On Scandalous Housing Arrangements

On Scandalous Housing Arrangements
September 7, 2021

By Gregory Coles. Greg is a Senior Research Fellow at The Center and is the author of Single, Gay, Christian and No Longer Strangers.


I am an unmarried man. I live with an unmarried woman. It’s just the two of us in the house, alone and unchaperoned.


Yet somehow—though this may shock you to hear—we aren’t having any sex.


Not with each other. Not with other people. We are a not-sex-having kind of household.


Housing arrangements like mine don’t poll well in evangelical Christian circles. I’ve had more than a few friends, upon hearing that I live with someone, ask, “What’s his name?” And when I reply that her name is Katy, their politely confused faces resemble the Blinking White Guy meme.

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I get it. In my younger years, I was sagely counseled against multi-gender living spaces. Even if we weren’t having sex at first, it would probably happen eventually. Even if it never happened, we would still give people the wrong idea. For the sake of my own sexual purity, and for the sake of the consciences of others, best to stick with male-only roommates. Or so the logic went.


In the four years since I came out as gay and celibate, this logic has become increasingly uncompelling to me.


Consider, by way of counterpoint, my last housing situation before I crossed the contiguous United States and moved in with Katy. I was a (gay) unmarried man, living with another unmarried man. It was just the two of us in the apartment, alone and unchaperoned. To make matters worse, my former roommate Evan has a far better fashion sense than I. If you saw the two of us together in public and had to guess which one was the gay roommate, based only on physical appearance, you’d pick Evan over me every time. (If you doubt my assessment, feel free to double-check with Evan, or with anyone who knows us both. The truth of the matter will be universally confirmed.)


So there we were: Two bachelors, one of them openly gay, the other suspiciously well-dressed, sharing a bunk bed that we built from scratch in our pastor’s garage. Yet somehow—though this may shock you to hear—we weren’t having any sex. Not with each other. Not with other people. We were a not-sex-having kind of household.


The points of similarity between these two scandalous housing arrangements are striking:


  1. One housemate is sexually attracted to the other housemate’s gender. I am a gay man attracted to the male gender, of which Evan is a spiffing representative. Katy is a straight woman attracted to the male gender, of which I am a tolerable representative.
  2. The second housemate is not attracted to the first housemate’s gender. Though Katy is a lovely human being, I’ve never once been sexually attracted to a woman, and I doubt I’ll start any time soon. Evan, despite my conspicuous masculine charm, remains thoroughly heterosexual.
  3. The first housemate, though they experience a general pattern of attraction toward the second housemate’s gender, is not specifically attracted to the second housemate. Our readers will already be aware, I trust, that having a general pattern of attraction toward one gender or the other doesn’t mean you’re attracted to every person of that gender. Evan is, as I said, a spiffing representative of the male gender; but I am not attracted to him. (It’s not you, Ev, it’s me.) And Katy is already dating an excellent fellow named Jeff, a far better specimen of maleness than I.
  4. Those who know us only at a distance might have reason to doubt the degree of chastity within our household. Katy and I have already joked extensively about the fact that our neighbors probably all assume we are a couple. Since we’re unmarried, we probably look like a cohabiting couple—a demographic not known for their commitment to sexual abstinence. As for Evan and I, it’s like I said before: one of us openly gay, the other suspiciously well-dressed. You do the math.


The reality is, now that I’ve come out as gay, there’s no such thing as a non-scandalous housing arrangement for me. Regardless of my (rather vocal) perspective on sexual ethics or my commitment to Christian obedience, the people who want to criticize my living situation will have ample opportunity to do so. I could live in a household with more than two people, but that only increases the likelihood that I’d need to share a bedroom with someone. I could live alone, but then I would lack built-in accountability; who knows what nefarious deeds might transpire? (Besides, paying for solo rent in most cities is a scandal all by itself.)


Let the record show that I’m not suggesting, since all my housing arrangement choices are scandalous by Official Evangelical Standards, any housing arrangement must therefore be equally good and wise for me to pursue. If, for instance, I lived in a household with a person to whom I was highly attracted, that would probably be unwise and unhealthy for me. And if I were in a situation where my housemate was attracted to me—even if I had no intention of returning the favor—moving out might be the most gracious way of honoring that housemate’s own conscience and boundaries.


But there’s no sense pretending that I can broker my own sexual “safety” by following other people’s housing rules. I’m not interested in avoiding female housemates, or male housemates, or LGBTQ housemates, as if any of these demographics is inherently off limits. I’m not interested in avoiding someone else’s definition of a scandal.


I’m interested in being emotionally and spiritually healthy, living in an environment that curtails unnecessary temptation and fosters good decision-making. I’m interested in following Jesus, and clean kitchens, and affordable rent. If these priorities render me scandalous, I can live with that.