Late last spring, with the move to Atlanta for graduate school quickly approaching, my partner and I were on the hunt for an apartment. Unfortunately, we were staging that hunt from our separate homes in New York and Western Massachusetts, with no way of visiting prospective apartments and few real contacts in the area to aid in the process.
As anyone who has ever participated in this kind of long-distance move knows, the whole thing is something of a gamble, and more than a little difficult. After eliminating many of the major apartments as outside our price range, I finally thought I had found a lead –- an affordable complex about two miles from my university. It was even on my preferred bus line, the one that runs to the feminist bookstore. I forwarded my partner the link. The apartments were small, but we didn't need much room, and a shuttle would pick me up for school in the mornings right at the end of our driveway. I was ready to jump.
In my hurry to lock down a place to live, however, I had overlooked the finer details of the rental policy on the company website, so I was surprised when my partner raised an important concern: according to the site, the company only rented to single individuals or married couples. We were neither, and while gay marriage was legal in both New York and Massachusetts, it had not yet reached Georgia. More to the point, we had no immediate plans to marry, and bizarre apartment rental policies weren't about to change that.
The issue of legal inequality seemed like a salient point, though, and one we could work with, although honestly to us the policy just seemed kind of absurd. Call them anyway, I said. Surely the website must be out of date. And was this kind of discrimination even legal? I had no idea, but I wasn't about to dismiss a good housing option over this discovery.
My partner made the phone call to the leasing director, a friendly woman who hailed from the city next to where we had gone to undergrad. Another northerner, we thought, and one from a liberal enclave; surely she would understand. And not just understand -- surely she would reveal that this was simply a misunderstanding, an error in the copy, any of a dozen reasons that the stated policy was sheer hokum.
So after gathering information regarding available apartments and rental rates, my partner raised the critical concern. "The website says you only rent to married couples, and I would be moving with my partner," they explained, "but we aren't married." The leasing director cut in, "I'm sorry, but we don't allow that. You see, we're a Christian complex."
This came as a surprise. It hadn't mentioned the religious affiliation anywhere on the website. Still, we had a defense. "Well," my partner explained, "we're a same-sex couple and we can't get married in Georgia."
It was as though we had spoken some secret code, causing the leasing director to reverse course. "Oh, then of course you can rent here," she assured us. "That's fine. You know, it's just that we're concerned about premarital sex."
This was not what we had expected, and it was the most remarkable moment in which erasure and inclusion collided. Sure, we could live in the complex, but did queer sex not exist for these people? Were we literally incapable of having sex, in their worldview? As someone both personally and academically familiar with the hypersexualization of lesbians (that thing so often mistaken for greater acceptance), this mode of inclusion through desexualization made little sense to me. And it hurt. To evacuate the sex from my sexuality was a compromise I had been refusing to make for as long as I could remember. My partner and I have been cultivating our own varieties of out and proud queerness for almost a decade, and this new projection of what our identities meant was utterly incongruent with that.
Maybe it was the understood lack of a penis that made our relationship apparently sexless according to the leasing company, or maybe it was something else, beyond my understanding of more conservative modes of Christianity. Either way, the underlying rationale was baffling to us, and in the immediate aftermath we told everyone we encountered about this comical framing of queerness. And, we would add, almost as a punch line, we're moving in. Come mid-August, we were ready to relocate.
Perhaps the best assurance that we had made the right choice came in the form of the first neighbor that we met. Flamboyant and outgoing, J greeted my partner one afternoon with two questions and a statement: "Are you my neighbor?" and then "Is that your girlfriend?" and finally, the both joking and anxiety-provoking, "Don't get killed." Was this our welcome to the South? J seemed to be faring all right, though, and at the very least we weren't the only queer people in the complex, so we took his final statement under advisement, but also with a grain of salt.
Since moving into our apartment nearly a year ago, my partner and I have made no secret about who we are in our interactions with neighbors and staff. Coming down the driveway at night, you can often see the rainbow flag displayed on our dining room wall through the blinds. Maintenance staff comes and goes, heedless of my lesbian history posters and LGBT studies books.
And every Sunday morning as we walk up the hill to our second home at the local Episcopal church, we hold hands as we cross the parking lot. No one gives us a second glance, at least not until we get up the block.
I still don't quite understand what my landlords believe, but I do know I'm signing the lease for another year in this apartment without any real concerns -- unless you count how small my kitchen is. The owners of the complex can make what they want of my identity and relationship; I've been closeted enough times to know what a real secret feels like, and this isn't it.
In fact, with so much strife between queer folks and conservative Christianity today, it has been a surprise how warmly and easily my partner and I have made our home here. We got lucky on our long distance apartment hunt. More than lucky, really –- you might even call it grace.