August 2022 Submission: On Being “Homeless”

*Post submitted by Rachel.

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On Being “Homeless” 

This is call-back response to the June 2022 topic “House and Home.”  Don’t mind the eye-catching title, I make a stable income and have a roof over my head.  I put it in scare quotes because this essay comes from an upper-middle-class, white, American perspective, and I don’t want to cheapen the devastating effects of lacking consistent access to shelter, but there are simply too many connotations to the words “home” for me to ignore a chance at theming.  So what do I mean by “homeless” then?  Read and find out.  I also suggest reading my post on the COVID quarantine, because it provides background that is useful:

Read the previous posts for June 2022 here:

Part I: What Does Home Even Mean?

Home ownership is invested in tremendous social and economic cache.  Owning one is a mark of adulthood and a principal form of wealth accumulation and expression.  It also carries emotional significance (“Home is where the heart is.”), with connotations of safety, prosperity, stability, privacy, and comfort.  Property ownership and the emotional benefits provided by “home” are intertwined, to the point that I can’t separate the idea of home-as-a-nest from home-as-property.  Granted, I benefit from the peace of mind that stable income and housing provides, so this must sound pretty rich to readers in much more precarious circumstances than I.  My apartment provides consistent shelter, that is true, but it isn’t and will never be “mine,” with everything that implies.  Home ownership nominally provides all of what an apartment does in addition to being “yours.”  I say nominally, because I remember the subprime mortgage crisis and the and the Great Recession.  So much for home ownership as a reliable source of wealth and stability, right?  The promise of “home” can be taken away regardless of whether it’s owned or rented.        

Part II: Heterosexuality and Home

The home as a concept is also a deeply heteronormative institution. Blah, blah, blame American capitalism.  But what I see people gloss over is that for most of recorded history, all around the world, long before capitalism, the household as a concept still revolved around families of biology and of marriage, and therefore mostly revolved around heterosexual coupling.  The fact that the extended-family unit, rather than the 1950s American nuclear family, prevailed for most of history does not change that fact.  Maybe this isn’t true across all cultures, but every single one I know of revolves around it (if there are any that defy this, please share!).  

Even if the 1950s nuclear family falls to the wayside as the unsustainable model that it is, the extended family will not fix the underlying issues that nuclear families perpetuate.  I know this because my extended family history is rife with abuse, mental illness, and a more mundane genuine lack of compatibility.  In fact, it was the precedent of the American, autonomous nuclear family that gave my parents a socially-approved method to disconnect from their dysfunctional natal households.  So when I see my generation fetishizing the extended family as a more stable, more humane structure, I think to myself “Wow, such charming naïveté.”  

So much of what builds the concept of home, across time and culture, is so deeply straight that I find attempts to redefine home and family away from that predominant model to be futile.  I’ve been calling it heteronormative, but as a function of that it’s also fundamentally allonormative.  The precedent of building households upon sexual and romantic coupling doesn’t magically disappear by painting the LGBTQ+ rainbow over top of it.  As an aro ace, I am excluded from socially acceptable adult relationships that homes are founded on.  This is not unique to aromantic or asexual people (Millennials are more likely to be single, period, and have less wealth, period), but it hits me extra hard because I have even less access to avenues of home ownership than my allo peers.  I can’t “settle down” in order to obtain a dual-income or preferential treatment by banks, for example.  I tip my hat to the people trying to buck the trend.  It’s a noble effort, but I don’t see it gaining traction.  Your queerplatonic, cohabiting, friend-group cuddle-pile is always going to be an oddity.  Sorry.  I think the idea of home just might be bullshit.  

Part III: Who Gets a Home?

I don’t own a home, but my cousin does.  She is straight; I am pretty darn sure.  If she were queer, I’d have heard about it by now.  Staying closeted is not something that matches her image of outspoken-progressive-white-woman (disclosure: I am not fond of this cousin, so I am absolutely biased here).  She owns a home, lives with her man, has kids, and otherwise lives the white-picket-fence dream.  She also lives in a blue state, so she probably has easier access to support programs to facilitate property ownership.  Admittedly, she is the primary bread winner, he is a SAHD, and they aren’t married (because marriage was invented by the patriarchy to oppress women), so it’s not totally 1950s.  So I don’t say this to be conservative and pearl-clutchy (How dare she live in sin and bear children out of wedlock?!), but to point out that being more privileged often means you have more wiggle room to flout convention and still reap the benefits of it.  Meanwhile, I am undoubtedly queer and live in a red state, with everything that implies.       

Part IV: Do I Want to Own A Home?

For all my griping about how home ownership is inaccessible, I’m not sure that I even want it.  My ADHD makes the logistics of home ownership an insurmountable burden.  Hoop-jumping for securing a loan, the labyrinth of legal paperwork, HOA nonsense, the responsibilities of DIY property maintenance/having to hire people to do that for you.  Ugh.  Renting is so much simpler.  That is something that I notice gets lost amid the landlords-are-evil sentiment (which they are), that renting is sometimes more financially and logistically accessible for people with disabilities.  And sometimes it’s the only option.  Regardless of finances, I get soft-sorted out of ownership and into renting because of how it streamlines my life and eases the burden of my disability.     

Part V: Losing My Home

My parents have finally sold my childhood home this past fall.  Losing a childhood home is always difficult, but as millennial locked out of home ownership by a number of factors, it means more than just losing connection to a place with significant emotional investment.  I spent my 20s being migratory for school and work.  The old house was a center point, an anchor.  It was always there and unchanged regardless of how much I had to unmoor myself.  Now it’s gone, and with it, the last connection to my childhood, a point in my life that was happier, more stable, and more prosperous.  It was the last step finalizing my descent from middle-upper-class and into the millennials-are-poorer-than-their-parents class, with no ready means to rebuild, reclaim, or recapture that prosperity.  

Part VI: On Being “Homeless”

I am “homeless” because I rent.  I am “homeless” because owning property is economically and personally inaccessible.  I am “homeless” because, until I entered my 30s, I have been forced to be migratory for the sake of making a living.  I am “homeless” because I have lost access to many of the emotional benefits (the sense of autonomy, prosperity, comfort, stability, and belonging) that traditional notions of home and ownership thereof give which an apartment cannot replicate.  I am “homeless” because I am aro ace and the concept of “home” revolves around relationship structures that I am exiled from.  I don’t have a “home;” I just have places where I live.  

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