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.
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.