Am I in danger?
March 10, 2014 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Total snowstorm inside, in short my roommate for the next month has very, very different worldviews from me, does things I find offensive and might have access to a gun. He does not know that I am transgendered.

I'm going to try hard to tell this as succinctly as possible, but I'm short on sleep and on a public computer so there is an element of trying to hurry.

I'm in a remote part of the western US with a wonderful organization I have been involved with before. I'm here for a month. I'm taking a class to gain a skill set I both wish to have and may use to gain employment, it is an expensive class. Today is day one. We have assigned roommates, there are about 30 of us. We appear to be predominantly (students, instructors, and staff) hetrosexual cisgendered white males in our late teens through early 30s.

I'm white, transgendered mtf, and generally identify as queer. The queer part has been an important aspect of my identity for a long time. People often assume I'm a cisgendered white man in my late teens early twenties. Sometimes they think I'm straight, sometimes they think I'm gay. I have scars on my body from top surgery and have not had bottom surgery. In short If I change in the same room as somebody they could instantly tell I'm not a cisgendered man.

My roommate is what's concerning me. Not all of the things I'm going to list below are things that would concern me by themself, it is the combination that is making me write this. And trying to give you a clear picture of this person.

-He hung up a bandana that is a mini confederate flag in our room, asked me if I was offended, left it up. He did not put it up until after knowing that the group appears to be all white people despite having moved in the rest of his things prior to meeting most of the group.

-He is a WWII reenactor, he plays a German.

-He served in the military for 10 years, "crowds trigger his PTSD" (his exact words)

-He is extremely pro gun, to the point that I would not be surprised to find that he has one in our room or more likely in his car (guns are not allowed on property at this facility, to be clear he did not say he has a gun here, he did not show me a gun, if I find out there is a gun in our room I will insist he removes it, unless I feel that my safety is threatened).

-He is 31 and from a part of the country that stereotypically has people who might not have problems with confederate flags or spending your free time running around with a swastika on your shoulder, he does not respect Obama, has a well read Christian Bible at his bedside. I feel like I'm stereotyping him, but as I can at times be a stereotype he seems to be one.

-I did not solicit any of this information he volunteered it all in the first 30min if us being roommates.

I hope you can have enough faith in me (random internet stranger that I am) to know that I have no problem with military service or his history of mental illness, people who read the bible, people interested in history, or people who come from rural areas, etc. except that it is part of a picture of a person who I am wondering if I should be afraid of.

In short it feel like I am living with a person who has a history of being triggered by normal occurrences, violent interests and potential access to a gun. My nearest friend/family is six hours away, I do not have a car, there is almost no public transport. If I leave I'm hitchhiking or waiting for a friend to come and get me. There is no cellphone service, good wifi as long as we get enough sunlight for the solar panels to work. People at this organization know my back story, nobody that is here or will be here in the next month.


1. Should I be worried enough to do something that is going to risk loosing my money, causing problems by switching roommates (I'm going to see him all day every day even if I don't live with his) or in general making waves?

2. I can be hard on myself at times and the part of me that is and wants to be a what I define as a good queer ambassador and ally to other is going to have trouble if I just hunker in the closet and ignore the comments I'm expecting he is going to make about my identity and the identity of others. As in that will be very, very hard for me mentally. I can do it if needed, but I will probably feel like a bad person and it will be stressful. Advice?

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (65 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
So far he sounds like an asshole, but not necessarily a dangerous one. I'm a cis white male and I find his views abhorrent, but if I was stuck with him for a month taking a class I'd already paid for I'd suck it up and deal with it. I have in-laws who are worse.

Also... do you mean ftm? that makes waaaaaay more sense.
posted by Oktober at 11:19 AM on March 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

If I was in your situation I would see how it goes for a few days and if things get sticky, I would talk to someone in charge of the program to see if you can switch roommates. I would explain that you want to feel safe in this environment and your current roommate does not make you feel safe? That would be my first step (if you feel that the people in charge of the program would be helpful) before leaving the entire program.

In the case that you do switch roommates and feel like you might be awkward around him during the class, you can just tell yourself that you don't have to be friends with everyone, and he is someone you don't want to be friends with. I'm sure he probably feels the same way, especially if your views are that drastically different. There is nothing wrong with that approach.
posted by ruhroh at 11:23 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, he definitely sounds like an asshole with a diametrically opposing worldview from you, but that doesn't make him an imminent threat to your physical well-being. I'm not trans so I feel a little out of place saying this, but perhaps you don't have to be an ambassador everywhere, especially when you have no backup that you know of. There are plenty of other, safer opportunities for that.
posted by desjardins at 11:24 AM on March 10, 2014 [10 favorites]

You do not need to risk losing your money; you do need a new room mate. Considering the rate of violence against trans people and the fact that you are sharing living / peeing / changing / showering space with this dude, I think you are right to be mindful of your vulnerability.

I am not trans and have none of the additional safety concerns that comes with, and would still insist that the organisers move me to another room. It is not okay with me to be forced to share a living space with someone hanging confederate flags or bearing swastika tats. I would talk to the organisers immediately, citing those two things. My own strategic call would be to leave the military service, PTSD and gun issue out of the conversation.

I think you can mitigate some of the discomfort you might feel about switching rooms by working it out with the organisers and then when you're going, saying something to him directly like "Hey man, I respect your service and your right to think whatever you believe, but I'm not cool with confederate flags and shit. I don't want us to have hassle so I'm just going to room with John."
posted by DarlingBri at 11:24 AM on March 10, 2014 [32 favorites]

In general (speaking as a cis-gendered gay male), I find that men who fit the description you make would rather do anything in the world than look at another man changing, so I don't think he would accidentally see you in a state of undress that would give you away physically.

I have a small amount of hope that he's smart enough to know that he needs to behave, because he asked you if you were okay with the confederate flag bandana. Generally, if someone wishes to start a fight, he'll just do what he wants to do and damn the consequences.

