My roommate is a hybrid of hipster artist and soccer jock — a creature I’ve never seen before. He has soccer flags hanging over his bed and used paintbrushes in a water cup on his desk. Growing up, the only people I knew who embraced the arts were those who rejected team sports. Now I’m confronted with someone who does both.
Does he, too, enjoy coffee shops and silent films? Did he also bully gay kids in middle school? I haven’t asked.
He’s tall, lean-muscular, walks around in baggy boxers, calls me “bro,” and never takes out the trash. We sleep nine feet apart from each other in a small, stuffy dorm room. This is his first year at art school.
When he moved in, he asked me about the scene here and what people do for fun (vandalism, psychedelics) — and if there are any hot girls.
That was the question: “Are there any hot girls?”
I didn’t know how to answer. He thought I was straight.
How did this happen? I assume I trigger everyone’s gaydar, but I didn’t trigger his. On the spot, I answered, “Yeah, man. Lots.”
Suddenly I was wracked with guilt. It’s not that I can’t determine if there are any hot girls here. Some girls are very beautiful, maybe even hot. But I passed up the opportunity to be out. I let myself go back into the closet. It would be so easy to say, “Yeah, but I’m gay, so I may not be the best person to answer that question.” It might’ve led to a lighthearted conversation. We may even be friends now. But I said nothing because I was intimidated.
In the weeks that followed, I felt like I was back in high school, kicking the miserable ball around the gym, unsure what to do with it, waving my skinny arms and knowing no one would pass it to me. I avoided any flashy evidence of being gay while he was home. Ashamed, I stopped talking to him, and we settled into a silent routine. I took out the trash when it was my turn, and then it was his turn. Except he never did it, and I said nothing because I was the quiet fag, subservient next to the proud, straight athlete.
The other day, I was chatting with a guy on Grindr who wanted to come over. I texted the roommate and asked him if I could have some privacy for a few hours. He said he was going to be out — not a problem. I still had some hours before it was time to go to work, so I decided to go through with it.
Then the guy texted me saying he was lost. I gave him my address, which was seemingly ignored by his GPS. He eventually had to call me for directions. Then he had to get gas. We were running out of time. I was panicking. Whenever I stress, I clean, so I went through the dorm cleaning things up, and somewhere in that fuss, I sent a text message: “Hey, I don’t think we’ll have time.”
“Time for what?”
“Sex. I’ll give you a blowjob. That OK?”
“Dude this is your roommate…”
At that very moment, I died. I threw myself on the bed and buried my face in the pillow. Then I started calculating. If I packed all my stuff, I could be out of the room in an hour. There were friends in town I could stay with. Maybe I should quit school.
After a few minutes, I texted him back: “Oops. That wasn’t meant for you. Text fail.”
Roommate responded: “Haha not on my bed!”
The hookup never happened. I went to work, came home. No roommate was there. He didn’t show up all weekend, which was normal — he had a girlfriend at another dorm. But when he finally appeared, I told him the truth: “I guess the cat’s out of the bag. I’m gay.”
I have never used the phrase “the cats out of the bag” before. Where did that come from? It sounded ridiculous in our little kitchen — an attempt at macho language — but at least it was the truth. We’ve not mentioned the subject again. He never talks about his girlfriends. I never talk about my hookups. When one of us needs the room, it’s granted. I assume he knows that when I need the room, it’s because a dude is coming over, and by saying nothing, I assume he’s OK with my sexuality. But why should I care?
If you can, tell the truth as soon as the chance presents itself because the worst part of this story is the shame, the lying by avoidance. It felt spineless. In the end, I was most upset by my own feelings of inferiority, my fear of rejection. My sexuality is no one’s business — not his, not anyone’s. But I said nothing because I still worry over what people — especially guys — will think.
I tell myself that I’ve come so far since high school, but really I’ve just surrounded myself with other queer people. I’ve not practiced being gay in the straight world — I’ve built a gay bubble in which outness doesn’t matter. Put to the test, the bubble burst so easily. I’m in my last year of school. After I graduate, I’ll be in the real world where no one delicately respects your label or provides “safe space.” If living with a straight, masculine roommate was a test, I failed it.
Coming out isn’t a one-time thing. You do it over and over again in small ways — in going to a restaurant with gay friends, in taking your boyfriend or girlfriend to dinner, in telling your roommate what you are. So practice. Say what you are as often as you can. It’s your mantra, your power.
Now, in the shower, I say it. A nightly ritual: I’m gay. I’m gay. I’m gay.
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