| Arts & Culture
Housing Buying a House As a Queer Single Mother
Despite my newfound independence, I struggle with the notion that I’m buying into a privileged system of inequity.
I never thought I’d be able to buy a house on my own. It felt too far out of reach for someone of my station. For two years, I had been renting a small hundred-year-old house in Ashland, a progressive, artsy town in the mountains. I moved in with my two children when I knew my marriage was over, and then, shortly after, the pandemic hit. For a year, I was able to piece together employment on contracts, but by the spring of 2021, I was receiving unemployment benefits. It frightened me to be living so close to nothing. In the months that followed, I struggled with my class status, wondering about my value and worth as defined by the market now that I was unemployed and insecure. I thought I’d try to write my next book during this time, and I made progress, but not enough. I needed a secure income as a single mother, and I struggled to find work.
Then, I unexpectedly earned a divorce settlement that provided me with a large-enough sum for a down payment. I had been married for fifteen years and spent much of that time building a farm business and raising children alongside my ex-husband. But I struggled with a deeper guilt over this resource. The divorce payout I had asked for was large enough to drastically change my ex-husband’s financial situation. It was also the largest amount of money I had ever received.
Even with the money, I wasn’t certain I’d be able to buy in the current real estate market. I live in the southwestern part of Oregon, in the Rogue Valley, bordering California—where the 2020 Almeda Fire burned out two towns and many of the existing homes and much of the infrastructure. The geography of this place is attractive because of its lower property taxes, nice weather, arts-and-culture community, and growing wine region. It’s an excellent place for Californians who have sold their homes for high prices. I knew I was going to be competing with cash buyers, high market values, and a low supply of houses. But I needed a secure home.
I started looking for houses in November. The nicest homes, the ones with few problems and in good locations, went into contract within a few hours, which was acceptable at first because I didn’t love most of what I saw. But by January, I was in contract on a place I didn’t love. Located in a subdivision near mixed-use industrial and commercial zones, the house had a small yard, the interior needed work and appliances, and the neighboring houses were in close proximity. But it had a good price point. That’s what everyone said, anyway.
“Interest rates are going to go up soon,” my agent said, during the second viewing. “It’s almost spring. Everyone will be ready to buy, and you’ll be competing with more cash offers. It’s only going to get harder. This house, it’s a good investment.” If I didn’t buy now, I wouldn’t be able to buy at all.
Though I was in contract on the subdivision house, I still subscribed to real estate listings, hoping that something I really loved might come along. When my current house popped up on a Monday afternoon, I texted my agent. He arranged for us to go a few hours later, between showings.
Even before going inside, I knew it was the house I wanted. It had hardly been on the market for four hours, but already the buyers were circling—several people drove by while we stood in the yard. While I didn’t know much about the neighborhood, the house was located on a quiet cul-de-sac on a 0.2-acre lot with two mature Douglas fir trees in the back and abundant hiking trails not far from the house. The house itself, built in the ’80s, had been remodeled and updated, well cared for.
I worked three jobs. I had no partner to share the mortgage with. I worried about money all the time.
“There’s no way you’ll get this one,” my agent said. “This one is going to go over the asking price.” It did—it went to me, for far more than I’d set out to spend.
Part of the reason I left my marriage was to divorce myself from financial dependency on a man and gain autonomy in my sexuality. Owning a house was arguably a step in that direction. Yet, despite my newfound independence, I struggle with the notion that I’m buying into a privileged system of inequity. Of exclusion. Yes, I am a bisexual woman. Yes, I am a woman owning a home on my own. This means something, I know, but I can’t quite come to terms with it.
The first time my fourteen-year-old son walked into our new home, he said to me, “This is a richie’s house.” I paused in the hallway. His declaration was disorienting, unnerving, and possibly incorrect. What did being rich even mean to him? He was born on a farm in a small house that was mostly unfinished and abundant with broken things, dust, and spiders. He’d shared a room with his sister for many years and lived with me in a hundred-year-old rental in a room without a door. This new house, the one he would live in with me half-time, had high-beamed ceilings, working appliances, modern finishes, wood floors, even a pool out back. A friend had called it elegant . This was a big change. But I worked three jobs to pay for the house on my single-parent income. I didn’t have a partner to share the mortgage with. I worried about money all the time.
My daughter also recently called me rich and said in the car, “Bag that money, Mom,” so that she could buy items she saw trending on TikTok. She is nearly twelve, persuaded by consumerism, influenced by social media in which teenage girls show off their bedrooms or kitchens or Starbucks Strawberry Açaí Refreshers.
“I’m not rich,” I tell her. “Yes, we are privileged to be living in a nice home, but we are not rich.” She can understand the parts of social media that are strictly performance, but she lacks the wisdom to truly understand the inequities behind them. I didn’t want to cause her any fear that we could lose the house if my economic situation made a turn, but I also wanted to be clear that while we appeared wealthy based on this one asset, just as in social media, there was performance and then, of course, there was reality. I imagine spending the next ten years working tirelessly to keep this house in my name, to get both her and her brother through high school and into adulthood without failing on my mortgage responsibility.
Recently, I walked through the new neighborhood on an afternoon break from work to explore what I had bought my way into. As place and community have always been core values of mine, I wanted to know who might be living around me, whether I could find connection, understanding, maybe even allies.
After we moved in, my son had asked me, “Did you see the flamingos across the street, and the cross? The one that lights up at night?” Of course I had. It was impossible to miss it—this corner house with American flags for curtains and the fourteen-foot-tall wooden cross. I nodded to my son and sighed. Where am I? I thought. Who was I? Could I put my queer flag in the front yard?
