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I’m a 17-year-old girl who is attracted to other women. I haven’t come out to my family, but a few close friends that I had in school know that I’m lesbian. I often get the feeling that they get worried that I will be into them and everything will get ruined. I’m now moving to a new city for my BA, and will be staying in a girl’s hostel, sharing the room with two other women. Am I expected to tell them I’m lesbian, or can I keep it a secret? What if I’m attracted to one of them?
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We can keep secrets for various reasons. Sometimes we do it because we’re ashamed. Sometimes we do it to save someone hurt. Sometimes we do it to protect ourselves. Of these the first is the one reason we should never have because it makes us lonely and distorts our understanding of how other people are thinking of us.
I feel quite happy to see that you don’t have the first issue and isn’t that the best? You know you are attracted to women and have obviously felt comfortable enough to discuss it with close friends. What is the reason you haven’t told your parents? Perhaps you feel they won’t be able to deal with your choices.
Perhaps you don’t feel ready to deal with the drama that might ensue. Perhaps you are waiting to feel stronger once you have had some time away from home, to be able to speak to your parents as a grown up and not just as their child. Perhaps you want to tell them slowly, gauging in slow stages their readiness to accept your preferences.
All of these are good reasons. Especially those that protect you, those in which you think about what will work for you in terms of peace of mind and confidence.
I would say apply exactly that approach to your roommates. Being lesbian is not a communicative disease they have to protect themselves from. It’s not a problem thing about yourself you have to warn them about. It’s not separate from the rest of your inner self. It is part of your larger private and intimate life. You may or may not tell roommates if you have a boyfriend, or some troubling aspect of your family life. Not as soon as you meet them anyway.
If you got to trusting someone, felt comfortable with them, shared certain kinds of intimacies – that is when you might tell them something personal, no? There’s no reason this has to be any different.
Sure, it’s fair to wonder what you will do if you feel attracted to one of your roommates. But it’s also fair to wonder what you would do if you hate your room mates. Or, have a functional, but detached and impersonal relationship with them.
Just as you have waited to tell your parents, or to tell your peers, choosing only a trusted few, you would be wise to do the same with your roommates. It feels like somewhere you feel as if being lesbian is a shortcoming you have to warn your roommates about – like a fat girl making a fat joke before someone else makes it.
But, you don’t need to give anyone that kind of power over you – to approve or disapprove of who you are by offering any information about yourself. Girls’ hostels in our country are not the most liberated of spaces at the best of times. You don’t know that you want to be so trusting of people just because they are your roommates and make yourself vulnerable to meanness or homophobia from them, others they tell without your consent or from the authorities. I do not say this to make you paranoid, or to paint a bleak and violent picture of the world, but to say that trust is a thing we must develop slowly and surely, not rashly or with false idealism.
There’s also the fact that when we hand someone some information about ourselves with this kind of baldness, sometimes we put pressure on them to make some meaning of it that’s perhaps not even needed.
One of the liberating things about moving away from home is that you will have space to explore your own choices and find a community without having to explain or argue too much about it at home. So, perhaps rather than worrying so much about your roommates, focus on yourself, and finding a larger community – intellectually, spiritually and sexually too.
You will know with time what you do or don’t want to share with your roommates and in what way, at your pace. And I would say that applies not only to your sexual orientation but maybe to everything about yourself – just take the new relationships one step at a time. For now, negotiating cupboard space and the best window access maybe the bigger battles!
In college we have all sorts of crushes and desires, for classmates and debating society colleagues and favourite teachers, and they’re tough and sometimes mortifying, even humiliating – and sometimes glorious. Whatever it is, we deal with it, we survive it – and there’s no reason why you won’t. If it becomes unbearable, if you feel you can’t handle it, you can look for the appropriate solution then. If you are attracted to your roommate, it could be difficult. But that’s provided they aren’t attracted back to you – and you don’t know that won’t happen yet, do you? No need to think like straight people and assume everyone is heterosexual, hai na?
Sometimes pre-empting a problem is only to send it an engraved invitation. But the one who has received the invitation is really you – to step into a new part of your life, to open new doors into new ways of being. Let no preconceptions – other people’s or your own – get in the way of the beautiful possibilities that await.