It’s Hard Out Here For A Lesbian In College, So Lay Off The ‘Ethical’ Advice

Hey, remember your freshman year in college? If it was anything like mine, you were assigned an arbitrary roommate (or two, or three) and spent eight months giving yourself whiplash from turning away anytime they even took their sweater off, because even though you weren’t at all attracted to them your crazy, panicked guilt about your homogayness made you overcompensate by staring at the floor every time they came back from the gym in just a sports bra and shorts.

You went back and forth constantly on the issue of whether or not to pointedly come out to them, but your fear that they would refuse to sleep in the room or insist on disinfecting all their belongings was too strong, so instead you just tried to be in the library when you knew she usually took showers.

Does any of this sound familiar? Then you will also be familiar with the story of the anonymous “Perry Fan,” who wrote in to the Everyday Ethicist of her college to ask: “I have recently been struggling with my sexuality. I think I’m a lesbian, but I’m not ready to come out. However, I live in a sorority house where a lot of the girls walk around in skimpy clothes, bathingsuits, etc. Is it ethical for me to pretend to be straight? I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, but I feel bad living a lie, especially because if the other girls knew, their opinions of me would undoubtedly change.”

Jezebel has reprinted the advice columnist’s answer, which is “That is not ethical, come out right now,” and their own right-fucking-on response, which is WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, WOMAN. Did you get high and watch too much Pretty Little Liars? Here’s an excerpt of her response from the Cornell Daily Sun:

Everyone has secrets. Your roommate might not know how to put in a tampon, or the skinniest girl on campus might have secret Twinkie binges every night. But these secrets don’t affect anyone else, while yours does. Some girls might have chosen to live in the sorority house because they don’t want to live with guys who could be checking them out, and even if you don’t have a crush on any specific girl, you’re right that your sexual orientation would make them uncomfortable. It would be just as unethical for you to “pretend to be straight” to avoid discomfort as it would be for a guy to get breast implants in order to land a sweet single in Balch. No matter what the motivation, placing your roommates in a situation that could potentially make them very uncomfortable if they knew the truth is just not ethical.

There are so many parts of this that are not okay! For instance, the equation of homosexuality with disordered eating! First, the point Jezebel makes very well:

“…what Rosen’s basically saying is that Perry Fan is morally obliged to come out before she’s ready just because the news might make some people uncomfortable. Translation: their comfort — or rather, their ability to register disapproval and possibly move to get her kicked out of the house — is more important than Perry Fan’s right to privacy.”

I’m sorry, but since when is making someone uncomfortable unethical? Glenn Beck makes me uncomfortable every time he opens his f*cking mouth, and no one f*cking cares about that. What if she does come out, and the writer’s roommates are uncomfortable? Is she then obligated to leave the sorority and move out? Be chemically castrated so she won’t care if anyone’s naked? Undergo conversion therapy?

“You do not have the right to a hetero-only space; no one has to warn you if they used to make out with their best friend at sleepovers but they want to stand next to you in line at the cafeteria.”

Second, the columnist’s assumption about the student’s intentions here is just wildly out of line. I mean, let’s read this again: “It would be just as unethical for you to pretend to be straight… as it would be for a guy to get breast implants in order to get a sweet single in Balch.” Really? Not openly disclosing your sexual orientation to every single person you interact with is the same thing as UNDERGOING SURGERY and taking on a FALSE IDENTITY in order to infiltrate a space that’s specifically delineated as a safe zone for a marginalized group? (I’m assuming from the context that Balch is a women’s dorm.) Someone has a really OOC case of heterosexual privilege; I’m sorry, but no matter how uncomfortable gay college students make you, you do not have the right to a hetero-only space; no one has to warn you if they used to make out with their best friend at sleepovers but they want to stand next to you in line at the cafeteria.

And lastly, and most awful and insidious and damaging, is the underlying assumption here about the student’s “secrets affecting someone else.” I’m just completely shocked and disgusted that someone who bills themselves as an “ethicist” really believes the tired, malicious story about gay people being predatory.

