The Debt Spiral and Sadness

This morning, I had it inferred to me, more than subtly, that since I an not financially well off, I am a poor choice in partner.  This was one of their concerns, along with my gender stuff, and some of my health stuff… and though those last two hurt, the first one really triggered me.  I talked through some of it, but journals are journals for a reason, so here on my journal I will vent and stomp for a bit.  And hopefully find some peace.

When I was 11 or 12 (time slips, moves, like a river stream), my father’s father passed away.  From complications to his diabetes.  I personally think that drinking himself to death when compounded with his diabetes may be more visceral of a truth.  Either way, I came home from summer camp, and my matrilineal grandmother was waiting at the ferry dock for me (I did summer camp on an island).  I was convinced my mother most be dead, and stared at her blankly.  No, my mother was fine, but my father was not.  My father was in a mental institution having had a breakdown around his father’s death and other concerns.

Amidst my grandfather’s death, the storm was thick.  My father, believing that he needed to send his father off in good fashion, and having modest means at the time, put it all on American Express.  The funeral, the flowers, the space for burial.  On a high-interest credit card.  Compound this with mental illness, and then with drinking himself… the debt not only financially spiraled, but energetically spiraled.  My mother and I left when I was 13, for this spiral which grew to include domestic violence between them (not myself), energetic violence, and sorrow that rooted itself deep. I will always be grateful for my father finding a devout faith, even if that faith has led to him saying some hurtful and alienating things to me (such as the fact that my gender transition defiled the sanctity of the temple of the body and was an unholy thing in the eyes of God)… it pulled him out of his hell-hole and brought him into being a human again.

I have fear of debt.  It has made me make some choices that perhaps have held me back.  I owe less that 1k on credit card debt, from years ago that I am still paying back- a few thousand of stuff in a time of need when my mother convinced me it was okay.  I owe a bit over 10k to “bank of mom” which I pay off 1-3k a year.  I owe my friend Dottie $30.  That’s it.  I lend easily to friends, I barter… but debt scares me.  In fact, I pre-pay my rent every quarter so that I don’t have to face the emotions that came up when I got a behind-payment bill from when I was sent to the hospital with epilepsy.  That sucked financially, and haunted me for years, as someone (at the time) without health insurance in the US.

When I agreed to take Aiden on as my Property and Partner, I asked them to do a full assessment of debt and tangible means.  They had never been asked to do that before.  They owe a lot due to the University system and choices made (in my perspective, a very little in the eyes of Donald Trump).  I had to sit with it, while telling them it would be okay, and actively devising a plan on what finances would look like in our household so that this debt is simply a thing we work with, work down, until it is paid back and we likely (as americans) take on some more debt when we buy a house down the road.  Though, as myself, I’ll likely require that we have at least 1/4 if not 1/2 down before we buy (unless there are amazing opportunities).

It was hard.  Very hard for me.  But worth doing, worth physically and energetically taking on their debt, because Aiden is worth the investment.  We as a pair are worth the investment.  Our dreams are worth the investment.

However, here we stand at the adventure in 5 days of our commitment ceremony.  In 5 days, we will be on a sacred and beautiful land before friends and family and we will swear oaths in both directions and move forward together.  It’s exciting… and yet, the wedding industrial complex.

My friend JD phrased it well the other night, that he finds it fascinating that on the day that is supposed to symbolize starting life as a singular unit, we are encouraged to do so by going into debt.

You know what makes a commitment ceremony special and sacred to me?  Being on beautiful land, surrounded by friends and family, swearing oaths in both directions and moving forward together.  There are certain trappings I find helpful, but I can live without.  An altar space for sacred doodads and focus of intention and attention (though a rock and each others eyes will serve fine).  A photographer to capture the moment for future memory.  But beyond that, I’m pretty good.

We decided to budget for coordinating outfits.  But they are also wardrobe items that we will wear again.  Good kilts, nice vests, button down shirts and elegant ties.  We will reuse this.  I re-wore elements from my wedding dress only a few times, for art shoots and dances.  But even then, we re-used.

We decided to budget a moderate amount on some paper invites and wax seals for them, but compared to many folks we know, the money spent was very small.  We spent money for a photographer… but his rates were definitely in the “friend” pricing to say the least.

We have spent under $50 for flower petals, and I gifted an $80 blank booked I owned to the endeavor.  We bought ribbon for our handfasting cords.  The altar items are all stuff we owned.

We’re spending funds for coordinating tattoos, done by an artist who has done work for both of us in the past.

That’s pretty much it.

I have no one to defend the choices Aiden and I made together.  That’s right, Aiden and I.  Because part of having human property, in my opinion, is listening to the wisdom they carry.  That they are wise and powerful and beautiful, or else I would not want them.  Their dreams are valuable to me, and thus I want their dreams to flourish.

Will dreams flourish if we get buried under debt?  Money for tents, money for caterers, money for keepsake tokens that guests will throw away in a few weeks.  Especially when there is no “away” and that is the fallacy that has led us to poisoning children in India with battery acid in their water or suffocating penguins with 6-pack rings.


