In The Ladies' Room: One Stranger, Trying To Find A New House
Doing the whole house-hunting thing is never fun. My lease ended a few months ago, and since my former roommates and I decided it would be best if we parted ways, I was thrown into the realm of looking for a house on Craigslist. In D.C., the whole group house full of strangers thing is pretty common. But when you’re queer, it’s a little more difficult to navigate. And when you’re throwing in a girlfriend, it gets trickier still. While people may not be adverse to living with a queer person, not everyone really wants to have a significant other in the picture–queer or not–simply because that’s just another person hanging around.
First, you have to read between the lines of the different ads. While some ads will specifically state that they are queer-friendly, it’s not super-common. I had to start looking for things that would indicate that the people there leaned more to the left than to the right, such as naming TV shows like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report among their favorites. And ones that noted an interest in environmentalism or vegetarianism also seemed like a good bet. But still, it’s one of those things you can never be sure about. There were ads that could have gone either way, and I even found one that specifically asked for straight applicants only. I almost reported that one as discriminatory, but it seemed so unreal that someone would actually specify that I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt that maybe by “straight” they just meant sober.
Finding a spot for a group house in D.C. is generally a three-step process. First, responding to the ad, and getting the information for the open house. Then, attending the open house and pitching yourself as the most awesome, considerate, laid-back roommate ever. Then, with any luck, the third step of accepting an offer.
I tried coming out at all three of these stages, both with my gayness and my relationship status. Interestingly, when I came out via e-mail, I found that most people didn’t respond back, especially when I also mentioned that I had a girlfriend. I had a little more luck with e-mails that just said that I was gay. And I can’t definitively say that the first people were homophobes. They could have found someone else, or just didn’t like something else about me.
When I came out during an open house, I didn’t necessarily get a bad response, but it kind of made things weird. It might have been the fact that I’m terrible at telling people that I’m gay. I’m a decently awkward person, and I’ve never been able to find a way to tell people I’m gay that doesn’t involve me babbling like a weirdo. But still, that house, I didn’t get an offer. I suspect in that instance, it had less to do with the fact that I’m gay and more to do with the fact that I wasn’t your typical party-top wearing party girl.
The next open house I went on, I didn’t mention anything about being gay. I ended up being offered the room, and I jumped right on it. But then came the guilt. Was I misleading these people by not being upfront about my relationship status and my gayness? I really liked the place and didn’t want to risk my chances. But now I was running the risk of signing a lease for a house without letting my future roommates know some pretty major parts of my life.
I ended up telling my roommates I was gay during a lease-signing barbecue; I let them know about my girlfriend individually in casual conversation. They all seem to be fine with it, and have all been curious about my work here at TNG. I’m still not positive I went about everything in the right way; I probably should have been more upfront, not only to make sure that I didn’t put myself into a bad situation, but I also should have given my roommates the benefit of the doubt. D.C. is a pretty liberal city, and most people in their mid-twenties are totally fine with queer people. The entire room-searching process is awkward. You’re constantly auditioning for strangers and trying to persuade them that you are the best choice. It can seem daunting to drop in your sexual identity, but really, it’s probably not as awkward as you think it’s going to be. At least if you can manage to come out without stammering and gesticulating way, way too much–something I’m still working on.
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