This girl is gay, not a sex addict; she’s worried about lying to her friends, not about how to physically restrain herself from tearing their clothes off. Comparing her to a straight male and reminding her that these girls don’t want to be “checked out” assumes that this student is naturally wired to do just that. By the time you’ve gotten to college, you’ve probably seen every single female you know half-naked; you’ve been living in close quarters with other women for likely your entire life. By doing this, you haven’t been preying on them or violating their trust in some way. They are your friends and your family and your community, and you’re a woman too; you aren’t sexually harassing them by sharing space, and you’re not a sexual deviant who’s incapable of having platonic relationships with someone who even identifies as a gender that you’re attracted to.

This is actually literally insane, and for someone who claims to be an expert on morals to purport that it’s true is, in my opinion, VERY UNETHICAL. One of the worst and most insidious ways that homophobia manifests itself in our culture is isolating GLBT people from the rest of the world and attempting to regulate when and how they’re allowed to interact with straight people, because their weird, unnatural attractions make it unsafe and uncomfortable for the majority group. It’s a fallacy of hetero privilege that straight people should be allowed to choose exactly how much time, if any, they ever have to spend around a gay person. We aren’t dangerous, and no one needs to be protected from us. This is, in essence, what this poor student is asking – “Am I a threat to the people around me? Do I need to warn them?” and this columnist should be ashamed for answering “Yes, you are, and you do.”

In short, “Perry Fan,” you have shitty taste in music, but you sound like a great girl, and I’m sorry about that “ethicist lady.” Have a cup of tea, and don’t listen to anything she says, and I’m sorry sometimes college sucks, and do you need a care package? We can do that for you.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.

63 Comments

  1. Oh dear God. It was already hard enough being in a girls-only school and having some people be aware that I was into girls – it just made life difficult! And HELL YES to the fact that just because you’re into a specific gender doesn’t mean that you’ll jump on the bones of anyone that fits. I wonder what the “Ethicist” makes of co-ed dorms?

  2. I’ve never understood WHY people assume that gay people are secretly lusting after every person of the same sex that they meet. Does every straight person secretly lust after every person of the opposite sex? No. Why is it that when your straight friends find out that about your sexuality, there’s a tendency (at least in my experience) to assume that you have a crush on them, or that they can “experiment” on you? Would these same straight girls stop being friends with a guy just because they thought he might be “checking them out”?
    Someone’s gayness doesn’t affect other people, period. People need to stop acting as if a friend’s sexuality will affect their lives personally. Knowing my best friend is straight doesn’t affect my life, just as her knowing that I’m gay doesn’t affect hers. I just wish there were more people for whom their peers’ sexuality wasn’t an issue, but, I guess that’s just stating the obvious.

    I just started as a freshman at Cornell and it’s really depressing to see a girl that’s obviously struggling getting such worthless “advice.” I’ve only been here for a few weeks, but already I’ve met a lot of awesome, accepting people, both gay and straight, and dammit, I would so be friends with Perry Fan (even if we don’t see eye to eye when it comes to music) and help her work her sh*t out! There are sooooo many lesbian and bisexual girls here,and a ton of GLBT related events (I’m on the email list and I get stuff pretty much every other day) so even if the sorority thing doesn’t work out, hopefully she’ll be able to find a group that supports her.

    (LOL sorry for the longwindedness, obviously I have a lot of feelings, and I will admit I spittaked when I saw Cornell on the article summary–before I read what the article was about my reaction was basically CORNELL + AUTOSTRADDLE = YAY MY WORLDS ARE COLLIDING! Also, I’ve never commented before, despite being a regular reader for over a year, so um, yeah, I’m nervous.)

    • Yay Cornell! Have an amazing time. Four years is not nearly enough time to take advantage of the opportunities available, but I’d advise trying really hard. (Glad you’re enjoying it, thus far).

