Help, My Roommate’s Gay!
By Jonathan Inman
Your heart is racing. You’re not sure what to think. You feel a little uneasy, maybe a lot. Your roommate has just made clear to you what you had already thought; maybe you had no idea at all. You are no longer wondering what’s up with your roommate, but now you’re wondering how you are going to deal with his or her homosexuality. Time seems to stand still for just a moment as you look into each others eyes, both wondering what your reaction will be.
It could just as easily be your office mate. Maybe instead of, “I’m gay,” this person with whom you spend so much time in such close quarters has said instead, “I’m bisexual.” Maybe someone else had already told you; maybe everybody else seems to have known already. Maybe you’re thinking about what this means for your relationship, or for your reputation. But right now you have someone before you who’s revealed something so personal and important that you must respond. What do you say? What do you do?
If something is difficult for one roommate, that difficulty is likely to affect the other. Your roommate may have a keen interest in how you handle this disclosure. What you think and feel about your roommate matters. Like yourself, your roommate is a precious person made in the image of God. Like you this person is a sinner, prone to doing the wrong thing and to taking things the wrong way. Like yourself, your roommate doesn’t know what is going to happen next, and may be a little ill at ease waiting to see your reaction.
You may feel a tension between standing up for what you think is right and living out what you believe. Standing for the truth and acting in love can seem almost completely at odds with each other. This is a kind of pressure Christians feel all the time, but homosexuality is such an emotional issue it can heighten the tension. Sharing a common space with someone usually involves conflict, and living or working together everyday creates a lot of opportunities for friction. If you are a Christian, these conflicts are also opportunities to extend the grace of the gospel.
What NOT to Do!
Before considering what positive things you can do to extend this grace to your roommate, you might want to take the time to make sure you avoid some common mistakes that may interfere with showing God’s love. Things you will want to be sure NOT to do include the following:
Yes, it is of course appropriate and even necessary at times to communicate clearly to people what God says is true about their conduct, even or especially when what they are doing is sinful and destructive (Ezekiel 3:17-21). Nevertheless, believers frequently give in to the temptation to feel better about themselves and their situation by communicating God’s truth in a condescending, self-righteous, impatient and/or indignant manner. What’s the difference between speaking boldly and simply scolding? Your heart. Let’s face it; you, like every human being, are prone to sin with your speech, and to be proud in your heart, and to be irritable at having to deal with something you’d rather not deal with at all, especially when it involves conflict. You need to take a long look (and maybe a second or third look) at your own heart and motives before you pronounce God’s judgment in God’s name on your roommate’s homosexuality (James 1:26).
Alternatively, you don’t want to just concede convictions that are based on God’s truth, but it can be very tempting to abandon what seems to be an impractical set of beliefs in favor of values that make it easier to get along with folks. If your roommate is nice or emotionally fragile, misunderstood or mistreated by others, it doesn’t help anyone for you to give ground to falsehood for the sake of convenience (Proverbs 25:26).
Sometimes we are tempted, not so much to say “no” to God’s truth and “yes” to falsehood, but rather to say “maybe” to both. To put the truth up for grabs only makes things more confusing (Proverbs 24:10-12). If you are really not sure what God thinks about homosexuality, or if you are not sure you really care all that much what God thinks, it is important to be honest about your doubts. However, if you are sure about what’s true, don’t hide behind the fact that other people hold differing opinions in order to avoid a conflict about your own.
You may be tempted to quietly smolder in resentment, thinking your roommate has mistreated you by putting you in this situation. Every little thing — even things that haven’t the remotest connection with your roommate’s sexual preference or practice — can become an aggravation because of a largely unresolved conflict that remains unaddressed. Better you should have a conflict over something important than about who left a dish out on the counter or who left the window open when it rained (1 Corinthians 13:5).
The disclosure of sensitive and potentially damaging information by one person to another is an occasion for caution, not for chit chat. Someone may or may not care a great deal about what you say about them, or to whom you say it. Either way, you may find yourself itching to talk with someone about your roommate’s disclosure, not to help you sort out what to do, but rather to satisfy a delicious hunger to tell others something personal and private about someone else. Identify one person you feel you can approach and whose insight you think might be helpful to you. Talking with one good confidant is fine; choose well and stop there (Proverbs 11:13; 25:9-10; 26:20).
