by Mark Van Streefkerk
My queer femme girlfriend makes a lot more money than me. She runs her own successful small business and I work three days a week at a cafe while I devote the rest of my time to writing. I’ve always valued freedom over making money. I’m a two-time college dropout and food industry veteran with a blend of stubborn working-class pride and punk ideology. I am proud that I can pay my way, take care of my bills and tuck away a modest savings but there’s not much left after that. On my own, being broke is one thing, but being the broke boyfriend in a relationship gets me down more than I’d like to admit.
When we moved in together, the landlord stung us with unexpected expenses (i.e. he added an undiscussed “last month’s rent” to the first and deposit when we signed the lease). I tapped all my small savings and had to borrow from my girlfriend to cover my share of move-in costs. She lent me the money without hesitation and I eventually paid it back. It wasn’t a big deal to her but it was embarrassing for me. I promised myself I’d never borrow from my girlfriend again.
There is no healthy masculinity in financial inequality.
Untangling my ideas about the relationship between money and my masculinity is a tricky, ongoing process. There are so many layers of cultural, race, class and personal baggage. First of all, as toxic and destructive as it is, men make more money than women. Women make 80 cents for every dollar men make according to an article from Business Insider*. Saying that’s fucked up is an understatement. Obviously, I want equal pay for all genders. There is no healthy masculinity in financial inequality.
Contrary to general statistics however, my femme-identified partner makes way more than I do. She definitely deserves every cent, and then some. We view our relationship as a partnership, as the same team working together for our collective and individual dreams. We take turns taking “the wheel” which means in theory that if one of us is short on something (money, exhausted emotional resources, etc.) the other one will pick up the slack if they can. But I can rarely help out with money. I’m tired of being the broke boyfriend.
My idealized fantasy self has nice clothes, my own car, can treat us both to a nice dinner and buy nice things for my girlfriend. I can buy groceries for the whole week, for both of us, without making a dent in my income. If we want to go on a trip I can pay up front for airfare and hotel costs. Those are some of the tangible things I want to do in our relationship. It chips away at my confidence when we talk about making plans and my default responses are "No" or "I can’t right now." It takes a long time for me to save up for trips or big purchases.
If there are a few things I do know about myself though, it’s that I’m a resourceful, hard-working, fast-learning, resilient man. As a trans person, I have kept myself alive and I’ve had the privilege of accessing medical procedures with help from Medicare.
It chips away at my confidence when we talk about making plans and my default responses are "No" or "I can’t right now."
If I flip my occasional shame about my work on its head, I realize that working in the food industry saved my life. Foodservice jobs kept me afloat in the chaos of my twenties. When I dealt with homelessness, alcohol abuse, depression, and moving cities, I knew I could always land a food service job. I’ve worked at fast food chains, fancy vegetarian restaurants and a slew of sandwich shops and cafes. At best, tips are good, it feels good to hustle on my feet with coworkers I (almost always) like and I found some sweet queer and trans enclaves in some very special and unexpected places.
Because I don’t have a safety net of substantial savings or financial help from relatives, I’ve learned to rely on my queer and trans community. I’ve leaned on this chosen family for help with housing, transportation, and post-op recovery support at different times in my life. In turn, I offer my help when I can.
I can source my confidence on things I can control: staying on track with the goals I have for my writing business, treating myself well, getting haircuts and going to the gym. I take pride in how well I survive working a part-time day job. Though it takes me longer to save, I’ve been able to pay my way when we made trips to New York, Palm Springs, and Portland. I’ve paid off my student loans, which just goes to prove if you’re around for long enough, you can do anything. I am grateful for the many, many amazing things going well in my life and how far I’ve come even though it isn’t always compensated with money. I am proud of living life on my terms.
Lucky for me, there are so many other ways to shower my girlfriend with love. I tell her every day, listen to her, give emotional support and make time for having fun, which is really what we do best.
* Sheth, Sonam. (2018, August). 6 Charts Show How Much More Men Make Than Women. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com