I had also noticed the Trump 2024 flags streaming from the trucks that turned out from the neighborhood, the signs proclaiming police as champions, the stickers on the neighbor’s car to “Defund gun control. Common sense isn’t hard.” When I hooked up my Wi-Fi, the neighbors’ network, Jesus is Lord , popped up. Our previous rental home in the neighboring town had had Black Lives Matter posters in every yard, queer flags hanging from porches. Out walking now, I passed American flags, prominent Christian signposts, a few Fuck Biden flags. This new neighborhood felt like an assault on my identity.
But my identity also feels tied to the house I’ve bought in confusing ways. Perhaps my anxiety is a holdover from living rurally for so long, for having place be an important part of who I am, for writing a book about home and its significance in our lives. The academic Damien Riggs writes about the middle-class white queer person and the need to be accountable for the ways that we participate in a system that privileges some over others. Who is disadvantaged because of my status as a middle-class homeowner? What does it mean to inhabit this identity while also identifying as bisexual? I wanted so desperately to identify myself in this little neighborhood. Here I am! A woman with progressive politics writing a book about queer sexuality, bodies, and nature, in an open monogamous relationship with a heterosexual man. This is us—your new neighbors.
Where am I? I thought. Who was I? Could I put my queer flag in the front yard?
This is the choice I made—to move into a conservative place despite my value differences because, ultimately, this was what I could afford. Had I bought a house in Ashland, just to the south, for the same price, I might have ended up with something very small, or that needed a lot of work that I wouldn’t be able to afford as a single mother with multiple jobs. After three months of living here, I am slowly coming to terms with moving to a city and neighborhood I never thought I’d choose.
But I do grapple with this choice. This house, this symbol of stability and independence, felt important to me and my children, more so than the politics of the people around me. I tell myself that I can have influence, make friends. I can adjust. Do the meaningful and important work I do while living here. Write. Teach. Make change. Become an asset to the community. I’ll find my people. I’ll live quietly in my house casting my vote, volunteering, and making choices that align with my values.
In Eula Biss’s book Having and Being Had , Biss explores Guy Standing’s class theory about the precariat, a class of people whose employment and income are insecure, often pushed into these situations through divorce or other methods, including choice. I explained these things to my children over Easter brunch as we enjoyed our juice, bacon, and omelets, the sun streaming over the pool.
My daughter’s eyes glazed over. My son nodded. I am aware of the absurdity of this relationship: home ownership, precarity, brunch by the pool. I’ve left one class—the precariat—and have entered another because I had the resources available to me. This has led to my autonomy, which also provides a secure life for my children. Of course, nothing is for certain, and the looming threat of precarity stays with me every day, should I lose my job or an unexpected illness or medical costs prevent me from paying my mortgage.
When I was younger, my parents often elevated wealth as the highest aspiration. I grew up in the suburbs of Southern California. There was a certain air of elitism to my family’s experiences, a performative liberal display of ambition without recognition of the class and racial inequity that surrounded us—the Latinx housekeepers and landscapers, the erasure of any form of houselessness in the clean streets of our city—all of which made me uncomfortable. I hold myself to a deeper ethical standard, something I developed from years of observation, of liberal schooling, of experience with community. My parents, with the obvious attitude of superiority that emanated from their conversations, their tones, their privilege, made me want to make the world a better place for others.
Which then makes me even more bewildered when my children make statements about our wealth to me.
Another afternoon, I’m showing my daughter the new plants I have purchased to start filling the garden with pollinators. “I love this yard,” I say to her.
“It’s a rich person’s house,” she replies, doing a little garden dance and jiggle with her body.
Again, I ask her, “Why do you think that?”
“Because it is. It’s huge and nice. All I’ve ever known is a small farmhouse without access to things.” Here, she has things, a pool, her own room, bathroom.
“It comes down to comparison then? What you haven’t had and what you now have?” She nods.
The moment becomes a generational correction, I suppose. I want to be certain that my daughter is aware of her privilege, that her ambition should not be directed toward performing wealth. I want her to be aware of how wealth inequity exists and divides us, how growing a sense of entitlement becomes destructive to culture, community, well-being, justice.
Yet I also find some sense of satisfaction in her words. I want my children to enjoy their lives, to feel safe and secure. They had such a turbulent early childhood—they were exposed to their parents’ very difficult marriage and their mother’s years of financial struggles. My daughter making this statement about “having things” feels like an accomplishment. But I also want to correct my parents’ influence of aspiring to wealth and turn that into something more meaningful. If I own a house and my children think we are wealthy, I feel a more urgent responsibility to help create a just and equitable housing system.
I still want to feel at home here too. Recently, I went out to the garage. The previous tenants had left a Prince poster on the wall, which I took as a sign that I should be here. “Thank you,” I said to Prince, as he stared at me in his white ruffled shirt unbuttoned to the pants, holding a rose out to me. It’s a gift, I think. For being here.
As I cleaned up the moving boxes, I saw my Pride flag hanging toward the back of the garage, in the shadows. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but Medford, the red town I had moved to, had recently held its first Pride celebration in its downtown plaza. I took my daughter to the gathering, and as we watched the drag performances on the park stage, and witnessed all the happy people celebrating their identities, I decided it was time for me to show my own colors. I went home that afternoon, opened the garage, and stuck my pride flag right out front in the garden with the hyssop and grass. It felt gratifying to suggest, for all the cul-de-sac to see, my ethical concerns and commitments. To make myself known.