Money makes the world go around? – What my being a lesbian has to do with economic power

Joanna Johnson is an openly gay teacher and TikTok star from Canada with 2,6 million followers. For L-MAG, she explains the role money plays in her life and why she sometimes wears brand-name clothes (Artikel in englischer Sprache.)

Privat Hat 2,6 Millionen Follower auf TikTok: Joanna Johnson

Von Joanna Johnson

Dieser Artikel steht hier im englischen Original. Die (leicht gekürzte) deutsche Version findet ihr im aktuellen L-MAG, dessen Cover Joanna Johnson schmückt.

28.8.2023 - You know, back when I was a kid, I was a badass on an all-boys baseball team. I rocked the catcher position, batted fourth, and even closed out the game with my pitching skills. I was damn good. But then, at the age of 9, I made a decision that would throw a curveball into my baseball life and personal identity—I chopped off all my straggly hair to sport that feathered '80s look.

Little did I know, it would have an unexpected impact.

As I slipped on that catcher's helmet and smashed home runs, the parents in the stands as-sumed I was a boy. Thankfully, there were people who knew me, and they quickly set the record straight. My mom, bless her soul, proudly announced my name, allowing everyone to bask in the glory of a girl dominating the baseball field. While all this controversy brewed and away games were played, I would crouch behind the plate, doing my job, while listening to people mistakenly assume things about me. It was incredibly frustrating for me, to say the least. So, by the time I hit 10, I had my mom stitch 'girl' across the right leg of my uniform, shutting down any further debate on the field. You’re probably wondering – why did I feel the need for everyone around me to know I was a girl? Well, that’s a simple yet complex an-swer. I wanted recognition, but I was also caught up in a game that demanded a binary—fitting neatly into the narrative the world had concocted. I craved acknowledgment, but I also craved acceptance.

Tomboy with a perm

Fast forward to high school, and I let my hair grow out. Just having 'girl' stitched on my clothes wasn't enough anymore—I needed more visible indicators to eliminate the need for labels. Plus, it was the '90s, and you know how it was back then—getting a perm was practi-cally mandatory (trust me, there wasn't much of a choice). So, once those rollers were securely in place, I did what any teenage girl would do—I went shopping.

At 13, I had no clue about the gender binary or my own lesbianism (looking back, it's obvious now, but hey, hindsight is 20/20). I was oblivious to the fact being a woman would come with a bunch of societal expectations and added costs. All I cared about was shopping. Being seen as a ‘tomboy’ at the time, and with sports being my jam, I had some leeway to rock sporty clothes. The '90s were a time when girls could embrace more masculine elements because it seemed like progress—we were breaking molds. But there were still limits to how far we could push those firmly planted boundaries. So, when prom season rolled around, I bought the beautiful dress, got a fresh perm (again, it was the ‘90s), slipped on the heels, and let my date drive (although I despised being chauffeured around), and attended the event. Wanna guess how much that set me back? It wasn't just about playing dress-up in a costume that didn't quite match who I was—it had a serious economic price tag. I'm talking hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars spent just to conform to society's idea of womanhood.

Did I accidentally reference Matt Walsh? Ugh, my bad. Hold on, let me fix that for you.

Now, let's talk about when I subconsciously began questioning everything. Ah, yes, universi-ty—the breeding ground for challenging established norms. You know why some right-wingers want to defund, delegitimize, and destroy discussions on culture and identity? They're scared, plain and simple. They're terrified of us criticizing and changing the system that's worked in their favor for ages. If we can shake up the culture, question the very foundations of societal expectations, then we can shake up the political and economic landscape that controls our lives. No wonder they're banning books left and right.

When I set foot on my university campus, little did I know it would give me the foundational words to start my journey. Back then, I couldn’t quite articulate it, I couldn’t explain the forest for the trees. But something inside me shifted, and it would take me five years to pull into cohesion. It was in college that I witnessed queer women unabashedly owning their space. I wasn't quite ready to stand with them, but damn it, I made sure to take a seat right next to them.

Who holds the power?

That's when I discovered feminist philosophers and activists. We debated and discussed the impact of identity on culture and the economic bedrock of our society. Suddenly, education became more than just acquiring knowledge—it was about questioning everything. It was during that period that I longed for my old baseball uniform again, a chance to tear off those stitched-on letters with my bare hands. But, as life would have it, we rarely keep the things that shape us. So, I settled for metaphorically shedding those layers instead.

