelessness than their straight, cisgender peers. The problem isn’t unique to young people. Queer parents are three times more likely than straight, cisgender parents to be homeless themselves.
The long-term effects of homelessness are significant. The instability and insecurity can lead to serious trauma, lower grades, poorer health, and lower lifetime earnings. All of these stats are worse for queer people of color than for white queer people.
Queer people tend to gravitate to coasts and large cities, which are generally more accepting. But cities and coasts have much higher costs of living. This, along with other factors, makes it difficult for queer people to accumulate wealth.
Queer people are overrepresented in America’s criminal justice system.
One study found that young people with same-sex attractions are more likely to be stopped by police, expelled from school, arrested, and convicted. 20% of people in juvenile facilities identify as queer.
For example, 21% of trans women and 10% of trans men will spend time behind bars at some point in their life. 5% of straight, cisgender people can say the same. Once incarcerated, they are often denied continuation of hormone therapy and other medical treatment. Assault is common, and many prisons don’t have adequate policies for addressing it.
Queer people are also less likely to be bailed out of jail. And they receive less support afterwards, including some key areas like post-release housing. Again, all of these stats are worse for queer people of color than for white queer people.
Sexual orientation can influence career choice. Researchers think queer people gravitate toward jobs with a high amount of task independence and social perception skills. This is likely a social adaptation in response to discrimination.
There is some truth to this stereotype: gay men are statistically more likely to gravitate toward traditionally feminine jobs. (The top three are flight attendant, hairdresser, and nurse practitioner.)
Heterosexual men in traditionally feminine jobs were rated as less effectual and less worthy of respect. This is reflected in the fact that nurses have the lowest gender pay discrepancy of any job—female nurses earn 99.63% of what male nurses earn. (Remember too that traditionally feminine jobs are generally lower-paying. For this reason, a female same-sex couple is more likely to be poor than a male same-sex couple.)
The lack of clear and consistent applications of anti-discrimination laws make fighting back logistically difficult, emotionally exhausting, socially dangerous, and financially draining.
The queer community faces unique health challenges, which are greatly exacerbated by lower rates of employment and health insurance. 38% of queer people lack access to a routine annual physical.
Queer people are more likely to experience a range of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.
Suicide is a serious problem among queer people. Queer children are five times as likely to commit suicide. Their attempts are more serious, resulting in more instance of severe injury and a genuine wish to die.
Piggy grew up with a young gay man who was constantly bullied in high school, by his classmates and his family. At the age of twenty, he attempted suicide. He is now a paraplegic as a result.
41% of trans people attempt suicide at some point in their lives, compared to 4% of Americans overall. 92% of those suicide attempts happen when they are still children. You were saying something about bathrooms?
Queer populations have the highest rates of tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse. They are also more likely to be disabled.
Brittany Charlton of Harvard University’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, had this insight to share about her research:
“Most of the study participants were white and their families had middle-to-high household incomes. It is striking that these sexual orientation disparities are pervasive among participants who predominantly hold high social status. Given this high social status we may have underestimated levels of unemployment, being uninsured, and having poor health-related quality of life.”
Men who have sex with men are still banned from donating blood (and selling blood plasma, one of the best known options for a desperate person to safely make quick cash).
We humans rely on a broad network of social institutions to provide community support and a sense of psychological and physical safety. But some social institutions we rely on to protect people actively hurt queer people.
One survey found that highly religious heterosexual youths were 17% less likely to attempt suicide. For queer people, the effect was -38%. That is, religiosity makes suicide much more likely. This was particularly striking among women. A highly religious young lesbian is 52% more likely to have suicidal thoughts.
According to the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the strongest predictor of who commits violence against a queer individual is religious fundamentalism.
When a citizen picks up the phone to call for help, we expect police to respond to all citizens equally. Unfortunately, the implicit and explicit biases of individuals and institutions mean police can respond very differently depending on who is on the other end of that phone call.
A study by Lambda Legal found a range of unacceptable behaviors when police engage with queer people. These included both misconduct (like hostility and harassment) and insufficient responses to a range of complaints (like intimate partner violence and physical assault).
Police responses tended to be most inadequate when dealing with queer people of color, disabled queer people, low income queer people, gender nonconforming queer people, and HIV-positive queer people.
Queer students face greater instances of bullying, discrimination, harassment, and violence in schools.
You don’t have to look far to find queer kids with horror stories about school. Your humble writer remembers an incident from her high school days: sixteen years old, running from a bully, hiding inside the girl’s bathroom. He followed me inside, banging on the stall door, promising that I would be straight if I only sucked his cock. He tried to shimmy underneath the stall door. His friends stood guard outside. It was after hours at my school. No one could hear me screaming.
That was one of the scarier moments in my life. But in the grand scheme of experiences queer kids have growing up, it’s pretty normal—maybe even mild. My school administrators did nothing, and that’s pretty common too. 85% of queer kids experience verbal harassment; 27% physical harassment.
