As a college student, I’d lived in the dorms for 2 years – 1 as a resident, 1 as a resident assistant, which is like a hall monitor or whatnot in the dormitories of the American collegiate system. My first year, my roommate was awful, but she moved out after first term and I never had to bother coming out to her. My second year, one of the perks of the RA job was that I got free room and board, with a room to myself. As a result, I’d never really had to worry about the awkwardness of coming out to a roommate. As my second year ended, I realized the job wasn’t a great fit. So the amazing apartment search began. It has to be someplace nice and safe, so that my parents would be okay with it. It had to be close to campus. But the most difficult requirement to fill was who to live with. Not because I’m a difficult roommate, but because I am definitely not straight. I am dating a woman who I adore. And even though I’m not ready to be out to everyone, I for sure wanted to live in a place where I felt comfortable being myself.
My first thought was to live with some of my guy friends, because they seem to be the most comfortable with my queerness, but my parents shot that down immediately. After all, what would the desi aunties say if I were living with BOYS? Absolutely out of the question! (The funniest thing of this argument being, of course, that I am significantly less likely to go after any boys)
So then, down to girls. I could of course live with girls from my rugby team (which is probably majority queer, which I love) – but they all love to party, and I didn’t think I could effectively keep up with them and school. I could easily think of one female friend (the first friend I came out to, actually) who I’d be perfectly happy living with…but of course, it couldn’t be that easy. The most cost-effective solution was to live in a 3-bedroom apartment and split the rent three ways – of course, requiring a third roommate. As we sat and tried to brainstorm, we found it rather hard. We went through quite a few names before my roommate N came up with the idea of asking Sara* to be our roommate. Sara sounds like an innocent enough name, but of course, she wasn’t just Sara. She was Saraswati*.
This, of course, posed problems. I had never come out to any desis (besides my parents, which was a horror-show in itself), not even ones I had known since primary school. Of course I had “dirt” on these girls – I’d known who had slept with who, who had done what drugs and gone to what parties – but somehow admitting that I like women was a significantly more dangerous thing to be saying. Especially with how gossipy the Indian community is. As much as I sometimes wanted to, it had always remained something I could never say, not even to my best desi friend. And suddenly, I was faced with needing to tell an Indian friend. One who I didn’t know all that well, and one who was decently connected to the Indian community on campus. Which I’m also heavily involved in. I passed a couple anxious evenings, trying to decide what to do. I obviously didn’t want to be closeted in my own apartment, but I also didn’t want to risk being ostracized. To use the old cliché, I definitely felt like I was between a rock and a hard place.
Eventually, I decided that I had to tell her before we signed the contract on the apartment – I didn’t want her to be locked in with me for 9 months if she hated me, or worse, was afraid of me or something. We lived in the same building, so obviously she had seen me around with my girlfriend, but the girlie and I have never been hugely affectionate in public, so it’s not like she would have known. It was definitely nerve-wracking, and somehow every time I saw her for the next couple weeks she was surrounded by people and it just didn’t work out. Finally, I just grew a pair and told her. I’m pretty sure I said something really stupid like “Yeah…so that girl you met a couple days ago? She’s my girlfriend”. Or something similarly inarticulate and moronic. She sort of responded with “Oh! Okay. That’s cool! Um…yeah!”
And that was it. Rather anti-climactic, no? We didn’t really talk much over the duration of the summer, and I was definitely nervous that it might not go so well over the year. We never really discussed it again, but I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach that it made her uneasy. Maybe I was being oversensitive to it, but who isn’t oversensitive about things like that? It can be so incredibly hard to open up to anyone about sexual identity, much less an Indian. Much less an Indian girl. Indians can barely talk about hetero-normative sex, much less about alternate sexual identity. Add that to our cultural expectations for women and its ridiculous the amount of pressure some of us feel to conform, to be what we’re “supposed” to be, and all of that jazz.
We interacted today for basically the first time since I told her – and my fears were totally allayed. She came over to see the apartment (she doesn’t move in until later) and gave me a hug and was totally normal and I was so thankful. I don’t know if I’m ready to come out to any other desis (so. much. more. intimidating) but I think this was a good start. Baby steps, man.