My gf Jacqueline and I share our feelings about the recent Ru Paul controversy and how it relates to the broader phenomenon of trans people, drag, and LGBTQ+ history.
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There seems to me, in my experience, to be a tendency in queer/leftist circles to think that personal finance is for rich white conservatives and no one else.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Marginalized people have an even greater need for sound personal finance than rich white conservatives precisely because they are marginalized.
When you are, for example, a trans woman working in the wage economy and trying to save up for surgery costs, it is a matter of grave importance to (1) live beneath your means (2) budget carefully and (3) save.
But the medical costs associated with being trans are but one example of why having a keen interest in personal finance is crucial for marginalized folks. Far greater in importance is simply the concept of financial security. After all, if you cannot achieve security from society in virtue of fitting into the normative ideals of cis straight mono heteropatriarchy, it seems to be the obvious answer is to gain security through self-insurance.
There is an intersectional worry lurking here. A common refrain in personal finance circles is that spending $5 at Starbucks everyday is counter-productive to the goals of getting out of debt and saving up for a downpayment on a house. However, the intersectional response is that when you are marginalized the daily $5 latte at Starbucks becomes a release valve for dealing with society trying to beat you down for being marginalized. Furthermore, not everyone is capable of the self-discipline required for frugality.
But is this really the message we want to be sending to our fellow queers and marginalized folks? For me, it has a ring of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It says: we should not hold ourselves to the minimal standard of living beneath our means, which I believe is possible for almost everyone. And no: it’s not about deprivation. Because we don’t have to deprive ourselves of daily coffee – we just have to find smarter options, like investing in an at-home coffee making product.
There is often an assumption that budgeting is about deprivation. But in reality it’s about prioritization. What do we value? Do we value giving Christmas presents every holiday season? Then it’s better to put a little away every month starting in January so we don’t have to put the holidays on credit, essentially giving away our money to the creditors. For every dollar we give to the banks for being in debt, we could be giving to ourselves, securing our financial future. A budget is simply a written way to prioritize what we care about.
In essence, I believe we need to working towards queering personal finance. We need to normalize frugality, budgeting, retirement, and investing in queer/leftist circles. Personal finance is not just for old white conservatives. It’s for everybody. And it’s especially important for folks on the margins because we cannot rely on society to provide us with security.
But aren’t I not assuming that marginalized folks have enough spare executive functioning to successfully engage in healthy personal finance behaviors? After all, there is a psychological cost to being on the margins. We might not have enough energy to make good financial decisions. I am fully sympathetic to this objection. But I want to make space for the possibility that many marginalized folks are likely to underestimate their own proclivity for smart financial behavior because it doesn’t fit in with stereotypes they have internalized about what kinds of folks having smart financial behavior.
Furthermore, I believe we should continue to advocate for social safety nets and work towards democratic socialism. But in the meantime us queers need to survive. It is either that or die. So in the end we have no choice: we must queer personal finance because otherwise we will inevitably fall through the cracks of normative society. To do otherwise is to let conservatives win the narrative about money: that money is something that only benefits old white people. Money can work for all of us. Indeed we must as queers learn to have our money work for us.
Do you want to work everyday until you drop dead? Neither do I. Logically then, we must as queers start thinking about retirement. That means getting serious about our personal finances. Because personal finance is after all personal. It involves the personal stake we all have in making our lives go better – and who doesn’t want that? We all stand to benefit from queering personal finance.
Trans feminism sometimes gets mistaken as feminism’s little cousin, a mere side show to the Main Event: Cis Feminism i.e. feminism written by and for other cis women.
On a superficial level, this seems fitting. After all 99% of women on this planet are cis so it makes sense that “feminism” is largely concerned with the perspective of cis women. According to this logic, “trans feminism” is merely “feminism light”, a pale shadow of the real thing.
But I want to argue that not only is trans feminism real feminism, real feminism *must* incorporate the insights of trans feminism if it is to be complete, to the extent any feminism can ever be complete.
Intersectional feminism is basically the idea that if you are a black woman the oppression you face as a black woman intersects with the oppression you face as a black woman. Gender and race also intersect with socio-economic status, disability, orientation, etc.
Being trans is just another axis along which intersectionality functions. Any feminism worth its weight recognizes this. Trans women have experiences that overlap with cis women as well as experiences that don’t. But that’s not inherently different than black women having experiences that overlap/don’t overlap with white women.
In my opinion it’s a fool game to try and find the experience or set of experiences that is universal among all women. But that doesn’t entail the concept “woman” is without meaning. Philosophers have noted it’s surprisingly difficult to give necessary and sufficient conditions for simple concepts like “chair” – yet I know a chair when I see one.
Why should we expect complex concepts like “woman” are any different? I might not be able to define womanhood precisely in such a way that will correctly sort billions of unique individuals into two mutually exclusive classes: women and not-women. It’s not so easy! Yet I know a woman when I see one. And “seeing” here is of course a metaphor for understanding. A pre-transition trans woman can radiate her womanhood without necessarily “passing” as a woman. “Passing” as a cis woman is such an arbitrary standard anyway because there are cis women who get misgendered on a regular basis.
Why will feminism never be complete without the inclusion of trans people? Because feminism has inputs. It’s not just done completely a priori. It operates with experiences and narratives as data to be explained. Traditional feminism started with only the experiences of white middle-class women as the inputs and got quite a bit done. But it was far from complete. Then black feminists started feeding in their inputs. And through similar processes the voices of people from diverse backgrounds have given their inputs.
Trans people represent 1% of the population. That might not sounds like a lot but that’s millions and millions of data points. And furthermore, they are data points that are highly relevant to feminism insofar as trans people have unique insights into the dynamics of gender, which should be of special interest to feminist theory. So not only does trans feminism bring the experience of millions of trans women, trans men, and non-binary folks, it brings it in such a way that has the potential to reshape the very concepts central to feminism.
Some prominent feminist theorists such as Judith Butler have recognized this conceptual potential and have started to work through those insights. And of course trans feminists themselves have been dissecting this stuff for decades.
But feminism has yet to fully digest the trans experience. Though a mere “1%” trans folks have so much to bring to feminism, with spectacular proclivity to keep pressuring feminism to remain intersectional.
A common phenomenon in intersectional feminism is a feminism that believes itself to be fully intersectional yet is missing the perspective of important class(es) of people. To me it seems the best tactic is to remain humble about the intersectional reach of our feminism. There are probably voices feminism has yet to hear, stories that are important for understanding the full operation of intersectional semiotics.
Any feminism without trans experience is partially blind. This is why trans feminism is real feminism. Real feminism is spongelike in its absorption of different perspectives. Any feminism that fails to uptake the experience of trans people is incomplete at best and actively harmful at worst.