      ~A Ridiculously Enthusiastic Alum, Class of ’04

    • I’m a senior at Cornell who is involved in both the LGBTQ and feminist communities (and the overlap thereof). The queer women I know are amazing and the advice given makes me pretty sure that “The Ethicist” has never met any of them. A great group for women who aren’t yet out, but want to meet other queer women, is LBQ, the support group for queer women on campus. I hope Perry Fan finds them.

    • C! Thank you for commenting! I’m glad that your experience isn’t as scary-sounding as this girl’s, and Autostraddle loves you. My mom went to college in Ithaca, so I know that it’s a pretty great place and I hope your freshman year is magical like rainbows.

  3. this IS actually literally insane. what the hell! it’s ridiculous that gay people are encouraged to be uncomfortable with themselves for forever to avoid making other people uncomfortable for a minute.

    and also: Cornell? in Ithaca? hippie town? COME ON. i know they are more enlightened than that.

  4. So this “ethicist” thinks that just by existing we’re placing straight girls everywhere in a “situation” that could make them “uncomfortable.” Noted. Next time you go to the beach, dykes, you better make sure you’re out to every girl there. They might be offended by your presence and wish to cover themselves up.

  5. Pingback: Cornell Newspaper: Being Gay Just Like an Eating Disorder? | GayLGBT.com

  6. First of all thank you for this amazing article!
    And, that “ethicist” is crazy!!! Who are they to tell this girl when and why she should come out.

    I, myself, am in a sorority and recently came out to my sisters. They took it amazingly, and I hope this girl knows that her sisters will mostly likely do the same.

    My sisters understand and are intelligent enough to know that I’m not trying to “get with them” just because they are female.

  7. The so called “advice columnist” was also being really transphobic, by assuming that all “men” (as assigned by society) who undergo surgery to change their bodies are actually creepers who want to infiltrate safe spaces. And not actually trans women who just want to be what they really are.

    That really bothered me.

    I really hope that Perry Fan didn’t follow that advice.

  8. I just wanted to say thanks for this awesome article, I completely agree with what you are saying.

    I can’t imagine how I would have reacted if I had been told to come out to a large number of people when I was still questioning. Fragile time people!

  9. What worries me the most about this is that the columnist seems to consider platonic relationships (with people from the gender you’re attracted to) a myth.

    I’m bi, does that mean I can’t interact with anyone? My friends and I spend most of our time together. We have parties, pass out in the same beds, see each other out of the showers (usually in very limited clothing), we go to the beach together, etc. The point is that, being friends, we get to feel safe enough to coexist without jumping each other.

    Unless that columnist is an 11y-o boy, I’d say they have serious issues.

    • EXACTLY. Apparently, we bi folks need to be sequestered in a bubble somewhere, which will naturally devolve into an orgy, because attracted to people of all genders = attracted to all people = MUST HAVE ALL THE SEX NOW.

      Also, Rachel’s point of “It’s a fallacy of hetero privilege that straight people should be allowed to choose exactly how much time, if any, they ever have to spend around a gay person. We aren’t dangerous, and no one needs to be protected from us.”

      Yes. That.

      Off to sign the petition for them to retract/amend the advice …

  10. So. much. respect. for. this. Rachel.
    1)’because their weird, unnatural attractions make it unsafe and uncomfortable for the majority group.’
    UGH. This girl in my (Catholic) high school class used to brag that she screwed 50 guys in the space of about 4 months in 10th grade. She then joined the religious group of the school posing as a good Catholic girl. And when the subject of gayness came up once she said ‘Yeah, [gay people] you can make out over there, away from me. I don’t to see it. She was such a beeyotch. Then, my brother’s girlfriend got a job at the same firm as her. On the first day there she told untrue stories about me and said I had an incestuous interest in my brother. Gay and incestuous are not the same thing, you f**kwit!
    2) To ‘C’, I’ve had this, too. One of my best friends asked me if I was attracted to her after I came out. It was an ego stroking plea though. Gay people are like the ultimate ego stroker for some straight people. They automatically think that a gay person will jump their bones any chance they get.

  11. Straight people have had so much privilege for so long that they don’t really know why we continue to have gender based segregation. They don’t ever have to think about it, which of course is what privilege is.

