The Cost of Being Different

As someone who has lived in sunny Southern California for the past eight years, I consider myself a local. I completed my last two years of high school in the state, attended college in Los Angeles and all of my best friends are California natives. But in truth, I’ve lived everywhere. Before moving to the Golden State, I lived all around the world—Japan, Germany, Arizona and Idaho.

But there was one state that I’ll never forget: Alabama.

From the age of eleven to fourteen, I considered the deep south my home.

It’s a beautiful state with stunning greenery, gorgeous old homes and a close proximity to the white beaches of Florida. We lived in a tiny town and for the most part, I loved my time as a country belle. I rode four wheelers with friends on the weekend, hung out at the local pool and spent every Friday night at the movie theatre. I picked up a Southern drawl and learned how to entertain myself in a small town.

But if you peeked beneath the surface of my idyllic Southern life, there was a deep darkness that permeated the town.

LGBT kids were mercilessly teased in my high school, often ostracized by both students and teachers. Homophobic slurs were the norm and physical attacks weren’t uncommon in the hallways. White girls would become disowned by their parents if they dated an African American boy and racist comments infiltrated nearly every conversation.

At the time, I was a blonde haired white girl who had no idea I would one day find love with a same-sex partner.

But years later as I struggled to find the words to come out to my friends and family, I found myself remembering my time in Alabama and grappling with what it means to be different.

Things have changed a lot since my 2006 stint in the deep south. We elected an African American president, gay marriage became the law and millions of other small changes have occurred around the world. When I turn on the TV, I see a multitude of skin colors, sexual orientations and body types. But despite the forward motion, there still remains a price to pay for being different.

Racial slurs are once again normalized by the new President-elect and the Vice President-elect has a particularly deep hatred for LGBT people. Each step forward continues to be hard won and never guaranteed.

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And what most people don’t realize is that there is a literal price to pay as well.

Liberal, diverse cities like San Diego or Los Angeles come with a huge price tag and small, rural towns often feel (and actually are) unsafe and hostile places to live if you’re different.

In my beloved San Diego, California I pay $1500 for a one-bedroom apartment. It’s clean, safe and quiet, but it’s certainly not luxurious. In Wichita, Kansas the same one-bedroom apartment would run me $470. In Louisville, Kentucky, I would pay $750.

LGBT people live all around the country—some by choice and some because they can’t afford to move. Humans are incredibly adaptive and many people create their own havens no matter where they call home.

But at the end of the day, it’s difficult to quantify an experience—of being able to hold hands with the person you love without stares and jeers.

And that is where traditional personal finance advice falls short. There is no calculation that can determine how much is appropriate to pay for safety, acceptance or belonging. And there is no guarantee that your “investment” in such things will pay off.

I often find myself struggling to explain what it’s like to occupy the world as a person in a same-sex relationship.

The stares, the comments and the process of continually coming out—to colleagues, Lyft drivers, doctors and wedding venues—again and again and again are relentless. It’s a reality that I occupy but not one that I chose.

Most people can casually mention their partner at work: “My husband is picking me up today.” “My boyfriend works in that field too!” These small, daily occurrences aren’t given a second thought. But when you’re queer, those seemingly innocent statements are fraught with anxiety and rarely protected by the law: Will I get fired if I say I’m gay? Will they think I’m making a political statement by mentioning my partner?  The thoughts and worries circle around and around.

Sometimes, it’s easier to just keep quiet. 

Even though I write about money almost every single day, I still haven’t been able to quantify the price of being different. But what I do know is that it’s a price that is paid every single day, sometimes with money, but more often than not, it is paid through small acts of bravery and moments of fear.

 

Do you pay a price for being different?

12 thoughts on “The Cost of Being Different

  1. Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies says:

    One of my most serious and longest relationships in college was with someone who happened to also have a significant physical disability that prevented him from walking. I can honestly say that he was hands down the smartest person I have ever crossed paths with even to this day, and it was heartbreaking to spend the better part of two years watching people watch him and watch us and only seeing the exterior.

    So, no. I don’t pay the price for being different, not really. I mean, as a woman I do, of course, in some ways. But as a straight white woman, I’m much more fortunate than many. Having a teeny glimpse of this, though, has helped me develop a compassion and an awareness that I’m not sure I would otherwise ever have come to know. Thank you for writing so bravely always.