Compared to other social institutions, schools are responding relatively quickly. But policies on bullying vary considerably from state to state and school to school. At time of writing, eight states restrict teachers from discussing LGBT issues of any kind.
There are many areas of the world where queer people cannot safely travel. Queer travelers can face beatings, prison time, and even execution. These places exist all over the world: North America (Jamaica), Central America (Belize, Honduras), Europe (Russia), Southeast Asia (Malaysia), Africa (Nigeria, Uganda), and the Middle East (Egypt, Saudi Arabia), to name a few.
Queer Americans need to be cautious when traveling through parts of their own country. The FBI prosecutes more than a thousand hate crimes against queer people every year, right here in America. I know many queer people who’ve designed circuitous road trip routes to avoid areas where they don’t feel safe.
Queerness adds a layer of desperation to fears of deportation for immigrants. And ICE does not have a good track record of dealing with queer people, to put it mildly.
Sexual orientation is the third highest motivator for hate crimes. The first is race, followed by religion, both of which have orders of magnitude greater instances within the general population.
FBI hate crime statistics show that the most common place for queer people to have a hate crime committed against them is inside private residences. That means that people are intimidated, assaulted, raped, and killed inside their own homes—or in the home of someone trusted enough to enter.
So what are some solutions?
I just threw ten very big, very sad problems at you. So now I want to talk about ten potential solutions. As an added bonus, many of these benefit more than just the queer community!
A solution for social isolation: be intolerant of intolerance
This is the most important one.
I firmly believe that the reason gay rights have progressed very quickly relative to other civil rights movements is because queer people exist across all ethnicities, classes, genders, and religions. Queer people have many diverse and passionate supporters. And they’re embedded across every conceivable social group.
I strongly believe in the power of social pressure to shame bigots. Every time someone says something judgmental or homophobic or transphobic in your hearing, it is a test. You seem like the kind of person who will agree with me—or at least you seem like you won’t fight me on it. So go ahead and disavow them of that notion.
Practice. “I don’t find that funny. I don’t agree. That word is unacceptable. Don’t say things like that in front of me again.”
Contribute to a culture where people with hate inside themselves are nervous to open their mouths and let it out.
A solution for homelessness: be a safe place
My house is known by the nickname “The Home for Wayward Queers.” This is because I’ve periodically opened my home to friends and strangers who needed a place to stay.
Why do this? Well, somebody did it for me once. I moved out of my mother’s house at sixteen. A friend’s parents offered me their son’s room while he was away at college. My little brother did the same, moving in with a different family. We definitely weren’t kicked out, and it definitely wasn’t because of our sexual orientations. It had more to do with erecting boundaries and establishing our own senses of self. And sexual orientation was part of that general process.
If you know a any person person who’s struggling, and it’s within your power to offer them safety and security, please do it. That goes double for queer people, and quadruple for younglings.
A solution for incarceration: raise the minimum wage
We’ve talked before about why raising the minimum wage is a no-brainer.
Research suggests that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour would reduce LGBT poverty by one third (for male same-sex couples) to one half (for female same-sex couples). Almost 30,000 people in same-sex couples would rise above the federal poverty level.
The federal government has been slow to act on this, so individual states and cities are forging ahead. Support these efforts by voting for them, and don’t let companies scare you into doing otherwise.
Of course, alleviating poverty is only one piece of the puzzle in fixing our remarkably unjust justice system.
A solution for workplace discrimination: be transparent about your salary
Gender is still a big component of the spectrum of queer discrimination. This is our favorite hot tip for fighting gender-based pay discrimination: tell other people how much money you make. Especially people who have a history of being underpaid: women, queer people, disabled people, and people of color.
You can read all about how (and why) to do this here:
A solution for healthcare: define healthcare as a basic human right
Sigh… our healthcare system is a shit show.
No one who lives in a stable, wealthy country like America should have to forego medical treatment because they’re afraid of what the final bill will be. But here we are.
Tying healthcare to employment sets a truly terrible precedent. I don’t think our readers need to hear me say this, but I’ll say it anyway: what is valuable about human life isn’t its ability to create wealth or utility. Poor people, disabled people, and unemployed and underemployed people all deserve equal access to affordable healthcare.
Vote for people who aren’t afraid to keep trying.
More articles on our royally fucked up healthcare system:
- Dafuq Is Insurance and Why Do You Even Need It?
- How Mental Health Affects Your Finances
- Stop Recommending Therapy Like It’s a Magic Bean That’ll Grow Me a Beanstalk to Neurotypicaltown
- Our Master List of 100% Free Mental Health Self-Care Tactics
A solution for religion: don’t give your money to religious institutions that demean queer people
This one’s pretty simple.
You know if your church/mosque/temple sucks.
Sure, your church is great. Your pastor is a lady! And your choir director is a gay dude! I believe you!
