Being Out While Living In (The Residence Halls)

As we exit June, I think about Pride Month and how important this month is to so many. This month is a time to honor those who have blazed a trail of liberation from the Stonewall riots to today and to celebrate the many accomplishments of those within the LGBTQ+ community. Today, in 2023, there is a true moment of crisis and concern for the community with multiple states backing anti-trans* legislation, bans on drag and freedom of expression, and denied access to basic care for so many. In total, the ACLU is currently tracking almost 500 anti-LGBTQ bills.

In my time on this pale blue dot, I have traversed my own journey in finding myself and acknowledging my various identities and affinities, one of which is being unapologetically queer. While I have lived off-campus for some time now, I lived on for over a decade as a staff member and learned about many things that I liked (combining several things from the buffet line to make something new and delish in what I like to call dining hall hacking) and some I did not like about living in a residence hall during that time (walking out of the front door of my on-campus apartment to the strong smell of cheap beer poured from 10 floors above the night before likely when one of my RAs knocked on the resident’s door). 

I also recall many job searches where I worked first to prioritize pet-friendly campus options in my search of residence life postings, and later, exploring those institutions that had partner-friendly live-on policies. The combination of these would become my “PP” policies—or pet/partner combo—when I was exploring which institutions and residence life programs may work for me and my growing family, and which options would not make the cut.

For help in identifying institutions meeting specific live-in/on needs for yourself and your specific situation, visit the Live-in/on Report, a tool I utilized myself all of those years ago

While I haven’t been in a residence life search for some time and hope things have changed for the better, I also know there are likely institutions out there still that maintain policies that are exclusionary to those individuals who are in same-gender relationships or those couples who may be unmarried by official decree. It wasn’t that long ago (pre-2015) that I couldn’t legally marry the one I loved in most of the United States and this is still the case for many countries worldwide—and yet, there were coded policies before this time that required individuals to be legally married to cohabitate in on-campus housing. While there was also difficulty at times finding institutions that would allow a four-legged fur baby to live in as well, that would at times prove to be easier than bringing along my bipedal partner who was just as up to date if not more so with his vaccinations than those of my pooch.

Living in/on is an interesting concept. On one hand, your commute is short and probably one of the fastest before the proliferation of remote work, but on the other, it can be extremely difficult to create a separation of personal and professional boundaries. For me, this often meant how could I separate myself from my work and create dedicated time and space for my partner and our dog that didn’t involve an involuntary alcohol or drug bust while on a dog walk or getting looped into a roommate conflict by an eager mother at the local Tar’ge while shopping right after move-in (true story). 

When I think back to my earlier dating life, I remember being asked what it was like living on campus. Regardless of how one may identify or what their family status (biological, adopted, chosen, and many others) may be, this is indeed a unique and notable aspect of living on and one that often raises intriguing looks and follow-up questions. There are also many different types of relationships—those that are monogamous or those that may be polyamorous, those who may be completely fine not being in any sort of relationship, and everything in between and beyond. Once I was partnered, I remember struggling to figure out how, when, and if I wanted my partner to join me at events and gatherings, or to introduce him to my residents. This all seemed at times uncomfortable and very vulnerable. In a sense, it was like coming out all over again. 

Beyond the feelings of living in a bubble within a bubble, we were able to maintain a little slice of live-in bliss just beyond the bustling hallways and constant dinging of the elevator doors that awaited us just down the short hallway. I would come to reflect that when I was able to live in my authentic self and model this my residents and students might also be able to better live in theirs as well. I remember having a conversation as a first-year graduate hall director with a student who was anxious about returning home for winter break after coming out earlier in the fall semester to those closest to them—cherished friends they had made in new student orientation and their floormates. They sat in my office in tears, shaking with the prospect of having to go back into hiding who they were when they returned home. The student would soon find out I had only come out to my parents a short time before we were having this conversation—I had drafted a letter to them that shared how I was adjusting to life in a new land (the land of Lincoln–no less) and that I was gay. 

I wanted my parents to have time to adjust to this reality on their own terms and I knew there would likely be many questions and curiosities and probably some concerns as well. I knew my parents loved me but I wasn’t sure how they might take the news as they worked through their own process of acceptance and meaning-making. The only thing I knew was I needed to focus on my wellbeing and if the worst-case scenario I had been playing on repeat for years in my head and heart did come true, I was in a place—this live-on apartment—to take care of myself and be safe. Thankfully this never came to pass for me or the student I was working to support and they later shared their own coming out story with me and how they had found comfort in what I had shared with them in my own story. I also came to realize that many of my residents, even those who did not identify with the LGBTQ+ community also had anxieties about returning home that very first time after moving onto campus. This is because the first year of college, that time so many of our residents do live on, is a time of great exploration and self-discovery. Students are exploring their own values alignment, looking differently at how they may have seen things previously such as researching new faith or cultural traditions or ways of seeing the world and identifying new ways of expressing themselves and how they wish to be in community with themself and others around them. 

I’ve lived in many places and many apartments since that time and looked forward to the day when my partner, our fur baby, and I could build a home together. Little did I know we were doing that all along, regardless of the physical place and space we were inhabiting—even as temporarily as it may have been at times. But trust me when I say that picking out your own paint colors and hanging things on the walls with nails is also pretty great, too.

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