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How to Deal with LGBT Roommates and Coming Out

By Alyssa Laffitte

 

Starting college and living with a roommate, in and of itself, can be a shock to your system. You might experience an additional shock if you learn your new roommate is LGBT, especially if you have never lived with an LGBT person before. It’s not a bad thing, as it is a part of college that will help you meet people of different lifestyles, and cultures (isn’t that the point of college, anyway?). In this article, we will discuss how to deal with LGBT roommates. Toward the end of the article, we will discuss the flip side of the issue, coming out to your roommate.

Do not gossip about them

Just as it is not kind to gossip about anyone, it is not kind to gossip about your roommate. Do not talk badly about your roommate when they are not in the room. Most importantly, do not discuss your roommate’s personal life with others, as you do not want to “out” your roommate to someone they don’t want to be “outed” to. Your roommate’s personal life is not your information to be sharing with others. If you can’t help yourself from talking, avoid talking about them altogether. It’s better to do that than to “out” your roommate to someone they don’t know (or worse, to someone they know, but don’t want to be “out” to).

Again, gossiping about someone is wrong, whether they are LGBT or not. Please avoid gossiping about your roommate, especially about their personal life.

Do not be hostile toward them

Similarly, is not kind to be passive-aggressive or hostile to anyone, whether they are LGBT or not. Clearly, this applies to your roommate. After you find out they are LGBT, don’t suddenly start being mean to them or being cold to them. They will notice if you do, and they will quickly realize they don’t want to room with you anymore. Do not leave mean sticky notes on the mirror. Do not make snarky comments to them. Do not be a jerk! In other words, treat them kindly, just as you would any other person.

Do ask questions, if they seem open to it

This next point depends on your roommate. If they seem open to talking, ask them questions and try to get to know them better. No, these questions do not need to about their dating or sexual life. I would actually recommend that you refrain from asking those very personal questions as you are still getting to know your roommate since they might feel uncomfortable discussing personal matters with someone they don’t know. Instead, ask them about their favorite movies, music, or books. You could also ask them about the classes they’re taking, or about their family or hometown. When you ask your roommate these types of questions, you will quickly realize they are more like you than you think. Clearly, there is much more to your roommate than their sexuality, and these questions will help you see that. It could be the start of a great friendship.

On the other hand, you do not need to be close friends with your roommate. They are in no way obligated to be your “gay best friend”. If you try to ask them friendly questions and they don’t seem open to talking, don’t make them. Instead, as we will discuss in the next point, give them their space, as this is part of being a respectful roommate.

Do give them their space

Anyone who lives in a dorm likes to have the room to themselves for a little while. A good idea for any set of roommates is to give each roommate their own time and space in the room. You and your roommate will both be glad to have some quiet time in the room to study alone. This is a way of being respectful to your roommate and acknowledging that the space is just as much theirs as it is yours. This will definitely improve your roommate-to-roommate relationship. Of course, you should expect the same respect back. In other words, another way to show respect to your roommate, whether they are LGBT or not, is to give them their space.

Do show compassion toward them

As an LGBT person, it is likely your roommate has experienced discrimination or prejudice. Because of this, you should be compassionate toward them. Keep in mind that your roommate might feel insecure around certain people or places where they have had bad experiences. Try to put yourself in their shoes and to keep their feelings in mind. Being compassionate to your roommate will go a long way in your roommate-to-roommate relationship.

Do be respectful to them

Finally, a good way to summarize this entire article so far is to be respectful to your roommate, just as you would with any other person. You do not need to be best friends with your roommate, but you do need to respect their time and space. Of course, you should also respect their personal life by not talking to others about your roommate and by not asking invasive questions (hence, the first “don’t gossip” point). Don’t be mean or hostile! Be friendly to them, and ask them questions if they seem open to it. If you are respectful to your roommate, you can have a smooth roommate-to-roommate relationship even if your roommate is LGBT.

Do not stereotype them

Unfortunately, people have a very specific image of what an LGBT person is due to stereotypes (for example, that they are into fashion or going out to bars). If you do not know many LGBT people, you might be tempted to apply these stereotypes to your roommate. Don’t do this! Instead, remember that your roommate is an individual person with a unique personality and set of likes or dislikes. Even if they do happen to match some stereotypes, focus on getting to know your roommate instead of making inferences about them based on the stereotypes.

