Mark your calendars. Next Monday, October 11 is National Coming Out Day!
And as a lead-up to that day of LGBTQ celebration, I want to share a few stories of my own coming out process… personally, professionally and financially. I’ll also share why I believe this coming out process can help us resolve any shame we may still be clinging to as LGBTQ people.
Coming Out of the Closet, Personally
It was about 25 years ago. I’d just finished high school and, when summer was over, I’d be moving away from Illinois for the first time in my life to attend film school in Los Angeles. Before leaving town, I wanted to come out to my mom and my closest friends and get it off my chest once and for all. In my mind, I needed to do it before moving to California so they knew this is how I was born and the west coast didn’t “make me gay.”
I still remember how terrifying that moment was. I couldn’t bring myself to say the word, “gay.” Instead, I had to say, “I like guys.” But initially, I was too uncomfortable to even say that.
There was a movie that had recently come out called Threesome, and in it, I was amazed to see the care and respect given to the main character, Eddy, played by the very cute Josh Charles. Even though Eddy was gay, that was just one aspect of his personality and not his entire identity. He wasn’t reduced to a two-dimensional cliche, but was the first character in a movie or TV show who I could actually relate to.
Because I was too scared to say the words, I hosted a movie night instead. And I started my coming out process with my two best friends at the time, Chuck and Amy. We hung out, watched the movie, and during the closing credits, I made my timid confession.
So… you know that character, Eddy, from the movie? He and I actually have something in common…
In retrospect, coming out to a male and female friend after watching a movie about a threesome? Probably not the best lead-in…
Luckily, my friends took the information in stride and were supportive.
After that, I did a one-on-one screening with my mom and came out to her the same way. There were tears. She asked if I was sure. She asked if I wanted to talk to a counselor. But ultimately, we ended the conversation with her saying that she loved me and was glad that I felt comfortable enough to tell her.
Going Back In the Closet
Going to college with a Navy ROTC scholarship from 1997 to 2001 meant going back into the closet, which was hella awkward. But hey! At least I got to live my life when I wasn’t doing Navy stuff on campus.
My time on active duty serving as a U.S. Naval Officer from 2001 to 2007, though, were the hardest years of my life. And for lots of reasons. The job didn’t excite me, there was very little work/life balance, and worst of all, I had to deal 24/7 with the psychological warfare of serving under the cloud of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT).
Even though I already came out of the closet on a personal level, serving into the Navy in the early 2000s meant I had to hide even deeper into the closet. The fear was real. As I’d been told, if I was outed I would be kicked out, lose the benefits of an Honorable Discharge, and have to pay back the $120,000 of my four-year college scholarship.
Being in the Navy, especially while out to sea on deployment, the ship becomes your life 24/7. You can’t escape it. With DADT, that meant never displaying photos of significant others, writing in code when sending emails back home, and evading casual questions about my personal life to avoid being outed. Exerting so much energy toward this constant vigilance was exhausting.
And it was a sad, lonely existence.
Coming Out of the Closet, Professionally
Fast forward to 2010. I landed a stable government job but still felt the instinct to stay tightly wound, avoid letting people get to know me, and steer conversations away from anything to do with my personal life. Even after my one-year probation period had ended with my government job, my body was still wired for vigilence. The muscle memory I developed from protecting myself in a professional setting told my mind that the threat was still there all around me.
About a year after joining the feds, I was recruited to help start a public speaking group because of my experience with Toastmasters in the past. At each meeting for my workplace Toastmasters club, I mentored coworkers on the basics of public speaking. I encouraged them to elevate the first draft of their speech with notes like, “add more personal anecdotes,” “be vulnerable,” and as a result, “build rapport with your audience by sharing who you are outside of your work persona.”
After many months of running the club, some members starting asking me when I would be giving a speech myself. That’s when it hit me.
Uh oh… I need to practice what I preach. I need to give a speech and in that speech, I need to be my authentic self and come out of the closet to everyone at work.
