≡ Menu

“How Can I Tell My Roommate I Know He’s Gay?”

“Matt” and I met the first week of college and have been close ever since. Over the last ten years, we’ve seen each other through a family crisis or two, break ups, unemployment…the list goes on. We have so many wonderful memories and I love him dearly. We’ve been living together the last three months and — other than typical roommate issues — everything is going well. Yesterday, I had lunch with another old friend. She used to be very close to Matt (they dated briefly a million years ago), but they have been growing apart for a while. During our conversation yesterday, she dropped a huge bomb. Five years ago, Matt confessed to her that he was attracted to men and made her vow not to tell anyone. After he told her, he gradually shut her out of his life. She burst into tears as she was telling me this — obviously, it has been a huge burden for her to not share this with anyone and watch her friendship dissolve. She said she wondered if he’d told me as well, but was always too afraid to bring it up. She said she trusts me to do what I feel is best with this information, even if it means telling Matt that she told me.

I want to bring it up with Matt, but he hates confrontation and has a history of responding poorly to tough conversations. To further complicate things, we have a ton of mutual friends whom we see regularly, and they’ve always come to me and asked, “Is he gay?” I always said something like, “Well, he says he’s not.” Over the years, I’ve asked him if he thought he might be gay, emphasizing that it doesn’t matter to me if he is (I love gays!), but he always said no. When this comes up in conversation again amongst our friends (and it definitely WILL), I don’t know that I will be able to lie about it — even if I wanted to. Finally, I’m feeling a lot of emotion about this. Of course, my heart aches for my dear friend who has been keeping this secret for so long. But my feelings are hurt that he hasn’t told me the truth – after all we’ve gone through together and everything I’ve told him. I’m feeling a bit betrayed and angry that he would lie to me when I’ve invested so much in being a good friend to him over the years.

Today is my birthday and all of us are going to dinner. We’ll be officially celebrating this Saturday night. I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed about how to approach this, deal with my emotions and let it go so I can have a fun time this week with all my birthday plans. And ultimately, I want to do the most loving thing for him — without compromising my own integrity or my living situation. — Worried Birthday Girl


First of all, happy birthday. If you want to make sure your birthday — and, more important, your friendship with Matt — aren’t ruined, you need to keep your mouth shut about his sexuality. The truth is, if Matt wanted you to know he’s gay, he would have told you, especially since you’ve actually asked him about it several times. He doesn’t want to tell you and as much as that may hurt your feelings, it’s his choice, and he likely has some very good reasons for not “coming out” to you. For one thing, maybe he hasn’t figured out yet what his sexuality is. All you have to go by is your own hunch and third party information that was learned five years ago. Furthermore, that information wasn’t even that Matt was/is gay. It’s that he was at one point attracted to men. Does that mean he’s still attracted to men? Not necessarily. Does that mean he’s attracted only to men? Who knows! Maybe Matt doesn’t even know, and that could be one reason he hasn’t chosen to share his sexuality preference with you.

When and if he’s ever ready to tell you whom he’s attracted to, you’ll know then. In the mean time, who cares?! What difference does it really make? It doesn’t change your friendship with him, does it? It doesn’t change your living arrangements, right? The only benefit I can see in your knowing whether or not Matt is gay is that he might feel liberated and more free to share details about his love life with you, which would might or might not strengthen your friendship and make it easier to live together. But, again, that’s Matt choice to make. Not yours. I cannot stress this enough. It is not your place to drag whatever Matt’s truth is out of him, particularly if he isn’t even sure what it is.

As far as answering the prodding questions from your mutual friends, why do you have to lie when they ask if Matt’s gay? You don’t know the definitive answer to that. All you have to say is, “I don’t know” or “Matt’s never told me whether he is or not.” End of story. I’m concerned that you have this need/desire to share more than that. If Matt’s as good of a friend as you say he is — so much so that you’re hurt he hasn’t come out to you — wouldn’t you want to protect his privacy? And to that end, even if you did have to tell a little white lie, who cares? Wouldn’t that be more important to you than sharing some juicy gossip with a bunch of nosy busybodies? (And, seriously, what’s wrong with them that they haven’t been able to drop the subject for years now? Why is it so important to know whom Matt thinks is hot? Are they still in junior high? If Matt wanted all of them in on his personal business, he’d tell them his personal business!!) I’m also wondering if maybe Matt suspects you don’t necessarily have his best interest at heart and that’s why he’s been hesitant to fully open up to you about his sexuality. Or maybe he knows what a “burden” it’s been for your mutual friend — the one he dated a million years ago — to know his secret, and he’s chosen to spare you a similar “burden.” Just something to think about.