You can believe whatever you want to, pray however you want to, attend whatever place of worship you want to. But when that collection plate gets passed around, don’t you put a fucking red cent in there if there’s a chance it could be used to write self-hatred into the hearts of queer people.
The number of religious lobbyists has quintupled since 1970. Exerting religious influence on American public policy is a multi-million dollar industry. Be absolutely certain that yours isn’t one of many religious institutions that claims to love queer people, but spends its donations diminishing their legal personhood.
A solution for policing: telegraph support
Adults can sometimes guess that a child is queer long before the child understands it themselves. You should never attempt to explain their queerness to them prematurely. Let them figure it out, for Anderson Cooper’s sake!
But you can defend queer people in front of them. You can stand up to bullies in front of them. Especially if those bullies are other adults. They’ll see that not every adult thinks the same way. And they’ll remember that you’re a safe person to talk to.
Not all queer adults are comfortable being out, either. That’s especially true in the workplace, where less than half of queer people are out. Less than half! Again, don’t be too direct—you run the risk of misconstruing, making the person feel pressured, or painfully reminding them that they’re not “passing.” The easiest way to let someone know you’re an ally is through low-key, mundane discussions about the news, or family, or people you know. Let it be natural, but leave the person no doubt that you stand with them.
A solution for schooling: encourage open discussion of sex and gender in schools
Not everyone votes in their local elections—especially if it doesn’t fall during a general election. But choosing who sits on your local school board has an incredible impact on the kind of curriculum children in the community end up learning.
If you send your kid to private school, you have even more direct access to influence the curriculum. You are their customer. Ask for what you want, get other parents on board, and make yourselves heard.
Are you noticing a theme here? Voting is hella important!
A solution for travel discrimination: vote in favor of more rights and protections for queer people
Massachusetts is the most progressive state in the nation. Yet they have a ballot initiative that would strip transgender people of legal protections against discrimination. And the referendum is polling much too close for comfort.
This angers me. It makes me so ashamed. We’re better than this.
The rights of gay people, trans people, and women have been taking a healthy pummeling in the recent past. The Trump administration fired all members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, attempted to ban trans people from serving in the military, and removed all mention of gender from the key UN human rights documents.
I’m pretty sure that a lot of the people who voted for this administration knew that was what they were signing up for. Which is a bummer so massive it’s given half the country a two-year existential crisis. But what has been done can be undone. When you have the opportunity to vote, please vote for Not That.
A solution for violence: educate yourself about other people’s struggles
While I was at FinCon, I overheard a man confidently proclaim that politics are irrelevant to finances. I think he meant it in the spirit of “I can be friends with people whose politics I don’t agree with,” but I still told him to fuck right up out of here with that noise. While drinking box wine. In a pool. Because I’m a classy feminist killjoy.
I know this dude—whose name I don’t remember because wine—wasn’t trying to be mean. He was actually trying to express his expansiveness. But it was also an embarrassing and inexcusably ignorant thing for a grown up person to say.
Cisgender people’s political opinions on healthcare can make or break a trans person’s finances
The average trans person of color makes less than $10,000 per year, but gender therapy can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. When people can’t afford the medical care they need, they either live sick or they die. I spent so many minutes trying to rewrite that last sentence in a way that sounded less dire. I couldn’t.
Straight people’s political opinions on discrimination can make or break a gay person’s finances
Although I disagree with the notion that productivity is the best means of measuring human performance, a World Bank report posits that anti-LGBT discrimination costs a nation 1% of its GDP per year. (1% of 20 trillion dollars is a whole lot of fucking money.) Weak protections force LGBT youth to drop out of school, work lower paying jobs, pay more for healthcare, and contribute less to society.
Men’s political opinions on abortion can make or break a woman’s finances
If I’m one of the 9% of women every year whose oral birth control fails and results in pregnancy, and I live in an area where abortion has been regulated out of existence, I could be stuck raising a child who will cost me a quarter million dollars over my lifetime.
If you think your political opinions don’t affect real people’s lives, you might live in a bubble
And you might want to fix that. It’s super easy to do! There’s this amazing thing called Google. It’s like Ask Jeeves, but there’s no Jeeves! You just punch random words into it like “how expensive is it to be trans” or “what’s the lifetime cost of discrimination” or “how much money does it take to raise a child” and it magically gives you answers.
There has never been a time in human history when it was easier to find and listen to other people’s stories. Summon the diligence to learn about the ways that your opinions can help or harm them, and I promise you will never regret having spent those precious fucks.
Thanks again to our Patreon donors for suggesting this topic. Hey, did you notice the whole ad-free, sponsor-free, affiliate-free thing we do here? Isn’t that neat?! If it weren’t for our donors, the sidebar would be the ghost of that sweater you looked at online two weeks ago.
Our Patreon donors are the only ones who deserve Theo. Maybe even no-gloves Theo…
The rest of us are Stevens. Greasy, unworthy Stevens.