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a blog with cultural bulimia.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Ethicist.

"I am a married, straight male teacher. On a business trip, I was required to room with another teacher, a gay man, or pay for my own room. The sole woman teacher on the trip was given a private room. When I mentioned my discomfort, my boss said it was a nonissue and not like asking straight men and women to share a room. Is it right to require straight and gay men to room together? Anonymous, Miami

It is. As it is right to have straight and gay ballplayers shower together. To arrange things otherwise is to impose a distasteful system of segregation. And while your colleague (or teammate) must treat you with courtesy and respect, you've offered no reason to think he would do less.

Your boss's distinction between gay/straight and male/female roommates is defensible on empirical grounds. We men have long experience of peaceful coexistence with our naked co-genderists, gay and straight -- in the dorms, in the barracks, at summer camp. We have less such experience across the gender line with casual acquaintances in intimate settings. (Even at the airport, women are searched by women.) What's more, straight men face little threat from gay men (if anything, it has been the other way around). But sadly, women have enough of a history of sexual harassment and assault at the hands of men that any woman might reasonably object to being forced to share a hotel room with a male co-worker.

I could be your ally if you took the more radical stance that an employer may not compel any adult, regardless of sex or sexual orientation, to share a bedroom, a sanctum no boss should breach. Why must you be required to display your intimate nocturnal habits to a stranger or to endure a stranger's snores (or more disconcerting behavior)? There is a right to privacy, nowhere more so than in the bedroom, even if your objection to this particular roommate is capricious, as I believe it is."