    Having separate privacy spaces and women’s colleges has more to do with the power differential and gender inequality. All men aren’t predatory either, but they all have male privilege.

    Gay people are outnumbered most everywhere. We’re not in the power position. If a lesbian were sexually aggressive towards a straight female…well the lesbian would get in a whole lot of trouble. Lesbians don’t have male privilege.

    And similarly for gay guys, if a gay man is 1 out of a group of 10 straight men, he’s really not going to try anything. He’ll get his ass kicked or worse.

  12. I think that everyone has already covered the sensible reactions in the comments above.

    I just wanted to add that bombastic, yet considerate tirades that articulately dismantle ignorant besmirchers of issues one feels passionately about are, like, the sexiest thing ever.

    Rawr.

  13. I had a moment with myself and this article this morning when I went to see a dermatologist (true story.) She had me stand there in my underwear while she did a “body check” with her eyeballs (AND HANDS) and I laughed to myself as I thought about when would be the moment I should let her know I’m gay.

    • “lying in bed drinking beer out of a mug” GOLD!! I thought I was the only one who did this…and had to convince my friends that it was a “normal and healthy” habit! I now have conclusive proof!!!

  14. what about the straight girls who come on to you as soon as they find out you’re into women?
    that even happened in ninth grade, what with all the coincidental cuddling and “am I cute”‘s.
    that’s not disturbing at all, no, especially if you’re not into ANY of those girls…

  15. oh my goodness, I want to find that girl and be her friend. I go to Cornell, I am in a sorority. Two years ago when I lived in my sorority’s house I felt exactly the same way. This is like, some intense deja-vu over here.

    slash cornellian we should be friends too. maybe we already are. that would be funny.

  16. Are you kidding me? This ‘ethicist’ or whatever the hell she calls herself basically told this girl she needs to share all the intimate details of her life with the people she’s living with including the fact that she’s gay. Following her twisted logic suggests that I need to begin demanding that every new person I meet inform me of their sexual orientation, gay, straight or otherwise, because, it’s necessary for my own ‘comfort.’ I don’t give a damn how you identify, and I don’t understand why anyone else needs to know how I identify. Gah!

    On a side note, I think we should start making straight people ‘come out’ too. Have them sit down with their friends and family and try to explain natural feelings all while trying to be uber sensitive and let people adjust; have them attempt to feel potential employers out to figure out if your partner could be included in medical benefits; make them think about little things they take for granted like holding a lover’s hand while walking down the street; and overall somehow force people to understand what it’s like to live in a world that tells you on a regular basis that your very existence is wrong.

    These people just don’t know…

  17. The part that struck me the most about Perry Fan’s letter was “I think I’m gay, but I’m not ready to come out yet.” Like, this is all so new and confusing for her. It’s that phase where you finally KNOW and you’re on the cusp and trying to figure out what being gay means to you, what your life will be like, and you’re so so vulnerable. And there’s people who you love and care about, and you don’t know what they’ll say, but you’re scared of losing them. IT’S TERRIFYING.

    This girl needs to come out for herself when she’s ready, when she’s more confident, and not because she feels obligated to.

  18. “One of the worst and most insidious ways that homophobia manifests itself in our culture is isolating GLBT people from the rest of the world and attempting to regulate when and how they’re allowed to interact with straight people, because their weird, unnatural attractions make it unsafe and uncomfortable for the majority group. It’s a fallacy of hetero privilege that straight people should be allowed to choose exactly how much time, if any, they ever have to spend around a gay person. We aren’t dangerous, and no one needs to be protected from us.”

    Rrrrrrrrrrrgh. I had to quote that whole bit because that is life-changing stuff, and also now I want to do you/your words. Tmi?

  19. This is possibly my favourite (that’s how you spell favourite in Canada) article that I’ve read on this site. Excellent job Rachel K!
    TEACH ME HOW TO WRITE AND CRITICALLY ANALYZE THINGS LIKE YOU.

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