Tuesday, April 15, 2008


A dear friend and I still marvel at our luck in snagging lawyers as life partners. Given our white, working class upbringings, being “married” to a lawyer is equivalent to making it in the world. Truth be told, my parents never dreamed of announcing my marriage in the New York Times, that was beyond our class, but the dream of marrying a lawyer? That was something to which we all could aspire.

This aspiration for my friend and I, and the resulting giddiness in our partnered success, reflects the pronounced interest in America for the answer to this question: How much do you make?

When the answer to the question, How much do you earn?, is revealed, it often shocks people. Regardless of what the number is, stating how much one earns transgresses a taboo. Our own earnings, or lack thereof, is a source of great anxiety in American culture.

How much do you make? isn’t a question that we ask directly, of course. It is a question of the speculative realm. We talk about it with family and friends. Consider when you start dating someone new. Who asked you, Does he have a good job? Does she make a lot of money? We aspire to building a life based on love, but we also have an eye, and a mind, to money.

I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that fundamentally, but I do think the focus on the question, How much do you make?, must be coupled with two other questions of equal, and perhaps greater, importance. Those two questions are: How much did you save? and How much did you give?

I think of these questions at this time of year in particular as the April 15th deadline for personal income taxes looms. In my household, our taxes are filed, and I’m over the rage of not being able to file jointly—it’s an annual source of rage.

Honestly, I tell myself each year that I am not going to let it bother me, but the reality is when I’m sitting in front of the computer with piles of paper everywhere trying to sort out and separate our completely entangled financial lives, I always feel angry about the lack of recognition of our conjoint life.

Then I rationalize that many married couples have to evaluate what has the greatest financial benefit to file jointly or to file married, filing singly. I understand that there are tax benefits to not being married, but I, like many queers at this time I suspect, want the choice—or at least the recognition that my life is not single.

After this rage and resignation process, however, I file my taxes. The total value of my remunerative work is revealed and for at least the next year, I know the answer to the question, How much do I earn?

What I don’t know is: How much did I save? According to the news, saving should be important to Americans. The headlines tell me that savings rates for Americans is at the lowest ever. Perhaps part of that is that because we don’t have a system to highlight how much we save in any given year. There is no line on the tax form for how much we saved.

The other question, How much did you give?, for me goes hand in hand with earning and saving. Giving money to benefit broader society is a profound American tradition. When we give, we invest in something that can only be accomplished collectively, something that is beyond our individual capacity to earn or save.

There’s a line on itemized tax forms for how much is given to some organizations, but our capacity is to give is greater than can be contained on any line from the IRS, as is our capacity to save.

While filing taxes, I’m thinking about earning, but more importantly about saving and giving. I believe they are much greater measures of our worth and our value.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet who lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work, including her blog, at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #26 dated April 15, 2008 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Word Count: 667

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