Especially if the person telling you he or she is gay appears hostile, defiant or overly assertive, you may be tempted to fight fire with fire by being similarly hostile, defiant or assertive. Even if the person with whom you are speaking is mild mannered and polite, just the potential for conflict can provoke you to want to forcefully destroy what contributes to your tension, even if that something is another person. Fighting only gives your roommate good reason to dismiss everything else you might say or do (Proverbs 15:1-4; 20:3).
In avoiding fighting you may be tempted to take little jabs here and there at your roommate, moving from holding a grudge to spiteful indirect conflict to effectively mistreating a person because he or she has told you they are gay. You may find yourself wanting to “get back at” your roommate in little ways, only to find you are reinforcing what he or she may have already taken for granted C Christians hate gays (Proverbs 24:28-29).
Finally, in an attempt to avoid both conflict and mistakes, you may be tempted to retreat from the situation altogether. You may look to minimize your contact with this person, restrict your conversation to “safe” topics, and avoid situations where you are likely to have to deal with anything related to your disagreement. You may even consider having your room assignment changed. What this may communicate (though perhaps not your intention) is that the other person’s sexuality is not something you can or want to deal with (Proverbs 25:19; 28:1)
What TO Do!
So what CAN you do to respond as a Christian to your roommate in these circumstances?
Before you do anything, before you say anything to anybody else, pray. If you are not sure what to do or say, you can ask God for wisdom and know he will give it to you (Nehemiah 2:4; James 1:5).
Sometimes the person making this disclosure may not want to talk with you anymore about it, but that would be unusual. If your roommate thinks you are someone with whom he or she can be open, that’s a good sign that they might want to continue the conversation. First off, you can ask questions, like, “Is this something you’ve talked with a lot of people about?” or, “Were you concerned about telling me?” or, “How long have you been aware that you felt this way?” or, “How has that been for you to grow into this understanding of yourself?” When in doubt, ask and listen (Proverbs 15:28; 18:13).
You can volunteer your own thoughts, too, being careful not to insist that the other person agree with you. For example, you can say things like, “That’s different for me; I’m not used to folks telling me that,” or, “Thanks for telling me; I appreciate you being honest with me that way.” If you are asked something like, “Well, what do you think?”, you might respond along the lines of, “Well, I’m not sure — I feel a little confused and at a loss,” or, “Actually, I have strong religious beliefs about homosexuality, and I’m kind of concerned about how you might react.” This then puts the other person in a position either to leave things where they are for a bit, or to go a little deeper with you knowing you are sensitive to how delicate a conversation it may be (Proverbs 15:18; 17:14; 20:3).
Know your Options:
Sometimes people can feel trapped by a roommate’s disclosure of homosexuality. One way not to feel like your options are taken away is to know what those options are. For example, there are circumstances in which you could understandably request a room reassignment. You may NOT necessarily want to change your living situation, but knowing whether and how can make you feel a little more like you could if you had to. At the same time, roommates are often very insensitive to how they use their common space, and there are some concerns that, while not unique to having a gay roommate, may make a move advisable. If your roommate is participating in activity in your room that bothers you (e.g., using sexually explicit language or material, hosting late night visits or parties, sexual activity, etc.); it would be appropriate for you to bring up your concerns directly with your roommate. If for whatever reason this discussion doesn’t resolve your concerns, you should plan to discuss them with your resident adviser after inviting your roommate to come participate in that discussion with you. Your RA can help you sort out your options in a peacemaking role. These may not be gay-specific concerns C just average roommate problems. Knowing your options can help you feel less trapped by your circumstances.
Showing compassion may be the hardest part of dealing with your roommate. On the one hand, you may not feel a lot of compassion, so that being motivated to be compassionate can seem impossible. At the same time you may not meet with a warm reception in your attempts at compassion, so that you may feel rebuffed or just a failure if you don’t have “success” in your efforts. However, if you focus on your responsibility to show compassion rather than on your feelings or on the other person’s reception, you will find it a lot easier (James 3:17-18).