Anyway, go enjoy your birthday. Enjoy the friendships you have. And take some time in the year ahead to refelect on what it means to be a good friend. Is it simply sharing everything about yourself, or is it accepting the people you love exactly where they are — flaws and wounds and all — and letting them grow at their own pace? As for the integrity you’re so concerned with not compromising, I’d say it takes a bigger dose to honor and protect one’s friends than it does to indulge in needless gossip. Maybe that’s something else worth thinking about as you gain another year of wisdom.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments on this entry are closed.

avatar MissDre April 5, 2011, 9:10 am

Wow Wendy, excellent advise!!

avatar Desiree April 5, 2011, 9:18 am

I could kind of understand why (assuming the third-party information is even true) the LW would like to have things “in the open” between Matt and himself. I could see that, if nothing else, it could make things a little easier on the roommate side (it would be really sad if Matt felt like he couldn’t bring dates home). However, the information is extremely flawed: it is five years old and from a third party who is no longer close to Matt. It may not even be relevant anymore. Many people explore their sexuality in their youth. In any case, this is *Matt’s* personal life. I don’t think a person’s sexuality is an appropriate subject for anyone else to bring up, no matter how close the friend. And definitely get over this “need to share” with your extended friend base; I don’t understand the compulsion there. Even if you knew absolutely every detail of Matt’s personal life, why would you need to share it? Sometimes protecting our friends involves covering for them. Your extended friends have no special right to know whether Matt is gay or straight of bi or anything else. If Matt ever decides his sexuality needs to be a matter of public discussion, I’m sure he’ll bring it up himself. Until then, have a wonderful birthday with a good friend; eat cake and be merry.

avatar Amber April 5, 2011, 9:39 am

I agree, there should be no reason at all to want to share that information. I had a friend who told multiple mutual friends when my boyfriend and I decided to have sex. Not the same thing but it hurt our friendship because I felt like I couldn’t ever share anything with her again and have it be private. The LW doesn’t want to lose Matt as a friend because she feels compelled to share that information when asked.

avatar Desiree April 5, 2011, 10:13 am

Oops-I didn’t see that the LW was a girl..

avatar Leyahn April 5, 2011, 9:19 am

So, what does the LW want to do?
Out her friend before, or after, he gives the birthday toast?
I think LW is excited by the gossip. Pathetic.

avatar PFG-SCR April 5, 2011, 9:40 am

I’m not sure if it’s the gossip or that she feels he “owes” it to her since he confessed that to their mutual friend. She says:

“But my feelings are hurt that he hasn’t told me the truth – after all we’ve gone through together and everything I’ve told him. I’m feeling a bit betrayed and angry that he would lie to me when I’ve invested so much in being a good friend to him over the years.”

This is another example that people take someone else’s situation/struggle as a personal slight. It’s not always about “you”!

avatar jena April 5, 2011, 3:09 pm

I completely agree with that. the “I don’t know if I’ll be able to lie” about it seemed off to me. He’s your friend and your roommate, and youre not even sure if he’s gay, but you aren’t sure if you could lie IF someone asked about it (I can’t imagine its a topic that comes up often enough that she’d have to lie…more like she’d bring it up.)

Don’t out someone (especccially if you aren’t even sure) because you’re a drama queen.

avatar BoomChakaLaka April 5, 2011, 9:22 am

Yes, Wendy, YES! LW, I think you should consider it a blessing that he isn’t telling you. Look what happened with the friend he told? If you truly value is friendship, you’ll forget about his sexuality and focus on continuing to build a solid friendship.

