I’m 28 and at the beginning of a gender transition. I was assigned male at birth and identify as a trans woman. I also have over $200,000 in student loan debt and make approximately $70,000 a year as an attorney without employer-provided health benefits.
Trans people as a demographic group are one of the most likely to be discriminated against in housing and employment, which makes us more likely to be economically insecure. Between student loan payments and rent, money is tight already, but with what I have left over, I put it towards transitioning. Here’s how it breaks down for me:
Health Insurance: Because I don’t have health insurance through my job, I get it through my state’s health insurance exchange. Because of my income, I can’t qualify for any kind of assistance, and so my middle-tier health insurance costs $350/month. This is crazy expensive and still doesn’t cover all that much. I recently started hormone replacement therapy, which involved getting blood drawn a few times, and I currently owe the hospital about $1,000 for the portion that wasn’t covered. It does cover my hormones, though, so those only cost me $15 per month.
Wardrobe: Did you know that women’s clothing sizes are liars, even when there are clearly posted size charts? Of course you did. Did you know that 28 years building a wardrobe you need to replace is very expensive, especially when your body is changing in difficult-to-anticipate ways? I am not yet at a point where I am presenting publically as a woman, and part of that is because I can’t afford the clothes I want to wear. Over the course of the next five years, I expect I’ll end up paying over $5,000 just to have a passable wardrobe I will feel comfortable in.
Hair Removal: I’m like very hairy, and it very sucks. (Note: not all trans women care about facial/body hair and not all of us want to get rid of it, and we all know about the messed up beauty standards that make women feel like we need to be hairless. Much like cis women, not all trans women are the same, and I don’t speak for anyone but myself.) I’ve had three sessions of laser hair removal and three sessions of electrolysis so far on my face. In addition to being incredibly painful, these are pricey procedures. So far, I have paid about $600 and will still need at least another 4 electrolysis sessions on my face alone. By the time I’m done, it will likely be over $1,000 just for the hair on my face. For the body hair that I want removed, I have to plan for it to cost between $5,000 and $15,000. And this is with deeply discounted rates. Also, health insurance doesn’t cover hair removal pretty much ever.
Surgery: See my note above about making assumptions about trans people. I know I want some surgeries, the details of which are the business of only me and my doctor. But even though health insurance providers do claim to cover the costs of trans-related surgeries, I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about insurance companies either bailing last minute on costs or making people jump through hoops that tend to cause unexpected delays or additional costs. Lots of people end up crowdfunding to raise money for the expected problem of an insurance company refusing to be helpful. I’ve seen stories of paying as much as $40,000 out of pocket for certain procedures.
Wellbeing: Here’s the payoff, though. Not every trans person needs to transition, and that’s fine. But I do. I literally did not believe in happiness until I started to transition. I honestly thought that when people described being happy that they were lying to me and to themselves. I know that transitioning won’t instantly make me happy. But I also know that I am happier now than I have ever been in my life. Money sucks and people should not have to pay a small fortune to feel comfortable in their own bodies. The cost is far too high, but I would pay almost anything for this comfort, clarity, and joy.
Josephine Doris is an attorney and a poet with two cats. That is not her legal name yet, but someday.
Image via Unsplash