On the flip side, if you are the LGBT roommate:

Do not feel pressured to come out if the environment is unsafe

If you are the gay roommate, please do not feel pressured to come out. You do not owe anyone, not even your roommate, an explanation about something as personal as your sexuality. You decide to keep quiet, whether it be to anxiety and confusion, or even for your own safety. It’s your decision and yours alone. If you do decide to disclose your sexual orientation to your roommate, let it be because YOU want to and you feel safe doing so. You can also come out however you want to. You do not need to give your roommate a long speech, a simple reference to your preferences might do the trick if that’s what you want.

Come out to your roommate on your own terms, if at all!

If you decide to come out to your roommate, do it on your own terms. You could choose to come out to your roommate before you even meet, so you and your roommate can begin your time together knowing this information from the get-go. However, the catch is that you don’t know how your roommate will react because you don’t know them yet. It’s possible your roommate will have a positive reaction and that the roommate-to-roommate relationship will remain unaffected. It is also possible that your roommate will react badly to the news, and you will know to switch rooms as soon as possible! On the other hand, you can mention your preferences in passing once you and your roommate already know each other, so as to not make it a big deal (that is, of course, if you don’t want to make it a big deal. If you want to make it a big deal, you can!). The downside to coming out this way is that it might be awkward to drop big news like that once you have already known each other for a long time. These are simply some ideas, do whatever is best for you and your safety. Here are some indirect ways you can begin to determine if it is safe to come out to your roommate, and here some ways to come out to your roommate.

Additionally, if you decide to come out to your roommate, be aware that there might be a short adjustment period when your roommate gets used to the idea of having a LGBT roommate. For instance, they might need to get used to using different pronouns when addressing you. As long as they are still treating you with respect, please try to be patient with them. They will come around eventually. When they do, your friendship will be stronger, because they now know this personal information about you.

Remember that the room is just as much yours as it is theirs, and you have the right to feel comfortable in your own living space.

Don’t be afraid of your roommate’s questions

Of course, we have established that you are under no obligation to explain yourself or to answer anyone’s questions, especially about your personal life. However, your roommate will likely ask you questions once they find out you are LGBT. Questions might make you feel uncomfortable, like you are being interrogated or targeted. However, I want to encourage you to think about these questions in a different way. If your roommate is asking questions, it likely means they care and are trying to understand you better. If they did not care, they would not ask any questions. On the other hand, questions could mean your roommate is trying to accommodate you. This might be the first time they live with an LGBT person, so as long as they are respectful with their questions, try to be patient with them. This communication will help them realize that LGBT people are more similar to them than different. Although you don’t need to give an explanation to anyone, if your roommate is asking respectful questions, I would encourage you to be patient with them and answer their questions.

Seek out a community and resources

It is hard to do life alone, especially in college. For that reason, I would recommend that you seek out a community. Your community will be a source of support and encouragement for you. They will remind you that even though you might feel alone, you are not. There are many other college students going through the same thing you are. You will be able to offer your support to them, too. It will be a great way to make friends!

Similarly, I would encourage you to seek out resources. One place on your campus where you can find resources and a community is your school’s LGBT center. They will be able to connect you with people and places you can connect with. If you live in a dorm, another person who could point you to resources is your resident advisor (RA). This is the person you will go to about housing-related issues and questions, but I’m sure they will gladly point you in the direction of some helpful resources. When you have a community and resources, life at college will be much easier.

College involves many changes and new experiences. One of those new experiences could be rooming with an LGBT roommate. A good rule of thumb is to treat them the same way and give them the same respect, you would give to any other roommate. This means giving them space, not discussing their personal life behind their backs, being compassionate toward them, and being friendly to them. This will create a good roommate-to-roommate relationship, and your living experience will be more positive.

On the flip side of the coin, if you are the LGBT roommate, please do not feel forced to come out at all. If you do decide to, make sure it is safe and it is what you want. Finally, seek out a community and resources to help support you through your college experience.

In other words, treat each other with kindness and respect, and your roommate-to-roommate relationship should go smoothly.


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