Even if he did tell you his sexual preference, nothing should change about the friendship. It won’t affect how many times you go out to eat or even what you guys choose to talk about on a Thursday night. It’s just one small part of him, one very minor part.

avatar kerrycontrary April 5, 2011, 9:27 am

Great advice, Wendy.I think you made an excellent point that Matt may still be figuring out his sexuality. Coming out is a huge step in a person’s life, and they should be able to make the decision of when and to whom they come out to. It seems like the LW just wants to cause drama and be involved in the gossip. Most of this letter was “I, me, I”. LW, his whole situation isn’t about you! You don’t automatically “deserve” to know someone’s sexuality just because you are a close friend. Do not, under any circumstance, discuss this at your birthday celebration unless you want to remember this birthday as the year you had a horrible fight at dinner and lost a friend/roomate in the same night.

avatar SalMarie April 5, 2011, 9:27 am

I agree, excellent advice, Wendy! I would also add that IF Matt is gay (and this is still a big IF), perhaps the reason he hasn’t told you is exactly because of how close you two are. Sometimes the closer you are to someone, and the more you value that person’s opinion and friendship, the harder it is to reveal something like that. Even if he knows you would be supportive of him regardless of his sexuality, he may think that if he decides to come out to you, not only does he have to deal with the coming out part, but he will also have to explain or justify why he kept the secret from you for so long.

So, as Wendy said, let Matt come to terms with his sexuality (whatever it may be) in his own way, with the knowledge that you have already “planted the seed” with him that you will support him no matter what.

avatar Woman of Words April 5, 2011, 10:31 pm

Yes! This.

avatar PFG-SCR April 5, 2011, 9:28 am

Great advice, Wendy. I hope when the LW reads your advice and re-reads her own letter, she realizes that she’s not entitled to this information just because they are friends and roommates. If Matt wanted her to know something, he’d tell her, especially since she’s asked repeatedly. And, quite possibly, her repeated asking is the exact reason that he _hasn’t_ told her anything.

avatar RoyalEagle0408 April 5, 2011, 9:29 am

I think it’s odd that you would share what is clearly a very private thing with someone and then allow that friendship to rapidly dissolve immediately after. What happened between the friend and “Matt” is irrelevant to the LW’s situation because she’s not supposed to know. What good do you really think would come out of telling him you know he’s gay? You’d risk your friendship with him and your friendship with the girl who told you. Just keep your mouth shut.

avatar SGMcG April 5, 2011, 9:43 am

The most loving thing you could do for your friend is keep loving him – no matter what. His sexuality is probably something he’s still struggling to identify, but his sexuality is just that – it’s HIS to share or not. Can you imagine how you would feel if you found out others were going to him asking about your sexual identity? The friendship between the two of you would struggle if one has to constantly explain and/or defend the friend from others just wanting to pry. When he is ready to admit it to himself, I’m sure he’ll be ready to admit it to you.

avatar CollegeCat April 5, 2011, 9:49 am

I have to be honest this LW sounds like the kind of person I would be afraid to share a big secret with. After hearing the news the first thing that pops into her mind is what to tell all of their mutual friends??? I think she has been waiting for this moment for years and now that she can give them a “definitive” answer she wants permission. This is his business alone. I can’t believe she feels more loyalty to the other gossip-mongers than this supposed best friend of 10 yrs. Sexuality is a personal and private thing for most people. I can’t understand why the LW would feel entitled to know this information, let alone share it. This letter is not about how to be caring and supportive – its about how to ruin a friendship.

If she was a true friend she wouldn’t feel the need to confront him over something that is now just a rumor. She wouldn’t want to lose his friendship like the other girl.

If she was a true friend she would rather say nothing at all than answer their other friends’ questions.

If she was a true friend instead of being hurt that he didn’t come to her, she would be hurting for him – for the fact that he feels he has to carry this secret.