I think you'll most likely be okay if you're personable and agree to get along, but if you feel in any way fearful or uncomfortable, you should be able to switch roommates. The program would want nothing less than to hear about one of its paying customers feeling threatened, so a roommate swap might not be something that's as difficult as you might think.

You could even find someone you align with a little better and see if you can amicably switch roommates just to hang out. People do that in college a lot of the time.

Good luck!
posted by xingcat at 11:25 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just to be clear, other than the stereotypical things that he has done/said above, has he said or done anything that would lead you to specifically and/or individually feel threatened?

Incidentally, his putting up the bandana AFTER finding out the group was all white actually seems to be a mark in his favor. As horrible as that sounds, had he put it up before it would have been a dare, but he wated until he was less likely to offend. Also, if the bible is as well read as you say, then maybe he's actually seen the second half of it.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:25 AM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have southern ex-military friends with guns and the part of your story that scares me the most is his bible.

I have no way of knowing any more than you do, but based on what your wrote, I do not think him to be a physical threat.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:27 AM on March 10, 2014

What are the class facilitators doing to foster good group dynamics, trust and safety. It's their responsibility to make sure everyone is welcome and can fully participate. I do a lot of training and always start by setting norms with a group so everyone agrees to treat each other with respect.

I would start by speaking to the facilitators. Ask them, in a spirit of curiosity not accusation, what they are planning to do to help the group work as a team and effectively collaborate during the upcoming month. Then share with them some of the experiences you've had so far; tell them that you want to be able to live and work effectively and comfortably with this person but need the facilitators to facilitate this through group discussion and norm setting.

If that doesn't work or if they're not going to do that, then ask for another room. If you're paying for an experience then you have the right to expect to feel safe and welcome
posted by brookeb at 11:29 AM on March 10, 2014

Is there an advisor or teacher or other authority you can discuss this with? If you can get the administration on your side before anything happens, it might help your anxiety and in the worst case scenario, protect you.

Stay in the common areas as much as possible. Don't get into discussions with this person on other than superficial topics. Defer to his judgement if you do get into difficult topics; "I can see how you would feel that way. I don't think I know enough about (politics, race, etc) to have an opinion either way." If you can spend a lot of time studying/practicing, even if you're really just doodling in your notebook, that's good for avoiding interaction too. Don't challenge his worldview; your duty is to stay alive and get through the month.

Identify your exit in a worst case scenario before you have to use it.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:29 AM on March 10, 2014

Try not to catastrophize- the guy likes guns (plenty of law-abiding citizens do), that doesn't mean he broke the rules to bring one on campus and it doesn't mean he's going to shoot you. I'm having a hard time imagining the guy who asked first about hanging up the Confederate flag having any unrestrained violent tendencies. Play it by ear for the next few days and see how it goes.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:30 AM on March 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

It is possible that he's going to be willing to mind his own business. It's quite probable that he won't. I don't know what to say about taking action now vs waiting to see if there's a problem.

In my opinion, your first step right now, is to look at all the other people in your classes, talk to people, make friends, and try to get to know people. You don't have to go telling your story and worries to the world, but find a few people who you're confident would be on your team and willing to help. Then if something happens and you need to change roommates, you will be able to say "Jeff said he'd be happy to swap rooms with me". Or if something happens and you need to not be in your room starting right now this minute, which door you knock on to sleep on their floor. Yes, your real course of action would be to get in touch with the facilitators, but you want to have an emergency exit, and you want to have an idea of who you would ideally like to have as a roommate.
posted by aimedwander at 11:30 AM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you should separate out all the various facts and think rationally about what is really going on here.

1. You have a roommate you really disagree with fundamentally about political and cultural issues. This roommate has openly identified with bigotry in a general sort of way, though they have not specifically behaved in a bigoted manner towards you personally or even mentioned in passing that they have a specific prejudice against people like you. (Assuming you're white and not Jewish, here, if that's not the case THIS IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT AND OMG GET OUT OF THERE!!!)

2. There is the possibility that your roommate is breaking site rules by having a gun on the premises. (Note: is this likely in your mind because they are a card carrying conservative/republican/bible-thumper/confederate-flag-waver, or is this likely in your mind because your roommate has actually implied to you that they are breaking the rules?)

3. Your roommate has PTSD and has referenced the possibility that it could be set off by situations outside your control.

4. You don't feel you can be open about who you are to your roommate, and there's some implication that you don't feel comfortable being open about your gender identity and sexual orientation within this organization at all. Which is something that would definitely freak me out, by the way.


In light of all that, here's what I would do.

If you have serious well-founded suspicions that he has a gun on the premises despite the rule against them, I would report that to whoever is overseeing the living arrangements. Tell them the actual facts of what you know, not "this guy has a bible!" or "I'm queer!" (Not that you shouldn't tell them your concerns about identity/orientation issues, just that it doesn't have anything to do with this guy's gun.)

If you don't have very specific facts about whether he has a gun or not, frankly I would go to the organization and say that you really don't feel like this roommate matchup is working out. You could couch it in gender/sexual-orientation/politics terms if you think they would be receptive to that, or you could just say that it's difficult to concentrate on your studies while sharing space with someone you have such a strong personality clash with.

FWIW, I experienced something like this at a summer program I attended in junior high and mostly just ignored my weirdo/bad fit roommate for the whole month. If that's feasible for you, I would probably err on the side of doing that. If it's not feasible (my roommate didn't have a gun for chrissakes!), then, yeah, ask for a change or some kind of mediation or something. But think heavily about how much this is honestly affecting you and whether it's a situation that can just be avoided.
posted by Sara C. at 11:34 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I grew up with people like this, and except for the military career thing, I am related to people like this. In my experience, these sorts of folks can say absolutely abhorrent things about a group of people, but be ok with any one singular person from that group one on one.