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  2. Gwen @ Fiery Millennials says:

    I got relentlessly teased while growing up because I did weird things for our age like read the newspaper every day before school, talk to the teachers, and read books all the time. Fortunately for me these qualities are good to have as an adult so I get complimented now.

    I can only hope you get the same one day ❤

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  3. Julie @ Millennial Boss says:

    I never thought about the financial implications of being different and I don’t think it’s widely discussed. I really appreciate your writing this article because it’s made me look at financial advice with a different light. As financial bloggers, we can’t just tout our ability to downsize or move to a cheaper city for example, without recognizing the privilege that we have to do so. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. Tawcan says:

    I was teased for being different growing up too. Having a language barrier didn’t help either. I can only imagine what it was like for you growing up, especially down south. Yes there are some financial implications on being different but it can be very worth it. It’s OK to be different and you should be proud to be different. I have long learn to have pity on ignorant people. The world is better than these ppl think.

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  5. Gary @ Super Saving Tips says:

    As a straight, white, cis male, I’m not very different, yet I still experienced just the slightest touch of what you’re talking about. I grew up in northeast Philly, surrounded by Jewish families like my own. When I went away to college in Maine, I literally had people asking if I had horns and telling me I was “pretty nice for a Jew”. I remember how bad that felt, and I honestly can’t imagine how bad it would feel to fear for your safety. I live in expensive, suburban NJ now, so it’s easy for me to lose sight of the fact that other, more affordable areas are not as progressive. Thank you for bringing some awareness to the price of being different.

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  6. Mrs. Picky Pincher says:

    I’m very sad to hear about your struggles. Just know that different is beautiful and there are so many people who support and love you.

    It frustrates me that it’s taken us this long to achieve marriage equality. It also frustrates me that, if you don’t conform to the norm in any way, there are mental, social, and financial costs. I would be terrified of navigating insurance benefits with a same-sex partner before marriage equality passed. It would have been a nightmare.

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  7. Kate says:

    Thank you for sharing this insight! I recently became acutely aware of who was silent when my co-workers are talking about weekend plans in the little cubicle village I sit at during the week. After the group talk, I’ve starting asking (privately) those I know well about their partners, spouses, and families. It really sucks that we can’t all be open about who we are all the time. Thanks for helping spread understanding of less obvious challenges. I hope you have people who support your bravery in the moment

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  8. Alyssa Fischer says:

    It blows my mind to this day that we still have to face reality that many people are not comfortable with others being different than them. I don’t even like to say different, because I feel like you and I are so similar and it doesn’t make sense. One of the things I love about Canada is that we are (mostly) welcoming of all cultures and sexual orientations. Some areas still struggle, but for the most part it’s safe to be yourself here.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I always love reading your posts!

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  9. ZJ Thorne says:

    It is so frustrating that I know this is true. That mentioning my girlfriend is read as a political statement. As “throwing” it in people’s faces. As just so different. I spent a great deal of time in a Midwestern city growing up and it almost cost me my life because strangers intuited that I am queer and literally tried to kill me for it. But I’m “overreacting” when I don’t want to visit that place and choose to live in a place where I can kiss my girlfriend in most public places and not fear anything other than untoward looks.

    Solidarity forever!

    Like

  10. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life says:

    I’ve paid enough for being Asian that I hid my invisible illness and suffered in silence from my professional life because I don’t trust that world not to discriminate against me further. I’ve seen it happen over and over, even when people don’t think they are being discriminatory, and I cannot afford to take another strike.

    Many mainstream PF bloggers ignore or are simply completely unaware of a world being the able-bodied when they say “want to save money? move to a LCOLA!” That’s not possible for many people, whether it be because moving to a cheaper place to live would be untenable, or they’re completely inaccessible when you have physical disabilities.

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  11. Dyana says:

    I do not know how it feels to be shunned for being with someone you love, but I most certainly know how it feels to be judged by the color of your skin. I’m an unwed African-American female with almost two small children…need I say more? I like to just stay quiet but speak volumes in my actions and achievements.

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  12. ChooseBetterLife says:

    We all feel like we’re different or get the short end of the stick in some way, though some of us have it much worse than others in ways that the others will never understand. Like Penny, I feel like I pay a price daily, especially at work, for being a woman, but at least I don’t have to fight other battles as I’m pretty ordinary in many other ways.
    I just read Small Great Things, which gives a breathtaking view of what it’s like to be African-American. Do you have any book recommendations for the LGBT view? With understanding come love and acceptance.

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