In the 1970s, I was a Columbia student living in a suite in one of the dorms, with four other guys.
I was a virginal 18 and socially awkward–even more so than now–and not all that out and proud about my sexuality (which hadn’t been acted out except in fantasies).
So when talk amongst my suitemates turned to homosexuality one evening, my gay palms got sweaty.
I didn’t know how to play this, so I instantly clammed up and tried to avoid any confrontations.
And then, one of my roommates–Howie–dropped a bombshell. Chirped he: “I couldn’t possibly live in the same apartment with a gay person. I could never share a bathroom with such a person or use the same towels. I just couldn’t do it.”
Howie paused as if he wanted applause, not as if he’d just said something misguided and bigoted, even for the 1970s. And he offered no scientific underpinnings for his argument, he simply passed on his distaste as if it were perfectly natural, then smiled, gloatingly.
Completely thrown by his ignorance, I made a face and gently expressed my disapproval–the liberal thing to do–but I never really spoke up for myself. I wasn’t strong or brave enough to take a stand that would have galvanized the room and spun heads around. And decades later, I still deeply regret it.
If I could relive the moment, I’d surely play it differently. I’d screech: “Oh really, Mr. phobe? Well, guest what, nelly? I am gay, so you have been sharing a suite with a gay person! You have been using the same bathroom as him and even using the same towels as him! And you’re saying you just couldn’t possibly do that? Fine! Then take your pasty, dumb ass to the door and get the fuck out!”
But I didn’t. Oh, well.