Helen Boyd is a writer best known for her study of gender and probably would agree that money spends the same whether it is carried in a purse or wallet. She is the author of the book, My Husband Betty and speaks at many trans conferences. She lives with Betty and their three cats in Brooklyn, New York. I spent time asking Helen a few questions about the value of the almighty dollar, how it played a role in her upbringing and what it means today.
1. I read on your blog that Betty finally talked you into getting cable. Were you holding out because you think cable is a waste of money? Why or why not?
I write at home, so cable is the Evil Waster of Time, and definitely not worth the money. I’d rather have a TV in the closet that I rolled out when I wanted to watch a movie, otherwise I watch a lot of PBS.
2. What is your most significant memory about money?
Having a moment of panic registering for The New School my sophomore year. I was looking at what the school covered, and what I had to cover, and I knew I wanted to write and was not corporate-bound, so it was this split second where I thought, “What are you doing to yourself?” I transferred to City College the next semester.
3. What is your worst habit around finances?
Nickel and dime-ing myself into debt. Carrying a credit card. Justifying unnecessary purchases as necessary. Should I go on?
4. Do you and Betty see eye-to-eye on money?
Mostly. Right now she’s making twice what I do, so it can be difficult to be the one who’s actually in charge of how we spend what we’ve got because I hate saying no since I couldn’t even dream of writing fulltime and working part time without her help. I end up getting flirted out of my decisions a little too often.
5. If you could buy one thing right now what would it be?
A house. Or an apartment with a second bathroom.
6. Who taught you the value of a dollar?
My grandmother. Every morning she took the two sugar packets the coffee vendor gave her with her coffee even though she didn’t take sugar in her coffee, and every night she emptied them into the family sugar bowl. But she’d buy me shoes and didn’t think about cost. Basically, she taught me to prioritize, to be cheap around things that didn’t matter so much, and to spend on things that were important.
7. You’re a writer, but I learned that you freelance as a bookkeeper. Does this mean you’ve calculated how much money you’ll need in retirement? And what are your plans?
To die young(ish), at this point. We haven’t calculated how much we’ll need in retirement because thinking about that right now is depressing. I changed careers a couple of years ago, decided to go nuts and see what would happen with my writing. So far that’s worked out well, but that whole “do what you love, the money will follow” adage is not proving to be true.
8. Did your parents ever disagree about money? How did this impact you?
My parents were and are a financial mess, but they also raised six kids on one income. My mom always worked, but not fulltime. My dad was about the least ambitious man when it came to his career, but he’d raise money for the Church all day long even if it meant standing in the rain and cold. So no, they didn’t disagree. They mutually decided to give my college tuition to the Church. Thus, the panic attack at the New School, since I paid my own way.
9. Which is more important: how much money you make or how you spend it?
After a certain point, how you spend it. But when you’re an artist, just covering the basics can be a challenge, so how much money you make counts more until you’ve reached a certain level.
10. Does money buy happiness?
Never. (But I won’t know for sure until someone gives me $1 million.)
More about Helen Boyd
Helen Boyd is the author of My Husband Betty — the book she thinks of now as A Field Guide to Crossdressing — and the upcoming She’s Not the Man I Married, which is a memoir of how her and her heterosexual husband ended up queer. Helen has been running an online group for trans couples since 2000. She runs community forums at her website: My Husband Betty and her blog (en)Gender can be found there, too.
Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.