I have an embarrassing story. My new roommate is a hybrid of hipster artist and soccer jock, a creature I’ve never encountered before. He has soccer flags hanging over his bed and used paintbrushes from art projects 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 living with someone who does both.
Does he also enjoy coffee shops and silent films? Did he bully gay kids in middle school? I haven’t asked.
He’s tall, lean-muscular, decently handsome, walks around in baggy boxer shorts, 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 his question: Are there any hot girls?
I didn’t know how to answer. He thought I was straight.
And the truth is, I could have answered his question because as you know, I do have thoughts about some women. But I have barely been able to communicate those thoughts to myself, let alone a stranger, and didn’t want to go into my muddled feelings while we standing there in the kitchen. Also, I just assumed that I triggered everyone’s “gaydar” — a very stupid concept — but I apparently didn’t trigger his. On the spot, under pressure, I answered, “Yeah, bro. Lots of hot girls.”
Suddenly I was filled with guilt. It’s not that I can’t determine if there are any hot girls here. But I passed up the opportunity to be out and proud. I let myself go back into the closet. It would have been easy to say, “Yeah, but I mostly date guys, so I may not be the best person to answer that question.” It might’ve led to a lighthearted chat. We might be friends now. But I said nothing because I was intimidated, and now we are certainly not friends. I’m actually a little afraid of him. He’s done nothing wrong, but I feel like the window of opportunity we had to be chummy has passed.
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 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 and just did it for him because I was the silent fag, subservient next to the straight athlete. God, it felt horrible.
Then the other day, I was chatting with a guy on Grindr who wanted to come over and fuck me. 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 — no problem. I still had some hours before it was time to go to work, so I decided to go through with the hookup.
Then the Grindr 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 additional directions. Then he had to get gas. We were running out of time. I started panicking. When I stress, I clean, so I went through the dorm cleaning things and somewhere in that fuss, I sent a text: “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 moment, I died — or wanted to. 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. Perhaps I should quit school?
After a few minutes, I texted him back: “Oops. That wasn’t meant for you. Text fail.” I tried to laugh it off. Roommates accidentally propositioned each other for blowjobs all the time, right?
He responded: “Haha just not on my bed!”
He was actually a nice guy.
The hookup never happened. I went to work, came home, and no roommate was there. He didn’t show up all weekend, which was normal for him — 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 had never used the phrase “the cat’s out of the bag” before. Where did that come from? It sounded ridiculous — my attempt at macho language — but at least it was the truth. We’ve not mentioned the subject again. He never talks about his girlfriend. I never talk about my hookups. When one of us needs the room, permission is granted. I assume he knows that when I need the room, it’s because a man is coming over, and by saying nothing, I assume he’s fine with my sexuality. But why should I care so much? Why does it matter?
The whole ordeal has been a reminder of why I first chose to come out in the first place and why I encourage everyone to do it as soon as they can with new people — and, if they feel safe, to keep doing it over and over as is necessary. Because coming out never stops. There are always new things to discover about ourselves which then become new identities and confessions. And there are always new people to talk to, new people we are forced to interact with. And coming out is necessary for me and all other Queers to be happy because it actually does make the world easier and more accessible, makes friendships truer and more reliable. Coming out breaks open the world, reveals it for what it is, and allows everyone — Queer and otherwise — to be what they are. Truth-telling is how we level up in life.
So here’s my advice: 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. I felt spineless. In the end, I was most upset by my own feelings of inferiority, and 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 straight men — think.
I tell myself that I’ve come so far since high school, but really I’ve just surrounded myself with other Queers. I’ve not practiced being gay in the straight world — I’ve built a gay bubble in which outness doesn’t really matter. Put to the test, the bubble burst easily. I’m in my last year of school. After I graduate, I’ll be in the real world where no one delicately respects one’s label or provides “safe space.” If living with a straight, masculine roommate was a test, I failed. But I’ll do better next time.
Till then, I’ve decided to practice.
Coming out is never a one-time thing for us. We must do it again and again in small ways — going to a restaurant with gay friends, taking a boyfriend to dinner, telling a roommate the truth. We all need practice. I need practice. I need to say what I am as often as I can and put myself in situations with people — waiters, cashiers, strangers — where my sexuality is obvious and unhidden. Now, in the shower, I say it quietly, sounding the words out in my mouth, feeling their weight. It’s a nightly ritual, an incantation: I’m gay. I’m gay. I’m gay.