One of the burning questions that came up time and time again during those years was, "Who benefits from the creation of our personal identities?" Who owns the power, and how does that power translate into capital? As I sat alongside those brave souls who owned their unique identities, I wasn't yet ready or able to shed the things that defined me, that limited me. So, I dove into the debates, devoured every piece of literature I could get my hands on. I distanced myself from the typical university experience—the parties, the drinking, the dating. Looking back now, I see it as the cocoon stage, the precursor to a metamorphosis that was yet to come. Mind you, I didn't have my trusty uniform anymore, so we're deep into the realm of symbol-ism here.

Oh, and speaking of costs, let's talk about the price of my education and the expenses I in-curred in order to break free from societal norms and expectations. It wasn't cheap, my friend. We're talking tens of thousands of dollars spent to start seeing the cracks in the very founda-tion I had tried so hard to conform to. Breaking free always comes at a cost, and that's pre-cisely why the system fights tooth and nail to keep its grip on us.

Then came my Master's program, and boy, did things get real. The entire university staff, myself included, went on strike. For nearly four months, I walked that picket line, sporting my brand-new pair of Doc Martens—a symbol of my ongoing transformation, both financial-ly and spiritually. It was during that time that my life shifted toward teaching, my political views veered to the left, and my sexuality finally came into focus. That picket line became my catalyst for change, giving me the much-needed perspective I didn't even realize I needed. Funny how adversity and challenges can rock the world, right?

Now, here I stand, in my scuffed brown Doc Martens, a testament to my journey. While I may no longer have my beloved 'girl' baseball pants, I do have a new uniform—one that proudly declares my gay identity. And you know what my first move was, don't you? Yep, you guessed it—I cut my hair.

Looking back, it's mind-boggling how hard we all work to fit into a binary system, even when we're challenging that very system with our sexuality. We still yearn to belong, to fit in. And where did I go in search of that? ? Well, this time around, things were different. As I perused the clothing sections, brands, and the limitations imposed by societal constructs, I saw through the facade. It was all about control—control over how we present ourselves, how we spend our money, and how we conform to their prescribed gender roles.

LGBTQ+: a new market

I began to realize why brands created dichotomies, categories, and limitations—they did it to manipulate and market to the identities they themselves constructed. It became clear that one of the fundamental techniques of socialization was to differentiate between men and women. But the LGBTQ+ community disrupted that narrative, and the trans community shattered it entirely. Suddenly, big-name companies like Ford, Bud Light, and Disney started showing an interest in our community. It wasn't necessarily because they had become beacons of progress and enlightenment (although there might be a few enlightened folks within their ranks). No, it was because they saw a potential market in us—an untapped territory that they struggled to comprehend. Their attempts at being forward-thinking often backfired, as they still catered to the prejudices and bigotry that ran deep within their consumer base.

So here we sit, on the brink of change. The next generation is obliterating gender norms, while corporations desperately try to grasp how to profit from a shift they can barely comprehend. They never had to scrawl 'girl' on their pants.

And as for me, I find myself sitting right in the middle of it all. I see these companies for what they truly are—an economic force seeking to control and define who I am so they can control how I spend my hard-earned money. But I've broken free from their clutches. I've returned to the styles that inspired me in my youth, unburdened by the constraints of gender norms. I wear my hats sideways, and when someone dares to tell me to fix it, I simply re-spond, "I don't do anything straight." I rock baggy pants, low on my hips, paired with the latest Nike kicks I've snagged. And if someone comments, "Why do you dress like a 17-year-old boy?" I smirk and reply, "Don't be jealous, hun. I'd be happy to help you find your own style." I maintain a sharp fade haircut, heading to the barber every two weeks to ensure my look stays on point. And if someone questions my gender, asking if I'm a boy or a girl, I re-spond with an air of calm confidence, "Call me whatever you want, as long as you compli-ment the fade."

Now, don't get me wrong—I still take inspiration from the fashion trends I see. But now, those companies no longer hold sway over me through the offerings at the local mall. I have the entire world at my fingertips, searching for unique clothing combinations that allow me to create the style I want. As they struggle to define me, I continue to defy tradition, change my appearance, and leave them scrambling for my debit card. So here we all sit at the precipice of change. As we challenge the very foundations of gender that were once tightly bound to biological sex, we also rock the economic order built upon those rigid binaries.

How will they market to us if they can't define us? How will they profit from our identities when we refuse to let them dictate who we are? How will they build an economic empire from us if we no longer feel the need or desire to fit into their neatly packaged boxes? The answer is crystal clear—they won't have that control. We will.

Thanks for joining me on this journey. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some shopping to do. The world is a runway, and I urge you to strut your authentic self, whoever that happens to be, down it.

Joanna auf Instagram and TikTok: @unlearn16


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