As a personal finance blogger, I’ll give a disclaimer that my speech was totally unrelated to money. But if you want to go down the rabbit hole of my story, below is a link to the infamous 2012 Toastmasters speech. Side note: I really went for it, taking risks where you can hear in the audience reaction that the shock value paid off!
That 7-minute speech did more than win me the ribbon forbest speech of the day from my peers. It freed me from my fear.
Coming Out of the Closet, “Financially”
Earlier this year, I decided to combine my obsession with personal finance and the FIRE movement just for fun, start this blog. Then, similar to what happened with Toastmasters, I felt a responsibility to be transparent with my audience. I mean, if I would be encouraging healthy money habits, I needed to be open about my own financial situation. Otherwise, how could anyone trust that I was speaking from experience of going from Hustle toward Opulence?
Apparently, I’m not alone in feeling this pressure to stay in the closet and avoid talking about money.
In the latest episode of the award-winning Queer Money podcast, this exact subject is discussed at length by the co-hosts/husbands, David and John. Looking back at their many years of interviewing people for their podcast, they commented how few of the interviews have been with members of the LGBT community who have reached financial independence. And of those LGBT people who have gotten their financial sh*t together, most of them are lesbians, which raises the question: what’s going on with the Gs, Bs, and Ts???
Financial Independence (FI), defined
On the Dave Ramsey radio show, his listeners will call in to yell, “I’m debt free!!!” But girl, that ain’t FI. Paying off debt is just the beginning. Wikipedia has a good definition: “FI is the status of having enough income to pay one’s living expenses for the rest of one’s life without having to be employed or dependent on others.” To quote the guys at ChooseFI, “Recently there’s been a groundswell of people who are rejecting the standard path. They are members of a community of likeminded people, making different choices with their time and money, and taking control of their lives in the pursuit of FI.”
I guess it’s not really a surprise that the Ls are leading the way for our community, I’ve always seen lesbians as the responsible, pragmatic ones of the LGBT community. They meet a partner, start nesting, and from the start, never have much interest in adopting a “spendy” lifestyle.
Meanwhile, gay men seem wired to pursue the YOLO (You Only Live Once) party life no matter what the cost to their health or wallet. That’s gotta be why you see so many gay bars but so few lesbian bars; because let’s face it… lesbians just aren’t blowing their hard-earned money on pricey bar tabs.
So why does the rest of the LGBTQ community feel so compelled to make it rain?
Pre-COVID, David and John travelled the country speaking with members of the LGBT community about topics in personal finance. From their conversations, they reported the most common reason they heard for this short-term focus: keeping up with those damn YOLO Joneses!
Well, I’m paraphrasing. Here’s what was actually said:
I wonder sometimes, especially for gay men, because of the stories we’ve heard, is this feeling to live this fabulous life where you have the perfect car, perfect house, perfect clothes, perfect vacations… and that basically means you’re spending so much of your money that you don’t have money to invest, which means that you constantly feel this financial stress. And that may lead to you not believing it’s possible, because you’re trying to live up to a standard within the gay community, which is a false standard that shouldn’t be there. And there’s a difference between looking rich and being financially independent.
Oh yeah, I know that queen…
I’m sure you have an LGBTQ friend who loves to spend money, whether they have it or not. And maybe you see a little of bit of that habit in yourself, too.
Hearing John and David’s thoughts about the spending habits of the queer community made me think of the main character from The Boys in the Band, played by Jim Parsons in the 2018 Netflix remake. In the film, he “appears” to have an extravagant lifestyle, complete with designer clothes, fancy skincare products, a lavish apartment… But it isn’t until the end of the movie that his best “frenemy” (played by Zachary Quinto) does the ultimate read of him: all his luxuries were bought on credit.
Yup! To keep up appearances, the main character (like many of us in the LGBTQ community) had gotten accustomed to living deep in debt.
In a behind-the-scenes Netflix special, the writer of The Boys in the Band revealed his inspiration for the debt-ridden main character was actually himself. And that credit card swiping, pay for it later, YOLO type of gay is far from being a unicorn. According to a recent survey, this big spender archetype is fairly common in the gayborhood.
