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We are two 40-ish (almost heart)broke(en) queers who are starting over, together.
We are both still married (and almost divorced), to supportive and kind men who themselves are now in happy, fulfilling relationships with people they care about.
We each have four kids between the ages of 4 and 29, all of whom do not live with us a majority of the time. We are aware that this itself opens up another can of worms in terms of conversations to have, because the combination of gender norms, patriarchy, and other women can be cruel, unkind, and judgmental in and of itself. We’ve experienced it.
We do not smoke, we have no pets, and we do not party. Both of us are creative, intelligent, and hard workers, one with a job out of the house, and one who works from home. We are two compassionate, empathetic, socially conscious, admittedly white-privileged humans trying to be cognizant about doing less harm on the daily.
After a long journey, we each are finally free to be our truest selves with another person who understands the concept of gender fluidity, because they also live it everyday. We are now both unwilling to live the way we used to, hiding our souls to try and fit in, no matter the cost (and the cost has been high). We have each decided that experiencing mental stability and the joy of authenticity is worth it.
Between us, we have one decent, paid-off car from 2008 with 123,000 miles on it, and one functioning laptop for work. We each use an iPhone. We’d say we’re pretty lucky. The only problem is, we don’t have a place to live.
How does one start over mid-life with almost no money and no credit?
We’ve got family-of-origin nonsupport ranging from obvious discomfort, to blank stares and shrugging shoulders, to outright vile sabotage. One would have hoped this would hurt less in middle age, but unfortunately, it all still stings quite fiercely in the middle of the night when you wake up for a pee and a drink of water.
Thanks to hard, physical work, long hours, and a loan from one generous exception to the aforementioned family members, we have saved up enough money to have our first month’s rent and a deposit.
We’d say we’re pretty lucky. The only problem is, we don’t have a place to live.
In short, we can afford a place and aren’t asking for anything extraordinary, but have been laughed at, stared at, and harped on throughout our search for housing. Our experiences really make us wonder: how do immigrants or undocumented humans have any hope of navigating the LA housing market when we white native English speakers can’t make it happen?
One of us currently has no credit history, but a good income. One of us has good credit, but their income varies.
When you have lived your life as a stay-at-home housewife and mom to four little ones under the age of nine, with no paying job and fully dependent on your husband to make all financial decisions, it simply means you’ve never been able to build your own credit. It means that you’ve never worried about establishing credit, because no one told you it might be important for you to do so. This is the case for one of us, the one who ran their own successful small business for years, before the kids, and long enough ago for it not to have mattered on the most current credit pull.
The case for the other has been spending years trying to prove your worth through tax returns and bank receipts. It gets old, but you don’t stop trying.
It is frustrating to be the owner of a middle-aged body, unable to go as fast as you used to, learning to work with the new normal of aches and pains and naps that attack you when you least expect it. This frustration itself is only magnified by the indignities of this process of starting over after having lived at least one or two full lives already, in which you had the luxury to make decisions based on nothing except what you felt like doing on a Saturday morning.
We live off-and-on in the guest room of one of our generous adult children who lives conveniently near the out-of-the-house job by LAX. We packed only enough clothes to fill a single suitcase, only the most important books and pillows, so as not to bring too much of ourselves into their home.
What you’d like most right now is to be in your own space, breathing easy.
When you’re in your child’s home, you are loathe to take up too much space. You are their parent and the thought of you starting over with nothing worries them. You know they wonder what exactly their responsibility is to you in all of this, so you try and minimize your thumbprint in their home by breathing shallow and cleaning up a little extra as a bonus to having you around. You weigh all conversation topics beforehand, assessing each one based on whether it might be upsetting to them or not, and have learned the art of treading lightly while still making a point to say the things you feel are important for you to say. You are model guests, keeping tones low and intimacy to a bare minimum.
Yet, still, you know you are an inconvenience, so you keep your eye on the calendar, hoping to move out before you are officially asked. What, after all, could hurt more as a child than to have to ask your parent to leave your home? What could hurt more as a parent than to know your child had to tell you your time with them was up?
What you’d like most right now is to be in your own space, breathing easy, wearing nothing, sipping coffee leisurely, having left cooking dishes from weekend brunch or dinner in the sink for a few hours because you decided to watch a marathon of crime shows on TV, like you used to. What you’d like is to live like an adult who doesn’t have to answer for their time, who doesn’t have to worry about what the exact moment will be that your welcome will wear out. What you do instead is eat a lot of dollar burgers and cold cereal because they’re cheap, clean up easy, and it means you’re saving money — right now you don’t have the energy to care about putting meals together, anyway.
To all the others who have come out later in life: We see you and feel you.
So what you do is pound the pavement, driving around different neighborhoods to try to find an affordable place on a decent enough street that you won’t have to worry when you go to sleep at night (though, not such a nice street as to price you out of the competition). You look for stretches of parked cars where you see one Lexus for every two pickup trucks and three Subarus. You hope you find something with onsite laundry, air conditioning, and maybe even a pool, though you would trade that for a dedicated parking spot any day of the week. You hope the property manager won’t laugh in your face… and suddenly, you decide that maybe you don’t care as much about the onsite laundry, and can swap the air conditioning for a breeze, if it means they’ll give you a shot.
To the woman who openly stared at us in the grocery store: We are proud to be queer and happy to finally live in a way that reflects who each of us are on the inside. Our hair and clothes and presentation are confusing for you, we get it. No hard feelings.
To the homophobic landlords on the phone: We know you hear a female-sounding voice use the words “girlfriend” and “partner” and immediately decide you don’t want to rent to “the gays.” Your life must be so small and devoid of color. We feel sorry for you and believe that what you are doing is illegal.
To the property managers unwilling to give us a chance: We get it from a business standpoint. Do you have any open-minded friends who also happen to be property managers, and who might look at the entire package of who we are, instead of just a FICO score? Also, if bribes work, one of us makes awesome macaroni and cheese.
To the guy who spit at our feet, narrowly missing our shoes, and muttered, “Damn, missed”: We don’t like you and think that’s fair.
To all the others who have come out later in life: We see you and feel you. The sheer joy of finally living as yourself contrasts starkly with the reality of trying to make it work practically, in a way that is layered and dicey and exhausting. We love you, fam.