See: the countless numbers of people who call black folks in general the n-word, but don't have a problem being friends with so-and-so (who is black) because "so-and-so isn't a [n-word]." It doesn't make sense to you and me, but it makes sense to them for whatever asinine reason.

So my take on this is that I don't think you're in any physical danger based on what you've told us here. But I do think it's entirely possible that your roommate will say a bunch of terrible, hateful things that you'll have to hear. If you can change roommates, it might be a good idea for your own personal mental health.
posted by phunniemee at 11:37 AM on March 10, 2014 [23 favorites]

Sounds like any random southerner...but that doesn't mean you are in any type of danger.

If you are in danger, call the police. Askme can't protect you if your life is in danger. Go to the police if you are threatened.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:37 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't know if he'd be a physical threat but the idea of sharing a room for a month with someone with views so opposed to mine would be my definition of hell. Ask the the coordinators about a room change, I am sure if they run this course often, you wont' be the first you could simply state severely diametrically opposed political/religious viewpoints as a reason and that you would feel more comfortable in another room. Hell blame his snoring if it makes things easier.

I am a cis gendered female, and have shared rooms with guys on occasions when travelling, but this guy would trigger my warning bells and have me sleeping in the lobby in a heartbeat.

Is paying for an upgrade to a single room a possibility?
posted by wwax at 11:38 AM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

-He hung up a bandana that is a mini confederate flag in our room, asked me if I was offended, left it up. He did not put it up until after knowing that the group appears to be all white people despite having moved in the rest of his things prior to meeting most of the group.

So he asked you if this was ok? You never told us what your response was, but it seems like you gave him the 'a-ok'. To be fair, most southerners who show the stars and bars don't give a shit what others think. This is the FIRST time I am hearing about someone asking.

I don't think he's an ssshole, I think he has different values from you. Ramping it up, and suspecting of him breaking fed and state laws regarding firearms is a bit...paranoid.

I think this is an excellent opportunity to examine your own xenophobia. The dude, who seems to differ from you in many ways, sounds as if he's really considerate.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:42 AM on March 10, 2014 [16 favorites]

Turn this around and look at it from the other angle. What if he were here telling people that he was in a room with a transgender person, asking if he was in danger? Everybody would be telling he's being ridiculous. I suggest you try to get to know him as a person, despite his "different worldview".
posted by spudsilo at 11:49 AM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

He doesn't sound dangerous, just very different from you. You could probably have some interesting conversations about military history and firearms. As long as he's storing any guns safely, I wouldn't worry about that. Don't have big parties that might trigger his PTSD, and don't bring up the Civil War or issues around sexuality/sexual identity, and I suspect you can ride out a month with this guy with no problems at all.
posted by Dasein at 11:49 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it's a stretch to assume that because he's into guns and hung a confederate flag and reads the Bible, he's more likely to hurt you than a person who is not into those things. I probably wouldn't want to be that guy's best friend, but as someone who grew up around and has many, many very kind family members who would fit this guy's description exactly, I don't think he would make me feel unsafe. At least give him a chance to show you what type of person he is before you jump to conclusions based upon his interests.
posted by something something at 11:49 AM on March 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

I would be concerned. I would not minimize this. (I am a queer person of indeterminate gender identity, trying to figure out this whole transitioning thing.) I think the people who are saying that this doesn't sound serious are not really grasping the whole "gay panic defense" thing or the actual lived violence that trans people (primarily trans women but also trans men) can face. I would not be at all comfortable in this situation, not even close - you're at a remote location where you know no one, have minimal communication resources and are sharing a room with someone who is so right wing that he puts up a confederate flag, hauls out the bible and tells you about his PTSD and fondness for guns within thirty minutes. This is someone who is insistently trying to communicate a bunch of identity stuff to you, and it's not promising identity stuff, it's stuff that is associated with being really, really aggro with minorities.

You're the one who is on the ground here, but unless you're also getting some really strong positive vibes off this guy, I think you should try to switch rooms. It will be awkward, but I feel like there's a lot of ways this could go totally off the rails. What if he's drinking? What if someone outs you? What if something happens that outs you? What if he has more PTSD than he's letting on?

I don't want to get all "ooh lets consider how this could go wrong" because that's not helpful, but I think you should take staff into your confidence to some degree - don't out yourself as trans if they don't know - and ask for a room transfer. Make something up if you have to.
posted by Frowner at 11:52 AM on March 10, 2014 [68 favorites]

I too grew up around people like this. I wouldn't assume him to be a threat just from this info. I wouldn't assume him to be your best friend, but so far he seems capable of being civil.

Btw, I think the OP was referring to this guy wearing a swastika in context of his WWII role playing, not that he has an actual swastika tattoo.
posted by celtalitha at 11:53 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

It seems like you feel threatened by him. I think that's the key factor. None of us can be there with you to be a control group for the vibe you're getting from him.

I'd say listen to your gut. If you feel threatened by him, find a way to switch rooms. If you don't think you will feel safe going to sleep next to this guy, don't go to sleep next to this guy. Even if it turns out he's totally harmless, you won't be able to sleep well if you're afraid. And you won't get much out of this experience if you're constantly exhausted.
posted by kythuen at 11:56 AM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think folks here are REALLY underestimating the vulnerable and risky situation you are in.

The rates of violence against people who are trans* are disturbingly high. You are sharing very private space with someone who almost certainly would be very uncomfortable with sharing a room with a trans* person, and who spent time immersed in a culture with high rates of sexual assault (the military).

Sure, maybe this turns out fine. But better safe than sorry. Ask for a room change. Can you suss out someone who seems really liberal (anyone in the program from San Francisco?), privately share your history and situation with them, and ask them to switch with you for safety reasons? Once they've agreed to the switch you can make some reason up (some sort of dust in the room was really aggravating my allergies! Or blame it on the flag using DarlingBri's script above). I am a straight cisgendered ally and I would totally take one for the metaphorical team and room with the neo-nazi to protect the safety of someone else.