Okay, breathing.

Aiden was given a beautiful gift back in December- airfare, through frequent flier miles, to come and visit me.  It was an amazing gift.  It feels less amazing when it is inferred that if I was a real man, a real partner, a solid serious human, I would have bought the tickets myself.

I did not buy them tickets because I live by the means I really have.  Had I known that those 2 weeks would have led to the strength and togetherness that we have today… I may have put it on a credit card.  But I don’t like that logic, personally.  I plan for tomorrow to have us all be wealthy, successful, happy people- but today I want my partner and I to live as successful, happy people by the means we have today.  Not borrowing from tomorrow.  Not right now.  I had just had major invasive surgery due to a cancer scare, and the last thing I wanted to do was put myself in debt when I was unsure the next time I could go out and make a dollar teaching.

I make my living with books, classes, lectures, and independent students.  Occasionally I get supplementary income from other sources.  I am comfortable, but financially snug as I write this.  I can pay rent, pay bills, but not go out for dinner every night or fly a partner cross-country without budgeting a few months in advance unless a random windfall occurs.  I buy books on sale, and actually find great freedom in thinking creatively about making stuff happen.  I tend to stay at the houses of friends (old and new) when I travel- not only does it save funds, but more importantly it gives me time to see my friends, tell stories, and not sit alone in empty hotel rooms staring at televisions and working myself into random depressions.

I acknowledge that the inferences of me not being a good partner because of my current finances were likely said because of what is happening for them in their journey, and what they think they see.  And yet, it hurt.  It brought up childhood family pain, my fear of the debt spiral, my panic responses.  Which are not the fault of the person who said them.  I reflected their fears, and they reflected mine.  I pause, I breathe, I remember.  I see now the person who said this, and see some of their sorrow.  I may still be projecting, but the screen becomes semi-transparent.  I start to see them, and hope, in time, they will start to see me.

Love.  For G_d’s name has four letters, and was I created in their vision.  And so were you.  And so were you.  And so we learn to love, learn to G_d.  Learn the complexity of our capacity.

I breathe in hope, I release fear.  I forgive myself for my panic, my fear.  I learn.  I love.

I love.



Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.


  1. You’re in my prayers and thoughts, Lee. Think only positive thoughts. Sometimes people say hurtful things when they are hurting. Don’t let them steal your dream, dear friend!

    Barbara and Daniel

  2. Another wedding tradition is the testing of resiliency and patience. You are obviously thoughtful, powerful and resilient. Capable of introspection and compassion for self and others. I recently left a relationship with someone who loved me very much, who I loved and who could have been a provider for me… helping to actually pay for my basic needs, offering a big house, easy living and even contributing to my Masters degree. Now, I am in a relationship whose wealth is in communication, self knowledge, deep listening world resonance and a landscape of fierce striving acceptance and self challenge.

    Money is important, being financially responsible is important. Being loving, caring and clear is the most important. I am happy for you that you have chosen a path of dedication, creativity and self love. Blessings on your union(s). Layne

  3. I too choose to live within my means. Debt is so ingrained into our culture that many people simply do not understand how anyone can choose to forgo it. Sometimes the debt-free lifestyle is just as alternative as the rest of our lifestyles, and requires just as much honesty and fortitude.

  4. This society is all about living beyond one’s means. I did it for years, ran up huge credit card bills then spent years paying them off. Rinse, recycle, repeat. Until the last time I declared bankruptcy. And now I got student loans to deal with. Whoo.

    But I don’t do the plastic anymore, and it’s a whole different way of living. Cleaner, that’s for sure. Tighter. Tenser. But at least that big swirling maelstrom of oh fuckness isn’t waiting at the end this way. It’s just a small swirling maelstrom of oh fuckness that one is constantly trying to avoid falling into. Or something. It’s late. But hugs and stuff and know that we love you even if you don’t make shit for shinola.

  5. Kathy Costello

    Lee, this reflection hits home for me. Dealing with the emotions that money brings up it tough and we are not encouraged to do it. We are discouraged to do it, actually, because of the way the consumer debt system works.

    In the last 2 years I have slid down the hill of “financial ruin”, but to me, now, it has been about letting go and living simply. Money comes just when I need it. I continue to give and share and in doing so, the powers that be see fit to provide. I also have had to let go of shame. If I need something, I say so. If someone has it and can give it, great. If a friend wants me to keep my money in my wallet, I have learned to graciously say “thank you”. I don’t feel I am “mooching” as I give energy in different ways.

    The energy that you give your relationship is so much more than the outer trappings of what money can buy. Thinking that “being a good provider” is about how much money is in the bank is fear based. You, out of everyone I have ever met, Are Faith Based. Paying rent ahead allows for peace of mind. It stops the mental anxiety that is distracting.

    Getting on the same page with your property as far as money issues is huge. Congrats on being in the solution, my friend. You show the way for the rest of us!

    Hugs, Kathy C in Sea

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