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Q: Rachel, if my college housemates turn out to be really homophobic, what then?
A: Basically, what will happen is: you will leave. It will be okay, because you will leave. Living with homophobic people at college requires, in a lot of ways, the exact same skills and strategies as living with homophobic people at home. This sucks, because in a lot of cases, that’s a large part of what you went to college to try to get away from. The things you had to do there weren’t fun: you had to stay quiet, sometimes totally silent, about your personal life and your friends and your crushes. You had to pretend a whole part of yourself didn’t exist. You had to be vague about where you were going and with whom, you had to be careful not to leave books out where people would find them. There will be a lot more of that. I know that’s not fair. But the same thing is true now as it was then: it won’t last forever. You’ll get to escape. And in this case, it will take even less time than before! Maybe only a semester!
When you’re first on campus, it’s time to scope out your living situation. As we’ve discussed before, I don’t think you have an obligation to come out to your roommates, definitely not right away. Make small talk, listen to how they talk about other people and what they’re like around their friends. You know a homophobe when you see one; you have instincts around this. If your spider senses are tingling and telling you it’s not a good idea to come out — it’s not! Don’t do it! Your strategy here will instead turn into one of non-engagement. We’re talking one-word answers, politely acknowledging them on your way in or out of the apartment because that’s the only time you’ll see them. Basically, the way to deal with homophobic housemates is to make sure you’re literally in the same house as them as little as possible. When you are home, you’re in your room with the door closed. Do they think it’s unfriendly? That’s too fucking bad. Honestly, while the TV trope of the random college roommates who hang out all the time is a nice one, and it does happen sometimes, it also frequently doesn’t. People can and do pass entire years without saying more than hello and goodbye in the room. You don’t owe these people being friends with them.
Instead, start looking for other places to go. Do you have friends with couches? Do you have a friend with the unicorn of campus life, the dingle? Do you have friends who at least stay up late so you can hang out with them until 2 am and your roommates will be asleep or raging or playing My Dream Boyfriend or whatever it is that homophobic straight people do? Seriously, even if you have a 24-hour campus center or library hours, you have an option.
Obviously this sucks. Obviously it’s unfair for you to have to basically give up your own home because you live with some douchecanoes. It sucks that when (not if!) you meet someone, you’ll have to do one of those “Uh, we probably shouldn’t go back to my place” things. But unfortunately, you have to put being safe before life being fair. And in the meantime, try to get out. Many colleges will let you make residence changes after one semester or even sooner. People drop out, or never show up, and rooms appear. Go to your housing administration or office of resident life and tell them you want a change. If you meet someone your first semester that you actually WANT to live with, someone that you feel safe around, so much the better! Your former roommates never have to know that you moved out because you’re gay and they’re assholes; just tell them that you’re moving in with a friend, and they’ll just be pumped to have the extra space.
If, regardless of how hard you try, shit still gets out of hand, you need to tell someone ASAP. Don’t just tell someone, tell EVERYONE. Your RA, the office of resident life, the office of student conduct, your mom, their moms, everyone. Honestly, it’s totally possible that most of those people won’t do anything. But the more people you tell, the better the chance someone will. And at the very least, having contacted them will hopefully really fast-track your application to change housing.
You asked this a week ago; hopefully you got to campus and your roommates are now your new best friends for real. If not, know that you’re not stuck with them. This is still going to be four years of freedom for you, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
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