Dear Mom: As My Gay, Transvestite Roommate Was Saying The Other Day…

by Joe Bob Briggs

“Coed roommates” sounds like an Internet sex site, but it's
actually the official housing policy at places like Antioch College, the
University of Massachusetts, Tufts University, Swarthmore, and other
colleges in the Northeast.

To which I say: What an
absolute nightmare. Not just for the masochistic university official who
volunteered to supervise this can of poisonous Mesopotamian sand-worms,
but for the poor deluded souls who actually sign up for cohabitation
and then try to have inter-gender discussions about pressing issues like
the volume of the stereo, the relative importance of misplaced
toothpaste caps, and the appropriateness of a black-light Jenna Jameson
poster on the walls. If your opponent is a girl, you can't even have a
fistfight or a beer-chugging contest to decide the outcome.

Tamar Lewin, a reporter for The New York Times, wrote a basically
approving “trend” story about this phenomenon, in which various
enlightened students and school officials talk about fighting against
the “heterosexist” housing policies of the past. That would be the ones
that put boys with boys and girls with girls.

The
problem, it seems, is that the definition of “boy” and “girl” is now
hopelessly out of date. What about a gay boy with a straight boy? The
article implies that this creates too much pressure on the gay guy, who
is forced to listen to conversations about hot babes on campus. There's
virtually no sympathy expressed, however, for the straight guy. Why
wouldn't it be equally horrific to be forced to listen to Judy Garland
records, overhear phone conversations about his paper on Edith Piaf, or
accidentally sample the new Jeff Stryker video?

Then
there's all your other various combinations–gay women who want to room
with gay women, gay women who want to room with gay men, “transgender
students” who want . . . actually, I'm not sure what they would want,
and, yes, straight men and straight women living in the same room but
swearing to the university housing official that they won't have
sex–except at Antioch, where they specifically want to have sex.

Obviously these new enlightened student housing policies have forgotten the first rule of dorm life:

You'll always end up hating your roommate anyway.

My college roommates included:

1) a neurotic Jewish guy who always thought I secretly hated
him, long before I started really hating him for constantly reminding
me that I secretly hated him, resulting in a shouting match in which I
said “I never even thought about Jews before I met you, it would take me
years to hate the whole race.”

2) a preppie from New
Hampshire who woke up the whole dorm one night, standing in the middle
of the quad in his underwear, playing his alto saxophone. No one was
alarmed at first, and then we discovered that he was not drunk.

3) a marijuana-loving comedian from Alabama who built a stack
of records and books in one corner of our room that looked like the
revolutionary barricades in “Les Miserables.”

4) a
millionaire's son who liked to wake up in the middle of the night and
say “Hey, are you awake?” so he could talk about how we could bribe
state officials to find out where the new exits on the interstate were
going to be and thereby become rich through land speculation.

5) a guy who sold fake Norman Rockwell paintings out of our room. Fortunately he flunked out after one semester.

6) a proud redneck from Arkansas who once drank two cases of
beer in one weekend (okay, I helped) and then smuggled three hookers
into the room and passed out, leaving me to pay them and get rid of
them.

7) a gay guy. The gay guy was a journalist full
of excruciating moral dilemmas that had nothing to do with being gay.
Actually, I would have appreciated a little homosexual angst- -that
would have been interesting. He was more interested in whether there
should be a permanent World Court at The Hague. I never even knew he was
gay until two years after we roomed together.

Anyway, my point is that I like all these guys–now. I even occasionally
liked them while we were living together. The millionaire kid had a
personal valet who came by and picked up our laundry, so that was a
plus. But nine times out of ten, any college roommate situation is
playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded pistol. You've got that
19-year-old energy building up in the room like Freddy Krueger's
furnace, and sooner or later somebody is going to end up with shaving
cream on their sheets.

Now you're going to add into
that equation female energy with the male energy? Are you saving up
story ideas for Edward Albee or something?

The
colleges say they have this under control because they do such careful
pre-screening. They make sure that the roommates are not interested in
each other sexually, for one thing. Obviously the bureaucrat who wrote
this policy has never witnessed an office romance. The girl may look
like your idea of warmed-over corned beef hash, but when you spend every
day with her, there's going to be that moment when the bare shoulder,
the funny laugh, or the overheard conversation with her girlfriend when
she talks about getting naked at the bachelorette party, suddenly zaps
you, and you start wondering what's under there.

It
works the same way in reverse, too. “I used to think he was a loser, but
then I saw the way he took care of his chihuahua, and I don't know,
he's just so sweet.” Pretty soon you've got full-bore heterosexuality
flailing around on your modular dorm couch, followed by the
morning-after session of “What did we just do?,” followed by the
decision to either do it again or to break it off, followed by the
strained silence because one person wants to continue the sex and one
person wants to quit.

Plus there's the universal rule
of human sexuality: As soon as you make a formal agreement not to have
sex with someone, you want to have sex with them. I would think that at a
college, of all places, they would tend to understand these things.

What flusters me, though, is the sheer variety of sexual-
orientation combos in these new dorms. Some lesbians want to room with
other lesbians. Some lesbians don't want the sexual tension of another
lesbian but they don't like heterosexual guys either, and homosexual men
rarely mix well with homosexual women. (Okay, don't shoot me, it's just
something I've noticed. I could be wrong.)

And then
you have the category of . . . “the curious and questioning.” I'm not
making this up. Instead of checking the “straight” box, the gay box, or
the “transgender” box, you can put down “I don't know what I am.” And
they'll put you in the special dorm with a roommate who could turn out
to be nine kinds of sexual surprises.

Think about it,
though. If the guy doesn't know whether he's gay, straight or bisexual,
that could mean two things. Either he's such a wimpy chameleon that
he'll take on the sexual identity of whoever's standing next to him
(please pick that roommate carefully), or he's so David Lynch-level
kinky that he'll be sneaking out in the middle of the night to torture
his pet rats. Either way, I don't think the answer is to say, “Here,
meet Hans, your cross-dressing German exchange student roommate. He has a
cool Swastika tattoo.”

My advice would be to follow
the policy of Oxford and Cambridge. “Here's your apartment. We don't
want to know who comes in and goes out of it. Just show up for class.”
Then fifty years later you read about the freaky stuff in a cabinet
minister's memoirs. By then the statute of limitations has run out.
Believe me, it's easier on everybody.

Copyright 2002 Joe Bob Briggs/John Bloom

Joe Bob Briggs is a writer, actor and former host of TNT's
“Monstervision.” A former commentator on “The Daily Show,” he's written
for UPI, Talk, Playboy, Penthouse, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, and
has appeared in the movies “Casino,” “Face/Off,” and “The Stand.” His
next book, “Profoundly Disturbing: Twenty Shocking Films That Changed
History,” will be released early next year.

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