I am worried about you already. Be careful. Do not change in front of him, and do not come out widely until you have switched rooms.
posted by amaire at 12:02 PM on March 10, 2014 [37 favorites]

I agree with the folks who say you should switch rooms. Besides the possibility that something could go wrong (it doesn't have to rise to the level of fear of imminent bodily harm to constitute danger for you) you're there to learn--it will be hard for you to do so when you're constantly worried about your roommate.
posted by lassie at 12:02 PM on March 10, 2014

Since you don't want to make waves, could you request a switch to a single room? You can just tell the roommate you realized you sleep better in a single, or something innocuous like that.

I would consider disclosing that you are trans when asking for a single - subject, of course, to your judgment about whether that is safe / a good idea.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:10 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wait you're MTF trans and they put you in a room with a guy? Did you meant to type FTM?
posted by radioamy at 12:10 PM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I also do not think you should minimize this, especially since you said this:

My nearest friend/family is six hours away, I do not have a car, there is almost no public transport. If I leave I'm hitchhiking or waiting for a friend to come and get me. There is no cellphone service, good wifi as long as we get enough sunlight for the solar panels to work.

You should not live with someone who you do not feel safe around, especially someone who you do not feel safe around within the first 30 minutes of meeting them in an area where you have very little support, ways to call for help or remove yourself from a dangerous situation.
posted by inertia at 12:12 PM on March 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Something that might be useful if any Western mefites are reading this - if a mod can post approximately where you are, there might be someone who would be able to give you a ride if you needed it - hopefully you won't, but it doesn't hurt to have a plan.

Also, if you actually literally are not able to switch rooms, why not set up a daily check-in with a friend by email?
posted by Frowner at 12:13 PM on March 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think you might be burying the lead here Anon. You are in the middle of nowhere, no phone, no access to a vehicle, maybe internet, paid LOTS of money to be there, have no means of organizational recourse, no way to ask for a refund/rescheduling, and are doing it with vague hopes of future employment? This sounds like a scam. Like you're all put in a situation where you and your classmates will put up with lots of bullshit because you don't have a choice and they've got lots of money from you.

As for your roommate. Who could know? I know you have lots of reasons to be suspicious of him. Try to calm down and make a more informed decision as you get to know him. I try to give everyone the benefit of empathy. To me, he really just sounds like a redneck. A (considerate?) redneck, who is probably also very out of his element, probably doesn't get that all this rednecky-shit isn't really cool with a wide swath of people.

Playing German soldier in WWII reenactments isn't really a great endorsement, but plenty of normal people play villains in plays, movies, tv shows. Plus, someone has to be the Germans. Unless you ask him and he's like "Oh yeah totes heil hitler, like omg hes teh dope." it probably worked out that he had more gear that looked more german, so he was pushed into doing it to make the numbers more even.

But more preeminently, if you have no institutional recourse for ensuring your safety and comfort in rooming choices this would not be an organization I'd give my money or trust to.
posted by fontophilic at 12:14 PM on March 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

And seriously - one way of being a good queer ambassador is not taking a lot of shit. There's a big difference between being friendly and approachable and willing to do a certain amount of 101 and putting up with fear and discomfort due to someone else's prejudice. When you refuse to live in a high-stress situation (when you should be learning a prized new skill!) you're saying "queer folks are just like regular folks, we deserve safety and comfort and the people who infringe on our basic rights are not entitled to do so".
posted by Frowner at 12:16 PM on March 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would do the following things:

1) Be confident and secure in the fact that your fears are not unfounded. I suspect people in this thread who are claiming otherwise are not aware of the incredibly high rate of violence against trans* individuals.

2) Request a room change for a completely benign reason. Some potential ideas: "I am friendly with Person A and would rather room with him." "I've been having GI problems and frequent diarrhea and I need my own bathroom" (you'd be surprised how far you can get with an explicit threat of frequent diarrhea). If there's any way that you could pony up extra money to be given single accommodations, that would probably be my first choice.

3) Do not under any circumstances share your trans status with the administrators of the program. I can easily imagine a nightmare scenario in which the administrators take what you tell them and go to your roommate and say "Anonymous is uncomfortable rooming with you because he is transgendered. Are you comfortable rooming with him? Is that OK?"
posted by telegraph at 12:17 PM on March 10, 2014 [30 favorites]

-He served in the military for 10 years, "crowds trigger his PTSD" (his exact words)...In short it feel like I am living with a person who has a history of being triggered by normal occurrences

This is a giant, giant leap. I've known not just female survivors, but male veterans (hardcore, combat Marines who have applied violence) who would say that "crowds trigger their PTSD", and what they mean is, they get sweaty, anxious, maybe irritable and prefer to isolate in response. They don't mean, "I could lose control and black out and kill before I realized what I was doing." The Hollywood depiction of PTSD, and the terrible outlier cases you read in the news, are their own unfair, fear-mongering stereotype.

That being said, this guy sounds like a total asshole, being trans (especially in the isolated circumstances you're describing) must create its own kind of PTSD, given how often transpeople are victimized, and you should just get another roommate. Because he's triggering you, and you need to be able to relax and focus at home, particularly in a new and unpredictable environment. I'm rooting for you to find an alternate rooming arrangement. (And don't feel like you have to disclose your medical history to ANYONE--"incompatibility to the extent you are worried about your work suffering during this wonderful opportunity" is how to play it. )
posted by blue suede stockings at 12:29 PM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I hope you can have enough faith in me ... to know that I have no problem with military service or his history of mental illness, people who read the bible, people interested in history, or people who come from rural areas, etc. except that it is part of a picture of a person who I am wondering if I should be afraid of.

Sure I have that much faith in you. But I've got to ask why you are wondering if you should be afraid of this person? It seems like either they scare you or they don't. You haven't mentioned anything he's done that has actually frightened you, you've just collected a set of data points about him and decided he should be a person that frightens you. It's like you're trying to convince yourself to be more prejudiced. Think seriously whether you'd like somebody to jump to such a negative conclusion about you based on such cursory information.
posted by 0 at 12:30 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it is relevant which part of the U.S. this guy is from.