Lastly, if she was a true friend she wouldn’t end this letter fishing for birthday wishes… Honestly, what did that have to do with anything?

becboo84 BecBoo84 April 5, 2011, 9:56 am

Amen!

avatar PhillyD April 5, 2011, 9:53 am

One of my oldest and closest friends was ambiguous about his sexuality for years. Other aquaintences asked me repeatedly about him, but I’d always tell them I didn’t know and it didn’t matter. Because it didn’t. I loved him regardless. He had multiple opportunities to tell me over 30 years, especially as I have a number of gay friends he’d meet from time to time. It wasn’t until about 3 years ago he did finally come out, and that was only after he’d been diagnosed with cancer.

And you know what? It still didn’t matter to me. But what mattered to him was that he finally was ready to share, and knew we would have the same open and warm relationship.

This is not to say anything about your friend. Because what your friend hasn’t shared isn’t important to how he relates to you as a friend (unless you harbor some secret hope of getting together with him, which it doesn’t sound like it), nor the relationship that you have.

Don’t pressure him, don’t think his personal life is more important than it is. As many others have said, focus on what you have – a good friendship. Anything else is just extra fluff.

avatar Fairhaired Child April 11, 2011, 12:29 am

This.

One of my closest male friends has been questioned by everyone (to his face or to mine) about if he is gay or not. The thing is, it doesn’t matter. If someone was asking because they wanted to date him, they should ask him out on a date, not start it out with “I wanted to ask you out on a date.. but I don’t know if you are gay or not.. are you?” of course he wont date you then.

Most of the time when I’m out with my friend people assume he’s either my boyfriend or that he’s gay. When we aren’t conjoined at the hip anymore and people will come up and ask me if he’s my boyfriend/or is his my gay friend I state “Oh he’s just my best friend, we are just very affectionate, really he’s more like my 5 year old son.” Because, well he is. He’s childish in the fun loving/crazy way, loves to be in the center of attention in all ways etc. and that’s all the explaination I need to give, no we are not dating, but yes we are affectionate, and he’s my best friend/child thing. I don’t even have to go onto the is he gay or not conversation because, it doesnt matter to me. If people straight up ask me if he’s gay I just say “I have no idea but currently he’s… ‘dating _insert chick name_’ /’single’ ”

If one day he comes out, it wouldnt surprise me, but his persona doesnt surprise me either since he’s very much a “mama’s boy” and some people can translate “understanding females and relating to them” to being a “closeted gay”.

All I know is that we are friends and that when I get married one day that I want him to be in my wedding. What “side” he choses to stand on when that day comes is up to him, and in my eyes will be no reflection of his “sexual preference” but that he’s there to support me (on either side).

As for the posters that stated he may have lied and said he was gay to dump the girl, I believe that could happen too. My friend has used that excuse before as well as the excuse that he “suddenly realizes that he’s in love with his best friend and can’t fully love another woman if his mind is distracted by another, and therfore he would only be half the man that they actually deserve and its not fair to them that he not be in the relationship 100% for them” (totally not true but it makes him sound like a nice guy instead of an A-hole for breaking up with them).

becboo84 BecBoo84 April 5, 2011, 9:57 am

This is perhaps the most perfect answer from Wendy I’ve ever read. I wish there was a “like” button for her answer!

Dear Wendy Wendy April 5, 2011, 10:15 am

Thanks! There is a Like button, actually. Just beneath the advice is a little “Like” Facebook icon. If you like something I’ve written, I always appreciate it if you feel like promoting it on your Facebook page and drawing more readers this way. :)

avatar NolaGirl April 5, 2011, 9:59 am

It may be me but the LW’s comment “I love gays!” just rubbed me the wrong way. It seems like his sexuality is a very big deal to her and she makes a big deal about it to him – even if it’s “assuring” him it’s not a big deal. I just don’t see that it matters. Gay/Straight/Asexual, whatevs, he’s still your roommate and I don’t see that it makes a difference what he’s interested in in the sack as long as it’s between two consensual adults. I agree with some of the other comments here, if he wanted to share, he would share and any trying to pull it out of him will just make him not want to share more.

I think if anything, asking about it and reassuring him that “you’re okay with it!” is kind of counter-productive. If you want him to be feel comfortable talking to you about it, you need to not make such a big deal about it. It is what it is.

avatar Herself the Elf April 5, 2011, 11:06 am

YES. I couldn’t agree more. Gays aren’t pomeranians or purses. They’re just people. Sure you love MATT, and you love other gay friends you have, but “I love gays!”? They aren’t all the same! They aren’t a giant unit to be loved or hated collectively! They’re regular people!

