Poverty Redux

I’ve made mention here (and more so on my Facebook profile) of my financial struggles. Not that I believe I should have to justify or defend my current state of poverty, but perhaps my story will open some eyes. Between judeo-catholic guilt and protestant (heavy Weslyan and Puritan influence) judgement, the poor are quickly dismissed. Having recently read White Trash: The 400-year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg might also have sensitized me.

And I don’t lay out these facts to suggest that my poverty is somehow better (less bad?) or somehow more “noble” than that of others.

Perhaps my greatest frustration is not at being still poor, or being suddenly poor- but at being poor once again. I was poor for decades after graduation. Not from student loans, nor a conscious choice to eschew the world of consumerism, but a result of deciding what mattered the most to me then. After coming out in 1978,shortly before my 20th birthday, I continued to work in retail sales positions. I did accept some promotions, but was not actively seeking a “career“.

Employment was a tool to cover expenses while my energies were spent on ‘important work’. This was (is) community service. Shortly after returning to Toronto I volunteered with GYT Gay Youth Toronto; which operated a peer counseling service with a single phone line. My vows as a Sister in the Order of Perpetual Indulgence were taken in 1983 and never renounced. Although I did not ‘Manifest’ (appear in public, in habit) after the Toronto Order disbanded until connecting with a new Mission of Sisters here in Columbus OH, I have continued to minister to the best of my abilities within my community both in Toronto and now in Ohio.

My community work in the ’80s and ’90s was often in the leather/kink communities in Toronto. I was an active member (and one-time President) of Trident Metro Toronto- a gay leather/denim social club that accepted female members long before most other such clubs. During the ’90s I was a member of the Board of the community-based Mr Leatherman Toronto Competitions. I was the Production Director for two years- raising funds for AIDS related charities and picking a person to represent the community at the annual International Mr Leatherman competitions in Chicago. In the days before ‘dating apps’ we had participation from a large number of bars- I believe we topped out at 17. Each ran a contest for their specific bar titleholder and the MLT Committee often ran those as well. All such contests (pageants) have their drawbacks, but it was a glorious time that I remember fondly (well, except for the reasons we were fund-raising).

There were various personal relationships during that period- but this is not about my romantic life.

Another factor, occasionally mentioned in this blog, is the fact that with the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic many of us young queers did not, could not, imagine a life expectancy of 70+ like the rest of the white ‘First World’ population. In 1983, at age 25, I figured I’d be lucky to make it to 40. I did not actually get infected, but in the early days I doubted that possibility. Live for today. We were fighting for survival. And I did. The gods laugh.

At some point I began to understand I would survive. In 1996 I moved to Columbus; not to escape Toronto, or the memories, so much as to try and figure out how to live for a tomorrow that was actually on the horizon.

My resume riddled with retail experience, seeking a Customer Service Rep position was the logical place to start. After a short stint with a temp agency I accepted a CSR job offer that would lead to a 12 year career with an international company. I rose to an outside professional sales position (Account Manager) before being laid off as part of a 50% staff reduction in the local sales office. In 2010 I posted an update. Oh ya, that layoff happened during the new Great Depression, and just four months after my 50th birthday.

I did file for and receive Unemployment Insurance payments- not a “government hand-out” but earned income. And Federal Financial Aid when I enrolled in a local Community College to update my skills in preparation for sudden self-employment.

During the ensuing years I’ve also qualified for Food Assistance (“food stamps“) and mortgage assistance. I felt no shame in taking them, as I have worked temp jobs, seasonal work and self-employment (all such income having been reported) to mitigate the damage, in government jargon. I am on Extended Medicaid- and have learned its limitations.

As I said at the beginning, I am frustrated. My current round of poverty is due to a variety of factors- cleary some were beyond my control. Others, perhaps not. Once I started working full-time here I opened a retirement account; many years late and now pretty much depleted. My years of focusing exclusively on ‘doing what I love’ without regard for the long-term is what many ‘experts’ preach at Commencement – of course they tend to be people who’ve found both financial success and personal fullfilment in doing so. Not all of us have.

Having a back-up plan, while also following your bliss, is good advice even for those not pursuing a career in pro sports.

There’s no big secret, universal truth, momentous reveal, to follow. Just a reminder that poverty is most often not someone’s consciously chosen path. Snap judgements based on superficial (or non-existent) information are often incorrect. And compassion is an under-utilized reaction.

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