Being transgender is pretty difficult. There are a lot of ways this can affect your life, and well being, physically, mentally, and financially. This last category is one that is often neglected, and yet is of the utmost importance. Being prepared for how your identity will affect your future finances can help you weather the storm just that much better. Here are a few issues that I have identified based on research and personal experience.
1. Depending on your family and support system, you could lose much needed financial support after you come out.
I hate to start off on such a crappy note, but it needs to be said. This is still a reality for a lot of transgender and genderqueer folks, especially younger people. If your finances are not your own, or you are otherwise beholden to someone who may object to your identity (i.e. living with your conservative parents), you need to plan how you will support yourself after you come out. Of course, I hope and pray that everyone will have a great support system, and will be fully accepted by their community after they have the courage to come out. But the sad reality is, that is just not going to be the case for some people. If you feel like there is a chance that you will lose much needed support after coming out, you should do your best to plan your future before coming out. Get a job, any job that will have you and works with your schedule. Save as much money as humanly possible. On top of that, you can start DoorDashing if you are old enough, or you could take a longer approach and start a blog or other business that could eventually become a source of income.
If someone is paying for your schooling, you need to consider how coming out will affect this, as well. If there is a risk of losing your support you either need to save enough to support yourself, hold off on coming out until you have an income that can support you (which I hate to recommend, but could make sense for some situations), or just accept that you may have to take a break from school to save some money. You could do like I did, take a break from college until you are 24 and your parents are no longer legally required to be a factor in paying for your education.
2. If you feel it necessary to medically transition, this opens up a whole can of worms. You may need regular medical care for the rest of your life, surgery (or surgeries), and time off from work to recover from each surgery.
If you are in the U.S., you may be familiar with the dismal state in which we find our current healthcare and insurance systems. I am currently insured under my mother’s plan through her work, but I don’t use it. It is very hard to find a doctor in my area that accepts the insurance. Even if I wanted to, I would still have to pay a copay that is way out of my price range. My mother, who makes well over six figures annually, complains about how high the copays are with this plan, that she chose. But she chose the cheapest monthly plan, and only insures me because she feels she has to as I am not yet 26 years old. Suffice it to say, I feel like I don’t have health insurance, because I can’t afford the insurance I have. It is for this reason alone that I have yet to pursue medical transition. I have had to chose between legal transition and medical transition, and I have chosen to save for the legal costs first.
3. You should be planning for the fees associated with legally transitioning.
I plan on doing a whole article on this topic alone, because it is that important. The legal transition process can be arcane and opaque depending on the state in which you currently reside and the state in which you were born. Personally, I currently live in California, which is primarily concerned with getting paid. If you have the money, and fill out the forms correctly, you can legally transition tomorrow. It will take awhile to process the paperwork, but it really is that simple to begin with. If you were born in California you could have your birth certificate updated during this process, but if you were not, like me, things get a little more complicated. Unfortunately, I was born in Virginia. This means that in order to change my name, and gender on my birth certificate I will have to submit a court order from California that demonstrates this change. This just adds one more thing to the laundry list of other documents that need to be changed, some of which can cost money to replace depending on where you live.
4. You may feel outsized pressure to build a secondary income stream, at least part time.
Capitalism has made relying entirely on one job at a time to support all of your financial well being a near impossibility for almost everyone who isn’t uber wealthy. Given this, those people who find themselves anywhere outside the gender binary may feel extra pressure to build some way to bring in money outside of their day job because they may struggle to find or keep a day job at all. Historically, members of the trans community have resorted to legal/illegal/extralegal means of making money i.e. different kinds of sex work, just to survive, and this continues to this day. While you may not find yourself doing sex work, you may still struggle to get and keep a job because up until June of 2020 it was perfectly legal (on the federal level) in the U.S. to fire, demote, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate against someone who is transgender. There were some states of the union that extended legal protections to the trans community before 2020, but there were plenty more that didn’t. Local sentiments about the trans community and awareness of this change in labor laws will take even longer to get up to speed with the times. You may feel unsafe in your workplace, even if no material punishment befalls you. You may be subject to insidious forms of harassment, such as deadnaming, misgendering, and being made the butt of inappropriate jokes. This kind of harassment is difficult to stop, especially if you end up in a workplace where management is ill informed on trans specific types of harassment. A secondary income stream could provide a small cushion while you leave this type of workplace and find a new, more understanding one. If you didn’t have a little something on the side, you may be forced to stay in this trauma inducing workplace, which is something I hope no one has to endure.
5. Family planning can get complicated, and thus, expensive.
Any family planning option that is outside of the standard heterosexual manner is automatically expensive because it enters the realm of the medical; anyone who has suffered from infertility can attest to this. If you find yourself wanting children of your own, you have a few options depending on your sex at birth. If you are able to produce viable sperm, you will have to find someone to donate an egg, and someone to birth the baby. If you have a willing, and healthy friend this option can be relatively close to the heterosexual, cisgender experience. But many people find that they have to seek out and purchase a set of eggs from a donor, and then have them incubated and placed via IVF into a surrogate. This is an incredibly expensive process. So much so, that it oftentimes prohibits people who would otherwise be wonderful parents from having children that are related to them by birth.
If you are willing and able to carry a pregnancy to term, things become a bit more complicated, and can depend entirely on your comfort with your own body. I personally will never birth children, for a variety of reasons. Chief among these is I have no desire to be pregnant. My fiancee did for a very long time, and we decided that should we pursue having children she would, ideally, provide the egg and carry them to term. But even if we did, sperm is not cheap, and not at all guaranteed to work. It is perfectly normal for a heterosexual, cisgender couple to find that it takes them close to a year to successfully conceive. This means that you could feasibly spend over $800 per month, for 12 months before pursuing other means such as IVF. A typical round of IVF could cost upwards of $10,000. Even if you have a kind friend that agrees to donate some sperm, you still have to have a contract drawn up to facilitate this transaction, adding legal fees to this process.
6. Your financial priorities change overall.
Finance first piqued my interest during a time in my life when I had no money. When I say no money, I mean no money, and no way of making money on my own. No computer, intermittent access to a working mobile phone, no job prospects, nothing. I found myself in a position of powerlessness, and decided that once I had money I never wanted to be broke again. A lot of people who find themselves on the margins of society find that money is never far out of mind. It is just our reality. It would behoove everyone, but especially those for which society has little or no tolerance, to take an active interest in how to effectively manage and use money. But from what I have seen cis and hetero people who take an interest in money management, finance, and business more broadly tend to approach these tools as a means of creating wealth, whereas people who find themselves marginalized tend to see money as a means of attaining that ever elusive sense of material safety. It is a small but, important distinction.
Things such as food, transportation, and reliable and safe housing are extremely important goals for which genderqueer people can spend their entire lives striving. These experiences of material deprivation scar you, and reshuffle your priorities, usually with safety and stability right at the top. This can prevent someone from taking material risks the way that cis/hetero people can. Risks such as buying a house, seeking education beyond the minimum legally required by one’s profession, and starting a family can seem too expensive for people who have different ideas of what is the worst that could happen, and may not necessarily have family that is able to lend them money, or other material support. A supportive community is the key to stability, and up until very recently, most of this country seemed hell bent on denying access to a supportive community to genderqueer individuals.
Wrapping it all up
Taken together, all of this paints a bleak portrait of the financial possibilities afforded trans people. But this portrait is an incomplete one, for centuries trans, genderqueer, and other marginalized communities have found methods to survive and sometimes thrive. You might be interested in learning more about finance and transgender people’s reality by reading this exceptional article by TransLash Media.
Complement this with learning more about how to support your trans and gender nonconforming coworkers.