I want to make this LW watch the “Disappointing Gay Best Friend” videos on YouTube.

avatar cmarie April 5, 2011, 11:18 am

Just a moment of defense: I don’t think she was equating gays with dogs, I think she was just trying to point out that she was gay friendly, albeit in an annoying way.

avatar Herself the Elf April 5, 2011, 1:00 pm

You’re right, it was a little uncharitable of me to use a breed of dog as a comparison; what I meant was that when someone refers to “gays” all as one big group that way—even if they’re trying to be positive about it!—it suggests that all gay people are the same, and it bugs me.

avatar cmarie April 5, 2011, 4:01 pm

Just so you know, I wasn’t trying to sound snarky or anything like that, I just have a bit of a Pollyana habit lol. I do understand what you’re saying though, it really is annoying when people imply, however inadvertently, that all gays are the same.

avatar Honeybeegood April 10, 2011, 6:12 pm

Anytime someone refers to a group of individuals by an attribute (blacks, females, males, gays, retards,) it tends to reduce them to that attribute and dehumanize them in a way.

Just expanding on what Miss Elf had to say.

avatar honeybeenicki April 5, 2011, 12:29 pm

I don’t think its just you who was rubbed the wrong way with that comment. It kind of scared me and then reminded me of a conversation a few of my friends and I had… the easiest way to tell if someone is racist/homophobic/biased against someone is through some simple statements:
“I love the_____!”
“Well, I have _____ friends!”
“No I’m not ____. Really I’m not!” or “I love _____, really I do!”

I know these are kind of a blanket idea and certainly don’t pertain to every situation, but I think it shows the LW might really be concerned if her roommate is gay.

avatar missarissa April 5, 2011, 5:10 pm

To be fair, is there a way to convey, in an internet letter, that you are … indifferent/supportive of an aspect of humanity (race, religion, sexual preferences, sexual orientation)? I’m having trouble doing it even in this post, and I have nothing to prove.
My attempt: Some people are not cool with the fact that some other people are not heterosexual; some people are cool with it in theory but don’t know how to act around said people; and some people are totally ok with the fact that some people are not heterosexual and are also are not affected by the sexuality of those around them when they hang out with those non-heterosexual people.

See? “I love gays!” sounded weird/bad when I read it and I figured people would have issues with it, but I have to agree that it’s hard to indicate, without sounding incredibly stilted, that you are not a member of the first two groups I described.

avatar Elle April 5, 2011, 10:08 am

Wow, Wendy, spot on!!!
Going on with Wendy’s idea – maybe he’s still trying to figure out his sexuality (maybe he’s trying to figure out if he’s bisexual, since you mentioned he dated your friend). You have to realize, once he comes out, it’s a one-way street – he can’t take it back.

I sympathize with Matt, although not to such a high degree. There is something in my past that I’m not comfortable sharing with everyone I meet. I tell only certain people, who I’m comfortable with, on my own terms. I agree with the other commenters – you should let Matt come out to you (if he is, indeed, gay) when he feels comfortable. Don’t add to the pressure, as you’ll most likely lose the friendship. Matt has the right to come out to you when he’s ready, on his own terms. And you should not take that as a way he views your relationship with him.

The only thing you can do is reaffirming to him that you have nothing against gay people. Since you’ve been friends with him for such a long time, I’m pretty certain he already knows that. So there are other things, that you don’t know about, that don’t let him come out to you just yet.

avatar TheGirl April 5, 2011, 10:12 am

I love it when I read a letter, think something, and then read on to see Wendy say the same thing I am thinking! KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT, girl. Maybe he doesn’t want to tell anyone because he’s afraid it will get back to their parents and they won’t take it well. Maybe he isn’t actually gay and just told your friend that because she kept coming on to him. Maybe he’s asexual. Any which way you look at it, its HIS business and he’ll tell you his own good time.

avatar LeahW. April 5, 2011, 10:15 am

Wendy’s advice really only covers two possible explanations for why “Matt” isn’t out: he’s not actually gay or he is and doesn’t feel like telling people for whatever reason. But I’m leaning towards a third explanation: he probably IS gay (or at least bi) but has a lot of shame associated with it and doesn’t want to admit it to himself.

