29 September 2009

I Get Paid to Renounce my Lesbianism

...or I get to keep more of my money due to my newfound heterosexuality.
...or I can be lesbian, feed my family, but not both.

It finally came this week.  My family and I had just returned from a free (unless you count the jewelry we pawned for gas money) weekend vacation with queer family.  Waiting in the mailbox, was a sweet taste of heterosexual privilege, in check form, no less.  It was a lovely, and totally expected gesture.

Me and my newly hetero lover debated how to spend the money.  Vibrators?  Glitter?  As subversive (although I understand the my straight, er, fellow straight friends also use such things) and fun as those ideas are, we decided to use the money to deal with the latest disconnect notice from the utility company.  Indeed, our inability to pay our bills and provide for our daughter was the impetus. We simply couldn’t afford to be lesbians anymore.

At this point, I probably should explain things.  My family has health insurance through my employer.  In addition to my daughter and me, my family includes my partner, who is, er, was, a lesbian.  While the State of New York extends health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of its employees, federal regulations make the accounting a bit bizarre.

Health insurance is really important and essential (although not essential enough that everyone automatically gets it), that employees’ contributions to health insurance premiums are tax-free.  Usually.  If you’re the domestic partner of an employee, your sweetie pays for your health insurance premiums after income tax is taken out of hir check.  Also, any employer contribution to your health insurance premiums counts as income, because your health insurance is a bonus.  This whole set up is to protect the children.  Or something.

If you turn your domestic partnership into a federally approved (heterosexual) marriage, a few things happen.  You pay fewer taxes to the federal government (due to differences in withholding, it’s not yet clear to me what this means in my case, but my bi-weekly take home pay appears to have risen by a three digit amount).  You get to file taxes jointly, which has its benefits.  If you’ve already overpaid the taxes on your new spouse’s insurance benefits, your employer might end up sending you a check in the mail, like mine did:

There are all kinds of benefits to marriage, which plenty of other folks have cataloged.  These include deeply personal rights, like hospital visitation, as well as any variety of financial benefits (including the costs of not having to pay a lawyer to secure some of the benefits that go along with marriage). 

One assumes that straight couples regularly turn their domestic partnerships into marriage.  In our case, I happen to be transsexual, which by the very bizarre logic of the federal government makes my lesbian relationship hetero (more on this later).  Of course, the big point is that most gay and lesbian couples can’t just choose to receive these benefits for their relationship.  That, and I got a check in the mail for not being a homo.


One of the many reasons I don’t like talking about the fact that my sweetie and I are married is that I’ve seen random people use transsexual people’s relationships as punching bags far too often (regularly, even).  I don’t want to have to defend my lesbianism, nor my partner’s, to accusations based on what other people thought about me at my birth.  We don’t identify as a married heterosexual couple—we never have, for that matter.  I feel strongly enough about my identity that I’ve tried not to claim my marriage for tax purposes.  However, I can’t afford not to be “straight”.  I need to use my marriage to protect my family—which is one of the main points of marriage in the first place.  The problem is not so much with my decision, but with the ludicrous laws that required me to make it.

I feel responsible to fight for equality, including marriage equality (although I will be among the first to argue that equality goes far beyond marriage).  However, I don’t feel any special dispensation as a transsexual lesbian to suffer for the cause.  I’m not any more a part of the problem than all of the other married couples who’ve refused to take the hits that come along with domestic partnership.  Rather, the problem lies squarely with those people who insist on privileging certain relationships over others.

I’m not going to go into the laundry list of all the many, many privileges that, as a transsexual person, I don’t enjoy.  However, given the long history of accusing transsexual women of flaunting their supposed straight, male, privilege, I need to point out the oh-so-many ways in which I still don’t enjoy hetero privilege.  There have been plenty of court decisions invalidating marriages involving transsexual people—my marriage is always subject to extra scrutiny.  At this point, I should add that many of my transsexual brothers and sisters are unable to marry anyone, and frequently enough, can only marry members of the same sex.  My marriage basically gets me the same thing that one of the special pre-Prop 8 same sex marriages gets Californians, with two exceptions.  First, because my marriage is technically straight, I don’t need to live in one of the handful of states that recognizes same sex marriages to enjoy marriage benefits—I just need to convince authorities that I’m straight.  Repeatedly.  Second, I enjoy federal recognition for tax status, which lets me keep more of my money than homosexual couples (particularly those where one partner's employer provides the other partner with health insurance).

These are no small benefits, and feel pretty terrible that my other gay and lesbian friends don’t enjoy them.  However, day-in and day-out, my partner and I deal with the same things other lesbian couples do.  Our household combines the awesome earning power of two women.  People assume we’re sisters (the kind that look nothing alike).  Random clerks just know that we’re not married, and won’t accept the fact unless we show them plenty of documentation (and even then, that can be iffy).  In short, I don’t want to hear any of the same old BS about how trans women are totally privileged, and are totally taking advantage of the system while “real” gays and lesbians are suffering, m’kay?

The important thing is that I got a check for deciding to not be a lesbian—and that’s something that needs to be talked about.  Not me, and my family, but rather the obscene way in which society (in this case, the Federal government) punishes most gay and lesbian couples, and the contorted ways in which we have to manipulate our legal identities just to get by.

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