Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Greatest. Roommate. Ever.
Every gay man has a “coming out” story. A narrative of how and when he knew he was gay. I have the opposite story. I know for a fact that I am straight and I know how I know. I have my college roommate to thank for this. My roommate in college came out of the closet in the middle of my sophomore year. I didn’t need to, since straight people don’t have that ordeal to go through, but but his experience sure changed my preconceptions and perceptions.
I met my roommate because when he and his current roommate wanted to live off-campus and needed a third person to split the rent. That was me. The two of us didn’t know each other, but we shared the two-bedroom townhouse for an entire summer while the other roommate was back home working a summer job. I drew the lucky straw and had a room to myself. When school started in the fall, the other two guys would go shopping together at Ansley Mall Krogers, which was the closest grocery store to our apartment. I would kid them about what a cute couple they made since many of the other patrons were gay.
In the middle of the year, something about my roommate changed. My other roommate and I were noticing some rather anvil sized clues, but couldn’t quite put the pieces together. He broke up with his girlfriend of two years. He would often stay out all night on weekends. He bought “It’s Raining Men” as an extended dance mix single. I read in the paper that his favorite bar won the Southeast Gay Softball Tournament. We couldn’t quite figure out what was causing all this new behavior. Remember, this was the mid-1980’s and not many people had their gaydar as finely tuned as today.
He finally sat down one evening and explained that he had come out of the closet. As part of that process, he was admitting that he was gay to people he thought ought to know, including, of course, his ex-girlfriend, me, and our other roommate who he had a crush on. The other roommate decided he was moving back in the dorms to become more active in campus life. My roommate needed to know if I wanted to keep the apartment when the lease was up. After some soul-searching, I decided that we got along together too well for me to go looking for someone new to live with.
Over the next couple of years, I picked up a lot of gay culture. My roommate would tell me all about his weekends. He’d explain things I didn’t understand in the gay nightlife magazines he’d bring home. A “Labor Day Parade” is very different event at a gay bar than at a union rally. He would point out people on campus he knew from the bars but wouldn’t talk to him at school. He wouldn’t bring tricks home, but I met a lot of his platonic friends. We would all occasionally go out to eat or drink together in the evenings before he hit the bars. He lived his life and I lived mine.
The key was we were still roommates struggling through college and still friends. I would help him with his homework. We would fight over stupid things. We would have long philosophical discussions over religion and philosophy. I was very active in the campus Catholic group and he attended an Episcopal gay/lesbian ministry. We’d make late night runs to Krispy Kreme on Ponce De Leon together. Since we are both redheads, we would frequently get mistaken for brothers.
Over the next year we had a revolving door of third roommates, straight, gay, and undecided. Each was a trip and story unto themselves. When he graduated, we refigured the rent so we would each have a room to ourselves. When my fiancée and I started planning our wedding, I asked him to be my best man. He threw me a very traditional bachelor party at the world famous Cheetah III. As the only straight guy in the group, I tipped the dancers while the rest of the party just sat back trying to figure out what the big deal was.
After I go married, the lease on our apartment was up and we were both searching for new apartments. We ended up renting places next door to each other. He had a washer and dryer and gave us a key to his place. For the next year, it was like a sitcom where the wacky neighbors are always barging in.
After I graduated and moved to Florida, I would look him up whenever I was in Atlanta. One visit when we came through town, there was no answer at the last phone number I had for him. We went by his townhouse and no one was home. That was about ten years ago. I don’t know where he is now, but I still remember what great times we had in college.
I lived with a gay man for three years and have now been married for nearly twenty. As a member of the school band and drama group, my son meets people that learn and accept their sexual orientation much earlier than when I was his age. I have raised my son to be tolerant and accepting of all people. I only hope that his roommate in college is as great a friend as mine was.