Being gay in our culture is not the norm, and for MANY people it is completely unacceptable. Matt has gone his whole life with people around him assuming he’s straight and maybe even wishing he was. You saying that you “love gays” is great, but Matt probably doesn’t want to be “a gay”, whatever that means to him.

So, what can you do? Keep your mouth shut, listen to whatever he does choose to tell you (which may be nothing) and tell your mutual friends to lay off! You had enough information to have a pretty good idea that he might be gay before talking to your female friend, and her story about losing him as a friend after his confession should be enough warning not to push the issue!

The fact is, he may NEVER be honest with himself, and that would be a shame. But if, years from now, he’s willing to accept that he may be gay, he’s going to need very supportive people in his life that he can talk to. Not ones that foist some new identify on him (“I’m so excited you’re a gay!”) but ones that listen to how he feels and can accept how difficult this realization probably is for him.

avatar SpaceySteph April 5, 2011, 10:31 am

I wonder if he told this girl he “dated briefly” that he was into men to break up the relationship, as this would also explain why he let their friendship fall apart too. Then maybe he never told his roommate because its not true.
I don’t know any men who have lied about being gay to get rid of a girlfriend, but one could exist.

In any case, I don’t really want to be friends with either of these people. There’s the friend who spilled his secret to the LW or the LW who is plotting to breach the trust of a good friend in maybe the worst way possible. True or not, you have no right to out your friend. In fact, as a true friend, you might try discouraging people from asking questions about your roommate’s sexuality. Instead, what you seem to do is relish the attention you get when people ask you, and that you finally have good dirt to dish- oh I CAN’T lie to people, I must betray my friend by telling everyone in the world that 5 years ago he told his ex girlfriend that he was interested in men so clearly he is currently the gayest man alive, I just hope it doesn’t ruin my birthday.

avatar convexed April 5, 2011, 10:35 am

Ok, I just want to add that not only is it not the LW’s place to share any information (or misinformation) she has about Matt’s sexuality, it is unethical and blatantly reckless to do so.
In the past year, we’ve followed numerous news stories about young people taking their lives because they were tormented for being gay, or even for being perceived as gay.
The LW needs to open her eyes. It’s more than the friendship or her feelings at stake. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals still face overwhelming discrimination and prejudice in this country, and are vulnerable to both bullying and violence because of their gender or sexual minority status. She may ‘love gays’, but she cannot speak for all of the friends she might tell, or all of the friends they might tell, etc.
Your friend may be gay, he may be straight, he may be bisexual, or unsure. You can’t know this right now. But you better believe that HE, not YOU, is the best and only appropriate judge of when, if ever, the answer to this question is revealed, and to whom. You do not have the right to ‘out’ anybody, ever, because you do not know and cannot predict and cannot control what the consequences will be for that person.
Maybe this sounds a little blunt, but the question is too important to risk LW missing the point—Hopefully Wendy’s excellent advice and all of the thoughtful comments above will convince the LW to let go of this ‘burden’ and rid herself forever of her impulse to spread the word.

avatar randi April 5, 2011, 10:37 am

wendy said what i was thinking the whole time i was reading it. 1. not really your business no matter how close you are. 2. it’s okay to say ‘i don’t know’ even if you (think) you do. 3. if he wanted people to know, they’d know, and it’s not your place to out him!
also i think the (i love gays!) comment was a little stupid, but that’s just me.

avatar Feather April 5, 2011, 10:46 am

Hey LW, why don’t you just continue to be the supportive, loving, accepting friend that you are right now and don’t look more into this than you should. It seems as though you have a great friendship and it is not your place to be hurt, upset, or anything else when it comes to your friends sexuality. It makes you sound selfish. I’m sure he is confused, or even if he isn’t, he isn’t obligated to share every single thing with you.

And as for answering your friends questions, also none of your business. They can talk to him about it if they want to.