Existing as a marginalized identity always comes at a cost. And when it comes to being trans and non-binary, there are both systemic and personal costs that play in a role in the severe financial impact your identity has on your life and money.
Being trans is not a linear experience. But there are common threads that many trans and non-binary people share that go on to affect their lives at financial, social, and personal levels that cisgender people do not encounter.
Systemic costs of being trans and non-binary
Systemic costs are those that are born out of transphobic governmental and societal systems. Ultimately, these systems do not respect gender identities outside of cisgender, binary norms. Trans and non-binary people are automatically made to be outcasts, limiting access to support they need for their livelihood.
Anti-trans discrimination puts trans and non-binary people in vulnerable financial positions when they are already in vulnerable societal positions.
Poverty and homelessness
According to the 2015 U.S Transgender Survey, 29% of trans people live in poverty, compared to 14% of the general population. Trans people also experience higher rates of unemployment and homelessness.
The National Center for Transgender Equality reported that 1 in 4 trans people have lost their job due to discriminatory employers. And many trans people have experienced workplace discrimination in the form of privacy violations, harassment, and even physical and sexual violence on the job.
Healthcare systems often ignore the needs of trans people through both governmental mandates and transphobia. Many healthcare providers let trans and non-binary people suffer from even the most common illnesses because they lack the ability to be respectful of their identity, let alone affirming.
A report by Trans PULSE showed that although more than 80% of trans and non-binary people surveyed said they have a primary care provider, 45% said they’d experienced having one or more unmet health care need within the past year. 12% of the surveyed group said they avoided going to the emergency room in the past year because they are trans.
The fear of harassment and unmet needs means trans people don’t get help when they need it. Not having your healthcare needs met and the mental toll that has on you easily affects many other aspects of your life. Including your ability to work and earn money to survive.
Personal identification documents are usually necessary in gaining access to things like housing, travel, schooling, and other essential public services. However, oftentimes trans and non-binary people cannot afford to pay for new identity documents that affirm their gender.
Not only that, but depending on which state or province you live in, you may or may not be required to show proof of a medical transition in order to receive updated documents. So, if you can’t afford to or do not intend on medically transitioning, you may have to maintain a gender you do not identify with on your documents. This may influence gender dysphoria and your mental health.
Mental health issues
The cost of therapy and medication to treat mental health issues is rarely affordable, especially for people who are more likely to be living in poverty. Not only that, but trans and non-binary people are more susceptible to struggling with their mental health than cisgender people.
A 2016 study reported that mental health issues in trans people arise mainly as a response to discrimination, stigma, lack of acceptance, gender dysphoria, and abuse.
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Personal costs of being trans and non-binary
While cis-normative ideals all stem from systemic causes, I consider these costs personal because they can vary significantly from person to person. After all, there is not only one way to be trans or non-binary.
Gender affirming surgery
There are a few different options of gender affirming surgeries that some trans people choose to undergo. The most well known being chest surgery and genital surgery, referred to as top and bottom surgery respectively.
Depending on where you are from, top surgery ranges from $4,000- $9,000. Bottom surgery ranges from $7,000-$20,000 depending on which specific procedure you’re having.
Some trans people also consider facial feminization surgery or facial masulinization surgery. Both of these range from $10,000- $15,000. Oftentimes these surgeries are essential for trans and non-binary people in order for them to live a healthy, happy, and affirming life.
Another aspect of medical transitioning some trans people choose to take part in is hormone therapy. It costs around $1,500/ year to go through hormone therapy. Not only that, but it is a time consuming process. Frequent check in’s with your doctor and mental health services like therapy to accompany how the process is affecting you are all part of the process.
How you decide to present or express gender is up to you, regardless of societal norms. But, this expression usually impacts trans people much more than cis people. It costs a lot of money to overturn your wardrobe to make it feel like it looks like you. Let alone consider the high cost of clothing when you veer toward more specific, tailored pieces that suit your body and gender in a way you want it too.
I can attest to how expensive it is to even feel like you have the space to explore your gender expression when you don’t have the means. No one wants to be stuck in clothes that they didn’t pick out for themselves. But if I start spending on more button up shirts, my bank account is going to deplete fast.
Gender affirming accessories exist. And they don’t come cheap either. Depending on the quality, a chest binder can range in price from $40-$80. And that’s not the only thing! Gender Gear gives you a good look at a range of gender affirming gear and their costs. Many trans people opt for things like packers or breast enhancers to feel more affirmed in their gender as well.
It’s expensive to explore your gender
And it can be even more expensive to feel like your gender is affirmed.
It costs to be trans and non-binary. It costs a lot. And those costs may sometimes pop up in surprising ways. Regardless, they stem from stigma, discrimination, and lack of access to necessary resources.
Here’s how you can help
There are things you can do, and should do to help trans and non-binary people. Especially if you’re cisgender. While you cannot instantly reduce the systemic costs of being trans, you can be active in fighting against transphobia.
- Donate to organizations like The Trans Women Of Color Survival Fund, Marsha P. Johnson Institute, Trans Legal Defense And Education Fund
- Support crowdfunding efforts for trans and NB people to get gender affirming surgery
- Advocate for affirming and non-discriminatory trans health care and other policies by signing petitions and reaching out to local political figures
Most of our money is affected by the systems in which we live. But when so many aspects of these systems are stacked against you, you are the one who pays the most. If you’re not burdened with these costs, you are privileged. And if you have the means, you should be putting in the effort to help.
If you or someone you know is trans and needs help/counselling, please consider reaching out to the Trans Lifeline, which is available 24/7.
- U.S: 1-877-565-8860
- Canada: 1-877-330-6366
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