Keeping Up With the Joneses After Coming Out
If you’re an LGBT ally reading this and you thought it was tough keeping up with the Joneses, try keeping up with the gayJoneses! For starters, replace the fully-loaded minivan with a Tesla. Next, sub that bar of Dove soap with a five-step Kiehl’s skincare regimen. Oh, and you’re gonna need to swap the family vacation to Disneyland with a luxury resort and ended bar tab in Mykonos.
According to a 2018 nationwide survey, the pressure to spend money is higher in the LGBTQ community compared to the general population, and the pressure is stronger the younger we are.
Americans take on too much debt as it is, and if the average American needs help, we in the LGBTQ need a collective call to 911. Can you imagine if we didn’t have our fiscally-responsible lesbian sisters bringing down the average of our high spending? Girl… those bar graphs for frivelous spending be flying off the page!
The Root of Gay Overspending
To explain why this might be happening – especially among gay men – I can’t help but think of The Velvet Rage. That book from 2005 is based on the trends observed by a gay therapist from his many years of sitting with other gay men. According to his interview with The Guardian, our tendency to be “a little extra” started in childhood.
But we don’t have to be victims of the Velvet Rage, girl! By being aware of the tendency and living consciously, we can wash up with some fabulous financial hygiene and dig ourselves out of debt and into some bonafide opulence.
Out and Proud Financially
I’ve often said that coming out does not apply only to LGBTQ people. I believe when someone takes ownership of loving comic book movies, alien conspiracy theories, or being a microbrew beer snob, for example, they are coming out as their most authentic selves. And by owning those most unique qualities and hobbies, it takes the power away from the haters.
Sorry Hannah Hater, you can’t throw shade for something I don’t treat as a weakness. That’s Pride!
The same way that coming out as LGBTQ frees you from the shame of our sexuality, I chose to take my power back and be open about my finances as well. Good, bad, and ugly, my ledger is spread wide open, baby! I’m an open book. In the spirit of fully coming out of the financial closet, I’ll be totally straight with you (pun intended):
- Living in San Diego is expensive. Duh, right? To afford the “sunshine tax” and still pay myself first with retirement savings, I had to live the Hustle. See, I had already made financial mistakes and lost everything in the 2008 crash. So, starting over at 30, I vowed I would do things differently. I househacked for 10 years by living in a 3-bedroom apartment with roommates and got my rent down as low as $600/month which, by the way, was less than 1/3 the cost of the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in the same neighborhood of San Diego. Even as my full-time job slowly nudged its way into the six-figure range, I continued to keep my expenses low, choosing happy hours and home cooked meals and travel hacking my flights with credit card points whenever possible. I also focused on earning more. I took advantage of any benefits available to me as a military veteran, and I earned extra money with side businesses. Overall, this earn-more/save-more hustle allowed me to maintain a savings rate of close to 75%, which – if you check out the FIRE documentary on my Resources page – is the key factor in achieving financial independence.
- Because of the mistakes I’ve made in the past after the 2008 housing crash, I now take more responsibility to Own my financial education. To stick to a path made up of daily wins and marginal gains that steadily add up over time, mindset is everything.
- Having saved up enough to let my Money start working for me, I currently consider myself at the stage of CoastFI. As of today, my net worth is just over $700,000. That’s broken down with about half in real estate and the other half in retirement accounts. At this point, I can project when I’ll hit financial independence, and the cool thing about being CoastFI: that day will come relatively soon, whether I continue contributing to my investments or not!
