Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Oh, to be out and renting

Having been a longtime homeowner, I have forgotten what it is like to rent a place to live. After visiting our new city seeking rental housing, I am remembering what it is like to be out lesbians in search of rental housing.

Now, we are a good rental risk. I have a very good job with a solid salary. My partner and I own a home and have excellent credit histories. We are both grown-ass women who are responsible, relatively quiet people who will treat a rental home like our own.

We are also pretty obviously lesbian. Even if you couldn't tell by looking at us, there is this little matter of relocating (across the country) for my new job. But still, some people don't get it. So, each and every landlord will either figure it out or we will have to come out. And, in this state, s/he has the right to tell us that s/he will not rent to us. That is a scary and somewhat depressing space to enter.

I always go into public spaces as if everything will be fine. The gf assumes discrimination is more likely than not to occur, though she also knows that people make business decisions that may not be aligned with their prejudices. She is often correct about the discrimination and reactions we face, but I cannot deviate from my more positive and hopeful approach, which works best for me.

On our trip, we saw a condo being rented by a very friendly man. The condo meets all of our requirements, it has a fantabulous view, and it is one hell of a bargain. We gave all the hints we could about our worthiness as renters: I mentioned my faculty status and being an alumnae of his preferred school; the gf noted that we could write a check for the deposit/1st month rent today and that she has local roots. He was nice to us, even as he told us about the very conservative church he attends.

When we went back to measure the rooms and ask some follow-up questions, he seemed more nervous and asked if we are related. He noted that we look like sisters. Now, we look NOTHING alike, but this kind of comment is commonplace for lesbians, especially those of us in longtime relationships. Our familiarity with one another--the sense of our family--is clearly identified, even if people cannot tell what the situation is. We said that we weren't sisters, but didn't come out in the moment.This conversation reminded me of this great book, pictured below, that gets at this experience.

Lesbian couples, traveling together, are often asked by men, "Are you girls traveling alone?" As if the two women couldn't be a couple. The book is twenty years old; one would hope that it is outdated, but it seems still strangely relevant.

We offered the condo owner to sign a lease and write the check during our second visit, but he declined, saying he would get back to us. Before we left, though, the gf went back in the condo and came out to him more directly. It seemed like the honorable thing to do, though we think it spelled the death knell for our renting the place. (He called and told us that he was renting to someone else.) Sigh.

At another apartment complex, they explained that the gf and I had to fill out separate applications, even though married couples filled out the same application. The gf was so irritated that her application was illegible.

The best experiences we had was at a home being rented by a lesbian couple and a home being rented by a young, straight couple. The wife in the straight couple was our primary contact there, and she seemed very laid back and accepting of our relationship. The lesbian couple wound up chilling in the living room with us for a few minutes, hanging out, sharing stories, and learning about one another. Perhaps the best part of those visits was just feeling comfortable and accepted. Though we don't plan to rent either of those houses, we hope to hang out with them (or people like them) once we move.

The rental home search made me even more aware of the class privilege the gf and I have as people who can purchase our own house. We don't have to worry about pleasing anyone to buy a home. But without protection from discrimination, any LGBT renter can be refused a rental. What will we do about that?


undine said...

It's really disheartening that this kind of discrimination still goes on. I am glad that you wrote about it.

Tenured Radical said...

Yes, a good reminder. I may be in motion soon, and I've been worried about selling, whether to buy or rent, etc. -- and of course all these are choices because of where we live and our class status.

Michael said...

My former partner and I had similar experiences when looking to rent. Some people refused to give us any kind of serious consideration; others, on the other hand, were thrilled in their stereotypical belife about how nice a gay couple would keep their place (of course we did). Your point is excellent about how class /economic privilege (and for us white male privilege) enabled us to search for housing relatively undeterred and unimpeded by discrimination against our sexuality.