If he is from rural Idaho, Oregon, or Washington, or other western states where Confederate flags are often flown by Aryan-power, hardcore white supremacists, I would be worried.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 12:40 PM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

He hung up a bandana that is a mini confederate flag in our room, asked me if I was offended, left it up.

I find it weird that so many folks are interpreting this as him being polite or asking for permission. I read this as challenging, aggressive behavior. "You got a problem with this? Huh? Huh?"

I'm a cis-gendered female and can't say anything about the trans/queer aspects, but I think you should go with your gut. That seems especially important for people who are more typically targets of violence (which applies to women, and even more so to as trans and queer folks). All the things you list could mean something or nothing. The important thing is whether your gut is telling you that there is the potential for harm in this situation. He might intend no harm, but it is it really worth taking that risk?

It seems like the best options are the ones folks outlined above about asking for a room switch (with DarlingBri's bull by the horns approach to talking to him about it) or trying to move to a single (telegraph's excuse is great).
posted by pennypiper at 12:45 PM on March 10, 2014 [15 favorites]

If you feel threatened or unsafe, ask to switch roommates. As said above, use the confederate flag as the reason if you need to give a reason.

For what it's worth, my family member is a veteran and probably has PTSD. And he has a well-worn bible. It is a comfort to him. He says he made a deal with God when he was out there on the battle field and has kept up his side of the bargain from there. I was never in the military and, thankfully, have never witnessed the level of violence he has, so all I can do is respect whatever comfort he has in the bible. In that example, I wouldn't necessarily take your roommate's well-read bible as a weapon to use against others, but possibly more of a security blanket against the nightmares. But that is just my limited point of view.

That being said, I am a cisgendered straight woman, so I have never had to witness the level of violence some trans* folks have experienced, nor do I have the heightened chance of being threatened that some trans* folk unfortunately have. So all I can do is respect whatever comfort you can find in a new roommate. Whatever you need to feel safe is whatever you need. And that is OK. Feeling safe is a requirement for everyone's well-being.
posted by jillithd at 12:47 PM on March 10, 2014

We can't answer if you are in danger. We could only speculate as to the various probabilities of any particular person being dangerous.

However, we can tell you that if you feel that you are in danger, or even if you feel just plain old uncomfortable, then you should switch rooms. Trust your gut. Better safe than sorry.

Be discreet about switching and be sure to check in with at least one "outside" person during this process.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:07 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would suggest you try and find out if you could get a single room.
posted by Julnyes at 1:08 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

From working in dorms / camps roommate changes are done for completely random reasons, or especially because they like somebody else more. Reasons include things like: we get up at different times. 2) snoring. 3) body odor 4) cleanilness ... and so forth.
It helps 100% if you can suggest where they can place you (jimmy will switch into my current room and I'll live with Tim). But its not unheard of for someone to be outsed with little notice. The earlier you do it the better as people are less settled.

Depending on the program, you may have an out with the flag alone. Because it is a professional program they may have some policy about this kind of thing. If all else fails you can make up some type story to fit why you are uncomfortable.

Really just ask. To the person to avoid conflict you could say its allergies/ mold and you feel healthier in other room.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:17 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you should go with your gut and request a change of rooms.

One of my biggest regrets from college was sticking it out with a roommate that I knew almost immediately was bad for my emotional health because I didn't want to cause a fuss. It ended up being a really, really terrible time, and I basically felt like I couldn't ever spend time in my own room. This is your home (albeit temporarily) -- you deserve to feel safe there, regardless of whether there is an "objective" reason to be worried.
posted by likeatoaster at 1:19 PM on March 10, 2014 [9 favorites]

Start by requesting to change rooms. "I'd like to know if it would be possible to change rooms," is a benign way to do it. Hopefully, you'll get a "Sure, anyone in particular you want to room with?" You may get a, "Any particular reason?" If you get the second response, you can say, "Yeah, I'm not meshing well with Adolph and I'd prefer not to have any drama while I'm here." Hopefully that should be enough. If not, mention the confederate flag. That should do it.

As for the rest of it, I sure hope that whatever it is that you're getting here is worth it, because it sounds sketchy as hell.

If it's in Georgia, memail me if it goes south and I'll come get you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:23 PM on March 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm also confused about your gender: are you FTM?

I'm asking because my gut feeling just based on observing the world is that if you are a trans woman, get the fuck out of this room immediately, I am afraid of this guy. And if you are a trans guy, I am less concerned (again, based on just experience observing the world - I have no idea any specifics about you, him, security at the place you're staying, etc).

The bottom line is though, you're nervous enough to be posting this, so why don't you ask if you can change rooms? I wouldn't want some Confederate racist dude as a roommate.

(Perspective of a gender-weird masculine cis woman with a close community that includes trans women and trans men)
posted by latkes at 1:58 PM on March 10, 2014

I'm also confused about your gender: are you FTM?

I'm guessing typo and he's FTM--because of the info below, and because I can't imagine why they would put a MTF individual who hasn't disclosed trans status (or even one who has, for that matter--still wouldn't make any sense to do this by genitalia rather than gender) in the same room as a male:

People often assume I'm a cisgendered white man in my late teens early twenties. Sometimes they think I'm straight, sometimes they think I'm gay. I have scars on my body from top surgery and have not had bottom surgery.
posted by blue suede stockings at 2:18 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think your gender is irrelevant. You're a trans person, which already puts you at 28% higher risk of being a victim of violence, and you're being housed with someone who way beyond not waving the flag for tolerance, is literally waving a flag of bigotry. He may be a perfectly lovely guy who would never hurt a fly outside of his military training; he may be someone who hates Jews, blacks, and gays and is absolutely mystified and enraged by trans people. I don't think you need to give him the benefit of doubt. I don't think you need to find out. I think you just need a new room-mate.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:27 PM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'd absolutely request a change of rooms. There's tons of violence everyday toward people in the trans community. You don't know this guy from Adam, and while he certainly could be very much OK to live with, from what you've said about him I wouldn't hold my breath. Do you really want to take that chance, particularly if he might have easy access to a weapon?

