Dear Liza,

I left the States many years ago and ended up having a child abroad, as one does. A few years back, after an ill-fated attempt to live in the US with my kid in the middle of a bitter custody battle, I returned to my adopted EU member state to exercise my visitation rights. Though I’d been a working resident alien here for years, the litigation’s aftermath left me without my child and extremely depressed—and thus disinclined to continue to bust ass for the state. Since then, I’ve been on and off the dole—with help from family at home and friends here.

Now, I’m happy to report, my kid lives with me again. But I see no fantastic job in my near future, or at least not one that would allow me to hang out with, listen to, cook for, and watch films with her. It feels so important to finally be able to do all those things together.

Not that I’m lazy! I’m very active in the local social-justice scene. But I also feel a need to be involved at home. So, Liza, my question to you is: Would it be appropriate for me to divert some of my European welfare benefits to the Bernie Sanders campaign? I can spare a few euros thanks to my social and family network.
—Bernie Broad Abroad

Dear Expat,

How wonderful that your kid lives with you again, and that you are spending real time together.

You’re right to think seriously about how you use these benefits; social democracy works best when people can trust each other to make sound use of public funds. I would not, for example, condone diverting your government checks into a criminal enterprise or investments in ExxonMobil.

But welfare should help people not only to survive, but to be full citizens, which includes engaging in the political process. Contributing money to candidates is (unfortunately) critical to genuine participation in the US electoral system. Jobless people in the United States receive such meager benefits that few enjoy the luxury of a dilemma like yours. If Americans ever do achieve a more generous welfare state, however, allowing recipients enough money to shape the political process, and encouraging them to do so, would be fair and sensible policy. The rich certainly aren’t shy about using their vast resources to do the same.

I also love that you’d be sending your 
European benefits to the only presidential candidate who favors inclusive, European-style public programs. It’s a fitting and thoughtful gesture toward a future in which more Americans share your freedoms.

Dear Liza, 

I’m a 45-year-old man performing gender transition. I know being a woman is not just about wearing a dress. How do I go about learning how to be an intelligent, powerful woman under late capitalism, and how to be a feminist when the media just tell me to buy, buy, buy? I’m a shopaholic when it comes to women’s clothes. Where do I find out what being a woman is really all about?

—Becoming Myself

Dear Becoming,

Buying clothes is a delight, and no woman should feel bad about it. Don’t let your critical perspective on consumer capitalism deprive you of the joy of looking fabulous.

In fact, such obsessions can be part of a crucial stage in your transition. Miss Vera, founder of Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls, which helps cross-dressing men, transwomen, and others, told me that many people undergoing a gender transition experience something like adolescence, “so of course it is all about the clothes, the hair, but it won’t stay there.”

As Miss Vera points out, as you advance further into your transition, you may face financial problems that make these new consumer habits difficult to maintain. Transwomen often confront new expenses, from hormone treatments not covered by insurance to the greater cost of a hairdo. On top of all that, as a woman, you may find that you make less money than you did as a man: Not only are women paid less than men, but you may face extra economic discrimination as a transwoman.

I hope you can buy all the shoes you deserve and more, Becoming, but such constraints do underscore the importance of moving beyond the trappings of femininity and developing your feminist self as well as your look.

Ultimately, the process will be “not just about transformation but integration,” Miss Vera says, emphasizing that you are “taking what you are learning in the female world and integrating it with what you learned in the male world.” The question is not just “What is a woman?” but “What do you already like about the person you are now?” Your project is not to create a new self from scratch, but to find new avenues to express who you already are.

Miss Vera’s Finishing School offers close instruction in this process and boasts many satisfied graduates. Miss Vera does not eschew the shopping, but views clothes, shoes, and makeup as “props” in your much deeper process of self-discovery.

You also need support. Use your local LGBT center to find support groups for those experiencing gender transition, as well as therapists specializing in trans issues. As well, the magazine Trans Guys publishes annual guides to trans conferences, where you can meet people going through similar transitions and attend workshops on these themes. Also, making friends with lots of other women (perhaps you already have!) and listening carefully to them will help you learn more about their lives and the challenges of living a female identity under patriarchy.

You may need role models, too. Who are the women who most inspire you? Make a list. Of each woman on your list, ask yourself why you chose her—odds are, it’s not just how she does her eyes. Though it’s undeniably true that Gloria Steinem looks hot in leather pants, her beauty also has much to do with the pleasure she takes in life and her drive to resist gender oppression. You’ll find your own ways to embrace both the pleasures and the challenges of expressing yourself as a woman.

Congratulations, Becoming. There’s never been a better time to do this.

Have a question? Ask Liza here.