Compassion involves caring about those aspects of your roommate’s life where and when you can — caring about what they care about, sorrowing where you can and rejoicing where you can. Obviously, as with all people, your roommate may rejoice in sin or despair under conviction, and you may not find it appropriate to rejoice or sorrow with them in all instances. Still, there is likely a lot more to your roommate’s life than rejoicing in sin, and these are circumstances and instances in which you can care about a fellow human being without requiring ideological agreement. Jesus did not wait for us to agree with him that we are sinners before he showed us compassion. On the contrary, “This is how God demonstrates his love toward us: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Sometimes if your religious convictions are known to others, folks will have (understandable) assumptions about what you think, feel or believe. Often the relative importance or particular place homosexuality holds in your own world view may not be immediately apparent, and the more you talk about it the more likely it will appear to others that it is a colossally big deal in comparison with other issues in your mind. Without trying to prove that YOU are RIGHT, you can try to help your roommate understand why you are uncomfortable, why OTHER issues make you uncomfortable, etc. At the same time, you might want to go out of your way to demonstrate clearly how you don’t fit an evangelical or fundamentalist stereotype of hatred, hypocrisy, etc. Where you DO fit such a stereotype, you can model repentance and humility, putting your own sin in a perspective your roommate (by God’s grace) can understand.
Include in Your Life:
If you are uncomfortable with your roommate, without realizing it you may be withdrawing yourself from that person in such a way that he or she may feel excluded. While this may not be your intention, what you communicate to someone when you are reacting unconsciously out of personal interest is that such people are to be avoided. They may notice you don’t talk with them about the same things you do with others, that you act differently, do different things. You can go a long way towards relieving tension and living out the gospel just by deliberately including your roommate in on all kinds of things in your life. Talking with your roommate about your relationships, your fears, your goals, and your questions can show that God’s people can welcome him or her into their lives without being contaminated (Luke 15; 1 Corinthians 5:9-10).
What you CAN’T Do
Even as you think about what you can do, and try to avoid things you shouldn’t do, it may be helpful to be clear in your own mind what you CAN’T do.
Because you are a Christian and your roommate is gay is NO excuse for your sins. Indeed, if you think you can sin openly with impunity is to communicate that hypocrisy is ok, but homosexuality is not. Show your roommate what confession, repentance, asking for forgiveness and restitution look like. Maybe he or she will catch on.
Make everything OK:
Life is not easy, neat or OK, and neither are people. There is an understandable impulse to change conflict and tension into peace and order. All you can hope for between two sinners is either (a) honest humility amidst sin in our hearts and conduct, or (b) superficial conflict avoidance amidst sin in our hearts and conduct. Take your pick: one’s messy now, one’s a lot messier later, and later may be too late to show the gospel to someone in need.
Make anyone different:
Think about your own sin. Is it in your own power alone to change your whole heart and life to be what it should be? NO! What makes you think you can change somebody else, or talk them into doing what you can’t even do yourself? What you can do is ask God to help YOU change, and THEN ask him to work that same kind of change in your roommate’s life.
Make God do what you want:
God doesn’t always do what we want him to do or on our time table. Often people will get very resentful towards God for not relieving their tensions the way they want when they want. God is wiser and more patient than we are, and he knows best how to work in your circumstances. You can tell God what he’s promised you; you can tell him thank you in advance for keeping his promises, but you can’t tell him how to do what he knows best — deal mercifully with sinners like ourselves.
What You MUST Do
“…So, what do you think?”
God has called us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Galatians 5:14). How would you want anyone to react to you when you were celebrating something that was wrong? Can you imagine the disappointment you might feel to learn someone close to you objected to something that in your mind was foundational to who you are as a person? On the other hand, can you imagine how distrustful you might feel toward someone you learned had been less than honest with you about something so important? Whatever you do, you must be honest. “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” (Proverbs 24:26). Be yourself; be real, and trust God to work in your circumstances for his glory through your weaknesses and failings, for his glory and for the good of all who will heed him.