What was his tone of voice like when he asked you to hang the Confederate flag? Was it more "you got a PROBLEM with this?" or "hey, I realize this might be offensive, do you mind if I hang it up?" What was your response? These might help you determine if he's a threat to you or not. I suspect he is.

I'm a straight, cis ally, and I have friends in the LGBT community, so I'm aware of the violence and bigotry. I live in a rural area, just barely south of the Mason-Dixon line. There's a guy down my street who regularly flies the stars and bars and it offends the heck out of me every day I drive by it. Since moving here, I've learned that people around here take it as a kind of "Southern Pride" thing, and they might not be racist -- I've found they tend not to necessarily fully understand quite what that flag represents. It's OK to be proud of where you live; it's not OK to embrace that area's former bigotry -- I wish people chose a different symbol to display their pride.

My immediate neighbors are pro-gun and VERY religious, and they're among the nicest people I've met. I avoid talking about religion and politics with them as I know we have VERY different opinions on those matters, and that seems to work out. I suspect (but don't know for a fact) that they are anti-LGBT, and I often wonder if their attitude toward me might be VERY different if I were a member of that community. Avoiding political/religious/military talk could well be a way of handling things with this guy, but (1) he seems to have volunteered all this info without you bringing it up, and (2) you're LIVING with him. I wouldn't exactly call this a safe space. Please request a room change or roommate swap ASAP. Don't change clothes, shower, or use the bathroom in front of him in the mean time.
posted by tckma at 3:11 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone who has already urged you to request a room change.

In advance of this conversation, it may be useful if you come up with a couple of options for outcomes you'd like to see. Are single rooms a possibility? Is there someone else you'd be more comfortable with? Asking to change rooms doesn't have to be a big deal. Feel free to come up with a different rationalization if your current roommate or another program participants asks about it during or after the swap.

There's a solid chance that this guy is just your general, run of the mill, nonviolent bigot (I grew up with a lot of people like this), but your fears are certainly understandable and legitimate, especially given your general isolation in this location and your status as a trans person.

For the sake of your own mental health, please go ahead and find different living arrangements while you're at this program. Feeling unsafe in the place where you sleep is one of the worst feelings in the world.
posted by litera scripta manet at 3:12 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, if this situation does escalate at any point in a way that leads you to feel you're in imminent danger, please, don't hesitate to take whatever steps you need to so that you can get away from there. Call a friend (or mefite), walk to the closest bus stop, contact the police--whatever it takes. Screw the program, screw the money. Your safety is absolutely the most important thing here. Trust your gut.
posted by litera scripta manet at 3:18 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

This idea / reality / prospect makes me very, very sad:
Don't change clothes, shower, or use the bathroom in front of him in the mean time.
I don't know if it's important for you to be out, but I would say that it's important to feel safe in your program. Your identity is your own, whether it's disclosed or not, and whether other people know in the exact diction and language the way in which you'd describe yourself. Also, this is a month-long endeavor, and it doesn't sound like you're there to make friends, per se.

If I didn't even feel comfortable doing the basic tasks of living (showering; dressing, for frack's sake), I would immediately ask for a room change. Blame IBS, diarrhea, whatever, but safety is a basic requirement for functioning and you deserve at minimum to sleep in a room without fear of harm to your person, emotionally, physically, psychically.

As for your roommate, he's a total asshole for putting up that ridiculous "We didn't lose" flag. Chattel enslavement is illegal, fool! Even though we still have de facto racism, white supremacy, Jim Crow, the PIC, etc.

I don't know. I don't like this guy. He's made it clear that he's not respecting your space because he made the unilateral decision to decorate your SHARED room with his stupid, very political, very clearly-stated flag.

Isn't there some policy for people in the program to have basic learning environments that aren't crap? Like HR or something?

So, I hope you find another place to sleep, either switching roommates, rooms, or something else entirely. And I think it's awesome that you're adding skills to your arsenal of things to present in potential future job apps. Don't let this guy take that from you. And passing is an odd thing.

But, seriously: it's not you. It's him.

Stay safe, take care of yourself, and remember who you are and why you are great and deserve goodness.


Let's assume for the brevity/harried nature of the OP that they meant "FTM" because in general people who are transitioning to female aren't going to get top surgery.
posted by simulacra at 3:24 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's my take: I live in an area filled with all the things you described, alone and in combination.

If you are transitioning from male to female, I would get out of that room as soon as you could. If you are transitioning from female to male, you will be uncomfortable around him but you probably won't be unsafe in any way.

If he is a southerner, I can tell you that many Southerners can and do talk smack about all sorts of groups, but many of them will be chill with any one of those groups on an individual basis. So much depends on the individual, of course.

The truth is you may be a little or a lot paranoid-but you are the one who has to stay in that room, not us. If it will make your experience there better to change rooms, go ahead and pursue that option. The confederate flag thing gives you an out. But my personal opinion is fwiw that you will be physically safe. But your opinion trumps my opinion, or any other opinion on here. Do what YOU need to do.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:32 PM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm a black ciswoman, and I'm co-signing with the folks who are saying that your fears are not groundless.

In his book "Confederates in the Attic", Tony Horwitz talked about doing some Civil War research in South Carolina, and striking up a brief friendship with a local black man. Another local person directed the two of them to the home of a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy for some information. Horwitz invited the black man along, and the black man (predictably, in my mind) declined. Horwitz, referencing an earlier conversation the two of them had, remarked that discrimination was judging people you haven't met yet. The black man shook his head and replied, "You call it discrimination. I call it good sense."

