You have a new roommate who identifies as queer. They’re great! They have an adorable cat, a sweet sense of style, and you share a love of Orange is the New Black. You’d like to keep them around, but you’ve never had an LGBTQ roommate before.
You may be wondering “What exactly is queer anyways? I thought LGBT covered everything? Hopefully you’re also thinking “How can I learn more about the ‘queer’ community so I can use appropriate language, increase understanding, and be supportive?”
Let’s talk about the answers to those questions, starting with identities.
So that you can indeed be a safe and supportive roommate, start with learning about some of the different ways that those within the LGBTQ community identify themselves. There are a variety of ways that people label themselves: lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual, nonbinary/genderqueer, and pansexual are common examples. Some people may also choose no label, or multiple labels. Further, each label may mean something slightly different from person to person.
Since you may not know how your new roomie feels about their identity, being generally informed is a great start. Then, you can ask some questions about their preferences and feelings, which we’ll cover at the end of this article.
Let’s first look at the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity so that you can better understand the nuances within identification in the queer community. Then, we’ll look more into depth at some common ways people identify themselves.
A sexual orientation and/or gender identity helps those of us in the queer community understand ourselves. They help us to find a place and a way to relate to the world. For some, it is an important part of who they are, and for others, it’s just another piece of the puzzle of their lives.
Sexual Orientation: The gender(s) you are emotionally and/or physically attracted to, or if asexual, the absence of attraction.
Gender Identity: How a person understands and identifies themselves. This can be male, female, both, or neither.
Lesbian: Self-identified female who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to other self-identified females. Sexual orientation.
Gay: Self-identified male who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to other self-identified males. Sexual orientation.
Bisexual: A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to both genders. Sexual orientation.
Transgender: Someone whose gender does not match the biological sex they were given at birth. Gender identity. [Read more]
Queer: An umbrella term that means an individual fits somewhere along LGBT spectrum. Could be gender identity and/or sexual orientation. [Read more]
Intersex: Someone whose anatomy or genetics don’t fit neatly within “male” or “female.” For example, a child may have ovaries and female chromosomes (XY), but appears with outwardly male parts. Gender/sex identity. [Read more]
Asexual: Also known as “Ace. ”The absence of sexual attraction, or having low interest in sexual activity. There are further shades of asexuality where some people may explore romantic relationships. Sexual Orientation. [Read more]
Nonbinary/Genderqueer: An individual who feels they do not fit within the definitions of either male or female. Pronouns are always important, but especially so with nonbinary. Gender identity. [Read more]
Pansexual: Being attracted to people, regardless of their sex or gender identity. A person may be attracted to men, women, trans individuals, and non-binary folks. Sexual orientation. [Read more]
Now you have all of this new knowledge, or perhaps you knew much of this already. Great! What’s next? How can you connect this knowledge with your new roommate relationship?
Being informed is only the beginning. You’ll then want to get to know your roommate and their preferences. Some questions are okay to ask outright. For one, it’s a safe bet to ask anyone what their preferred pronouns are, even if you think you know. For example, my preferred pronouns are she/her/hers. Once you find out the correct pronouns, use them. It’s okay if you make mistakes at first, but being intentional about using correct language will ensure that you are validating your roommate’s gender identity.
At the end of the day, a LGBTQ roommate is just another person. You can treat them like one! Although it’s lovely and supportive to learn important pieces of their identity, you can move on afterwards and talk to them about normal things like movies, food, work, or how they prefer to make their rent payments.