- While I would definitely not say I’m at Opulence yet, I expect to be at FatFIRE (having a comfortable passive income to cover my expenses) by the time I’m eligible to retire from my government job at 55. After those first 10 years of Hustle, I am now happy to report that I’ve been able to take my foot off the gas a bit and start allowing myself to enjoy my wins. Last weekend, I moved into a beautiful new condo in downtown San Diego as one of my first steps toward enjoying my hard work. This new home was admittedly a COVID-inspired splurge, so I decided to finally treat myself after getting my finances off to a healthy start, and it’s dropped my savings rate from 75% down to about 40%. And I’ll admit, this luxury has added an extra $2,000/month to my living expenses, which will require me to watch my spending a little more closely, but I’m okay with that. I want to continue paying myself first by maxing out my 401(k), Roth IRA, and Health Savings Account (HSA), so that will mean having some discipline again with my spending as I adopt a new routine of living in my upgraded home. But that’s what the FIRE movement is all about: not deprivation, but rather, mindful spending. When we in the FIRE community decide to treat ourselves to something nice, it’s because (1) we have the money to pay for it, (2) we know it’s something we’ll put to good use, and (3) we buy it because it’s something that brings us joy vs. being purchased as retail therapy or to keep up appearances with the Joneses. After all, if the traditional idea of YOLO is blowing all your money and walking around as a debt zombie, where’s the fun in that??? Let’s rewrite the definition of YOLO. After all, what’s more YOLO than a little delayed gratification and hustle so that the YOLO lifestyle can continue on forever?!
To close out, I have a call to action for you…
If you’d like to shatter the false standard in the LGBTQ community to overspend for the sake of appearances, join me and come out of the financial closet. For starters, what’s a mistake you’ve made with your personal finances? If you feel like you have achieved good financial discipline, what would you say is your secret ninja trick that’s allowed you to live the good life and be able to afford anything? Are there certain things you love so much that will always budget for it? Are there things you feel we could all do a better job of cutting from our monthly spending?
Post a comment to this post, send me an email through my Contact form, or contact me through one of my social media accounts. If there’s enough interest, I may reach out to you for a future video interview series to hear about your challenges and successes along the road to financial independence.
After all, the gay community needs more role models for healthy financial living. As we come together and become more willing to have these honest conversations about money, I believe we will calm our collective Velvet Rage. I have a vision of the LGBTQ community having less tendency to resort to overspending and unhealthy living to feel better about ourselves.
To borrow from the timeless RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself (without maxing out a credit card to feel worthy), how the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an amen?!”
One by one, as we liberate ourselves from the shackles of debt and false idols, I believe we can more fully achieve the true spirit of Pride: living our life on our own terms. I applaud the brave men and women who started the marches and celebrations every year since the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and I imagine they would be happy to see us embracing freedom of all kinds: personal freedom, professional freedom, and financial freedom.
Happy Coming Out, y’all!
Wish I would have known and done these things. 25 years ago. Now at 62 had to start my social security. Lost my job inApril of 2019, had to sell my house in Las Vegas and 2 years ago moved back to my childhood home in Cleveland,Ohio. Fortunately with house sale, severance and savings, I had enough to live on to meet expenses. Little did I know I would need to use money from my 401K to maintain my moms house. I have had to replace the HVAC system, hot water tank, basement leakage, new appliances that were old and quit working, new carpeting, house cleaning etc. Now I am financially broke. Barely making it with the social security.
Thank you Jeff I needed to read this today.
Thank you for your candor to share your story! Very sorry to hear about the hardships you’ve endured. You might want to look up a local ChooseFI group to hear ideas from locals on how they’re making the most with their dollars. I just checked and they have a group in Cleveland. https://www.choosefi.com/community/find-your-local-group/
Love this post!!! It describes all our friends back in Seattle before we moved. They all partied hard, vacationed in luxury and worked their butts off to afford it all. I love your comment about taking responsibility for your financial education. When my wife and I got together in 2004, we both wanted to understand more about money. So together we got to work trying to invest in stocks, then real estate, then we found FIRE!!! By 2018 we had saved enough and not squandered a few windfalls that we had retired. Its possible, to whatever degree, to find a way to save and work towards more financial control. Preach sister!
Very cool! Reaching FIRE in 14 years sounds very doable when you’re both on the same page as a couple. Congrats! And thank you for being one of the few in the community willing to share your story and set a positive example that it is possible!