When a Tired Old Stereotype Becomes a Life-Saving Act

Jem Zero
By | 2018-05-29T15:36:03+00:00 May 29th, 2018|Opinions, Viewpoints|

Finding housing is complex and terrifying. With rent skyrocketing while quality plunges, even middle-class families are struggling to find something that works for them and is also affordable, especially if they have children, pets, and/or special needs. Initial payments are financially overwhelming, comprising of rent for the first month, plus a security deposit, plus any additional fees. If a person cannot find accessible housing, the generosity of friends and family is the only thing protecting them from homelessness. Those who are marginalized – people of color, disabled people, and those within the LGBTQ+ community – face even greater challenges.
When I met my girlfriend, she was homeless and living on someone’s couch. We started dating almost immediately and quickly fell head-over-heels for each other, which made my anxiety about her living situation even more severe. I felt powerless. What if they decided she couldn’t stay there anymore? The reason she was homeless made finding safe alternatives to her situation even more fraught: she is a Black trans woman whose family would not support her transition. Even if I did find a rentable room within our limited budget, I had no idea about the personal beliefs of the landlord.
A month into our relationship, a housing opportunity appeared. Thanks to an unexpected mass eviction, my best friend was unsettled from her Detroit home of five years and forced to find somewhere else to live. I immediately suggested that she and my girlfriend room together. They tentatively agreed.
That success opened the door to one massive challenge: finding inexpensive trans-friendly housing. Yikes.
I’ve regarded intimate cohabitation with a healthy amount of skepticism for most of my life. While it started in the Evangelical Christian Church, featuring in lectures about the evils of premarital sex, I maintained the opinion even after leaving that community. My reasoning is more practical: I don’t think cohabitation is very healthy outside of a committed partnership, especially if the relationship is new, like mine. Still, when I found out that the upper flat in the house my life partner lives in was open for a new inhabitant, I did what I had to do: I became a U-Haul lesbian.
For the LGBTQ+ population there is a very significant possibility of being denied access to housing, whether an apartment rental, house purchase, or even booking a hotel room, based on being transgender or in a relationship with someone of the same gender. The three of us hemmed and hawed before going to the lease signing, worried that we would be turned down if the landlord figured out that we were all queer.
Thankfully, we succeeded in getting the flat. My best friend stayed in the closet while my girlfriend quietly hoped that our new landlord wouldn’t notice the unchanged gender marker on her ID. They neglected to mention my involvement.
Armed with only a Volkswagon and tenacity, we filled the one-bedroom apartment with the fixtures of our new life, having only barely made it before my best friend’s former home was locked for good.
The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that 43 percent of clients served by drop-in health centers were LGBTQ+. There are no statistics that show how much of the overall LGBTQ+ population is affected by homelessness – it would be hard to do that, considering how few government censuses recognize and poll for LGBTQ+ identity – but out of over two million youths who face homelessness each year, 40 percent report themselves as LGBTQ+.
Although homelessness in Michigan dropped by 9 percent in 2016, in 2017 there were over 11,000 homeless individuals in Detroit alone, as reported by the Homeless Management Information System. Members of the LGBTQ+ community have a higher likelihood of encountering homelessness than cisgender and heterosexual people, and once they are homeless, LGBTQ+ people have a harder time reintegrating with housed and employed society.
One major contributor to the housing crisis is the lack of laws preventing landlords from exploiting tenants. In Michigan, security deposits can be as high as 1.5 months rent, and the landlord can levy whatever fees they desire. We were charged a $250 cleaning fee that was labeled as non-refundable (the reason for that is that if you get the cleaning fee back for leaving the apartment clean, then that counts toward the security deposit). By labeling it a non-refundable fee, the landlord can pocket the money. In our case, we’re still trying to figure out our rights in this situation, as we paid that fee but the apartment at the move-in date was so filthy the carpet crunched.
Michigan residents do catch a small break when it comes to apartment rentals. Averaged out, apartments in Michigan run $245 less than the national average. However, at $750 for a one bedroom, a full-time minimum wage worker would only have approximately $500 left after rent to support themselves each month. Considering how full-time jobs are increasingly hard to find, a single individual working part time would need two jobs to afford rent at the state average.
Considering all these factors combined with employer discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, especially trans people, the rush to cohabitate starts to make sense. A student working 28 hours at or near the state minimum wage would receive a biweekly paycheck of $518 before taxes. It’s hard for LGBTQ+ people to find safe roommates, but if this student has a live-in partner sharing half the rent, the situation feels almost survivable.
There’s no way of knowing if my reluctant embodiment of the overly-committed lesbian stereotype will end up harming my relationship in the long run. Obviously, I hope it doesn’t. What I do know is that three queer people should not have to share a one-bedroom apartment just to make ends meet without fearing for our safety. LGBTQ+ couples should be able to grow their relationships naturally instead of being forced to view cohabitation as the only solution to the housing crisis.

About the Author:

Jem Zero
Jem Zero is a disabled queer person with an art degree and poor volume control. By day, ze masquerades around the local community college disguised as a mild-mannered accounting major. All other times ze can be found hissing at technology or having an existential crisis about the vastness of space and sea. Zir writing and art can be found on zir website at jemzero.com or facebook/jemzero.art Connect with Jem at jemzero.art@gmail.com.