What you're practicing right now? Is good sense.

You know as well as I do that when certain types of prejudice are a reality in your life, you develop instincts to recognize them. And you do so for one reason--failure to recognize them could mean your death, simple as that. It's basically The Gift of Fear: Ethnic and Gender Prejudice Edition.

To be fair, it is entirely possible that this guy is one of those Good Ol' Boys who likes everyone to believe how tough he is, but in reality he's masking his insecurities by showing how he don't give a tinker's damn about your librul atheist opinions, you godforsaken Obama-voter, you.

That's all well and good. Do you really want to risk life and limb to find that out?

Listen to your instincts. In the abstract, it's unfortunate that you're making this decision based on what you admit are stereotypes. But in reality? American society still has a very long way to to with regards to transfolk, and your instincts are telling you this guy hasn't even packed his bags for the trip.

Listen to your instincts. Don't waste time picking over minutiae to try to justify why you should stay in that room when you don't feel safe. Ask to be re-assigned, and give any reason you think will fly with the people running the program.

(Also, my sincere apologies if I didn't use the proper trans- terminology. I tried Googling it and only got more confused).
posted by magstheaxe at 3:45 PM on March 10, 2014 [20 favorites]

Joining in to say that I would DEFINITELY get out of the room, if not the program. I would use the Nazi part as the reason -- saying that you are uncomfortable rooming with someone who participates as a Nazi should be excuse enough.
posted by 3491again at 3:53 PM on March 10, 2014

I think you are probably going to be okay, but on the other hand, even if the risk is small, the consequences are large, and I don't think the risk is non-zero. The problem is, you don't know any of the others yet either, so by switching rooms you could be going from the frying pan into the fire. And asking to switch will probably make him and others suspicious or hostile, no matter what reason you give.

If possible, I'd give it a few days and try to get a sense of who of the others in the program is more liberal, then see if you can engineer a switch to room with them. That's if you don't think there's any chance of upgrading to a single room.

I think that if you have to come out to someone, your best chance is to talk to one of the organisers and explain your transgender status in confidence, stressing that you don't feel safe with others knowing about it. But I'd only do that if you feel you can really trust the organisers. It sounds like you have a good gut feeling for what is safe and what isn't.

Another possibility if you don't want to tell them the true reason you want to switch, and you don't want to get a reputation for explosive diarrhea, is that you could say you have family who are Jewish and you are uncomfortable that your roommate LARPs as a Nazi. (Not entirely untrue as it seems this does make you uncomfortable, and I'm sure if you looked far enough back in your family tree you'd find you are related to Jews somewhere!) I have the sense that random violence against Jews is less prevalent than random violence against transgender people, but on the other hand, you have more reason to believe that this specific individual might be anti-Semitic, so maybe that wouldn't be a totally safe option either.

Anyway, I'm sorry that you are in this stupid situation and I hope that you feel comfortable taking whatever options are available to you. I hope you don't end up losing money on this, but if you do decide you are unsafe there, please value your physical safety higher than whatever you have paid for this course, and leave. (There are probably ways to claim your money back if you have to leave due to discrimination or intimidation, anyway.)
posted by lollusc at 4:09 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would not feel safe being alone in a bedroom with this man for a minute. I would not be able to sleep alone in a room with this man, nor would I feel safe trying to. I would request a room change so fast their heads would spin.

He wants to display Confederate flags and expound upon his "extremely pro gun" views? That's his right to do, and you and I have the right to be extremely creeped out and frightened by it.

Displaying the Confederate flag is celebrating a system that was built upon, and violently enforced, the dehumanization of people. A system in which it was seen as legitimate, positive, and even worthy of celebration to beat, rape, lynch, and torture the dehumanized people. I don't feel I need to play along with anyone who claims it "actually" means something else, and I don't feel that you need to either.

I hear really frightening and disturbing opinions on rape and violence from all kinds of people, and I witness horrifying and disturbing things being done. If someone is already celebrating and honoring a violent entity that dehumanizes others, and someone is already glorifying weapons, in my view, that is a person whose views on rape and violence are more likely to fall in line with that. I feel zero need to apologize for that assessment, and I don't think you need to either.

Listen to your instincts. They are there for a reason. Our instincts are shaped by our own experiences and our assessments of our own personal risk level in a given situation. You may find that sometimes your instincts conflict with the instincts of another person. In those situations, I think it is best for YOU to follow your OWN instincts. Let the other person consider their own experiences and their own individual risk level, and you consider yours; it may be very different, largely, because you've had different lives and experienced different things.

By the way, I also have been medically diagnosed with PTSD. (As a result of child abuse, not military service.) People who suffer from psychological or psychiatric disorders certainly are very often unfairly stigmatized wrt risk of violence. However, I don't see you doing that here at all. I, too, factor a person's apparent mental stability into my assessment of the threat they pose to me. In the city where I live, I'm sometimes making those assessments daily. I am not going to apologize for that either, nor do I think that you do. (And obviously, a person can be dangerously mentally unstable without having any diagnosed psychiatric disorder!)

However, do NOT bring up the PTSD (or the Bible!!!!!) if/when you request a room change.

It is enough to bring up the Confederate flag, the gun talk and the talk of Nazis. However you don't need to justify yourself. You are paying for this class; go in with that attitude.
posted by cairdeas at 4:27 PM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I suggest you request another roommate. There are the facts, which you have listed dispassionately, and there is the other--the Gift of Fear.

Please take care of yourself. Please download or read or re-read this book. What you are describing is discussed over and over in this book and the book will help you stop tumbling over it in your mind. Please take care and be safe. Memail myself or anyone else when you start to doubt yourself over this.
posted by aliksd at 9:04 PM on March 10, 2014

You've paid a lot of money, and your roommate is unpleasant, has disclosed mental health issues, and sounds kind of aggressive. Regardless of anything else, you shouldn't have to live with a creep for a month. Go ask for another roommate or a single.

Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 11:15 PM on March 10, 2014

He may not be mentally unstable and he may not shoot someone, but if you don't feel comfortable being yourself -- or worse, you feel scared to be yourself -- that's probably enough right there for you to try to switch rooms. I'm sure some P.C. person will accuse me of "othering" OP, but you may want to make it clear to the administration your situation so they can find an appropriate roommate, whether that's someone who is male, female, straight, gay, cis, trans, whatever. I'm not exactly clear on where you are in your transition, but I imagine some people will be more comfortable with it than others, especially as it relates to the idea of sharing a bedroom with the opposite sex vs. same sex.

On the other hand, it's only a month, right? Can you just be careful and hold your tongue for a month?
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:16 PM on March 10, 2014

Trust your instincts, you don't have to be 100% certain you are in danger to take preventive action for your own comfort and mental health. Also at 100% certainty it will be too late.
posted by Coaticass at 12:14 AM on March 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

2. I can be hard on myself at times and the part of me that is and wants to be a what I define as a good queer ambassador and ally to other is going to have trouble if I just hunker in the closet and ignore the comments I'm expecting he is going to make about my identity and the identity of others. As in that will be very, very hard for me mentally. I can do it if needed, but I will probably feel like a bad person and it will be stressful. Advice?

I'm not connected with the trans community at all, but feel the need to say: Please, please don't let your "I don't want to judge.." thoughts overpower your instincts. You can be a good queer ambassador without having to be his roommate.

Try not to second guess yourself about wanting to get to a safer situation or location. You know what's best for your own safety, even if you seem unsure in your question. From experience, if anyone or anything squicks you out like this, be overly cautious and get out of the situation as quickly as possible.

Don't ever feel like you have to compromise on feeling safe.

*realized I said the same thing about 3 different ways, but it can't be said enough. Your safety is important.
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:42 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to go with everyone else and say "trust your instincts" on this. I find that my gut reaction to these things is right more often than it's wrong.

If you're living together for a month he's probably going to catch you changing or wearing revealing clothing. Also, you shouldn't have to do gymnastics just to avoid a tricky situation. If you can talk to your class admin frankly about this it would be great, but otherwise you can just say that his views make you uncomfortable. Best of luck.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:50 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm trans, and a lot of the time people can tell. I know this, so I am very worried about the kinds of things you're worrying about here. I've waited in my car in a store parking lot for the owner of a pickup truck with a Confederate flag bumper sticker on it to leave before I felt good about going in. You are not overreacting. Even if he doesn't assault you, you're going to have a really hard time being the ambassador you want to be if you can't even sleep or change clothes or pee without looking over your shoulder. How are you going to have any energy to devote to the friendly education you might opt to engage in if you're using every ounce of strength you have to guard yourself from this person? Changing rooms is not going to cause problems - it's only going to prevent them. It also doesn't mean that you're "hunkering in the closet" or being a "bad person." In fact, it means the opposite: that you're giving yourself a safe home base from which to make further decisions about how to meet your goals.

Please be safe. (This is both a request and and invocation.)
posted by Corinth at 10:15 PM on March 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Hey OP, I've been thinking about you and hoping you've been able to advocate for your self and your safety in a way that has worked out. If you would like to contact a moderator, he or she can update this thread for you anonymously and let us know how you're doing.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:57 AM on March 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yes, I would also like to hear how you are doing! I hope that whatever you've been able to / decided to do is an improvement.
posted by Frowner at 6:36 AM on March 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

I also checked back in to make sure you're ok.
posted by jaguar at 3:13 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Update from the anon OP:
Please let me start by saying how much I appreciate the people who commented and the people who favorited the comments of others. The situation has taken some emotionally exhaustive turns, but most importantly I have switched roommates with the help of the facilitators to someone who though he shares some of the same background and life experiences as my pervious roomate does not scare me. Now that I have meet some other people in the class I have found some people that I think would be cool with me if I decided to come out. After moving I feel about 85% safe, and that's enough for now. In future I might ask for a single (paying more for one is not an option). I hate asking people to make acceptions for me because of my gender identity, but there are times when it matters and this was one.

As a note to anyone who might read this in the future, I'd like to highlight a few things based on my own reflections and those of the fantastic community above.

1. There were things about the way he was communicating with me that were very odd and set off red flags, but that I didn't think much about because I was distracted by the racist, homophobic things he was saying. In the end the way he was communicating, with out of nowhere anger for example, worried me more then what he was saying.

2. It has never occurred to him that a person like me could existed, and that if we did that we would be sharing a room with him. At some point I realized that if he found out I was trans (FTM) the best case that seemed likely was that he was going to be weird and ask weird questions. Something I can and have delt with from co-workers, family, friends and strangers. It is not something I wanted to deal with from him as my roommate. (And that is fine.) And that was the best case.

3. I was scared. Actually scared. When I went to the facilitator the word terrified slipped out. I am not prone to being afraid of strangers of any background in most situations. This meant something, and I need to listen to the part of the that understood that.

I could go on and on about this person. Now that I'm feeling much safer, the unavoidable daily interactions we have are much better and I am trying to learn about him, while keeping my mental/emotional health a priority. This week has been an experience to say the least. Thank you all again for your support and thoughts, they have been a great comfort.

Sorry if this is full of typos, I have limited and not ideal access to Internet here.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:14 PM on March 17, 2014 [15 favorites]

There were things about the way he was communicating with me that were very odd and set off red flags, but that I didn't think much about because I was distracted by the racist, homophobic things he was saying. In the end the way he was communicating, with out of nowhere anger for example, worried me more then what he was saying.

This is a great example of why it's important to pay attention to instinct - that we can notice and be aware of something on a base level even if our conscious minds are distracted by something else, or even if we can't fully articulate why we feel as we do or justify it to ourselves at the time.

You did a really good job caring for and protecting yourself in a tricky situation.
posted by cairdeas at 3:00 PM on March 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

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