There are gay people in this sorority?

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On the first day of sorority recruitment, I traded my Vans for brand-new sandals, my weird-ass T-shirts for a ruffled tank top and my leggings for light-wash cuffed jeans. I got up early and had my roommate do my hair and makeup. I watched her paint my face and tug at the strands of my hair until I barely recognized myself. I walked up to the designated meeting place, my new shoes already cutting into my feet, and my stomach immediately dropped. I mulled about the outskirts of a group of women that terrifyingly resembled the people I had desperately hoped to leave behind in high school, clad in their perfect dresses and heels. They looked fucking fantastic, chatting and hugging and probably already whispering about me. Despite my efforts to fit in, I felt like an other.

I didn’t stop trying though. I finished out recruitment and joined a sorority with people I connected with the best. I did the whole bid day thing and met friends right away. In some ways, Greek life was exactly what I wanted when coming to such a big university from across the country: an unconditional support system, a constant stream of social activities, access to parties each weekend.

But it also came with a host of pressures I had never dealt with, especially those centered around going out. From the beginning, I shoved the questions I had about my sexuality to the back of my mind and filled the void with random, drunk, desperate men. I wanted to be able to talk about guys like my friends, to relate to their sex jokes and be proud of my “magic number.” I barely even noticed that I didn’t like it because I was frequently drunk and desperate myself, looking for any excuse to create experiences I could talk about after.

My sorority is outwardly inclusive of different racial groups, cultures, and sexualities — much more so than other houses on campus and across the United States. And I appreciate that voiced commitment. But there is also an underlying pressure to be straight that spans the entire Greek community. I see it on a personal level in presentations that fail to use gender-inclusive language and focus solely on heterosexual couples, in the limited clothes we have to wear and the unrealistic beauty standards we have to meet while working recruitment, in rules that restrict men from being upstairs yet say nothing about women. It is assumed that everyone is straight because that is the norm.

Yet, I feel like it’s useless to complain because Greek life is built entirely on a heterosexual power dynamic that relies on isolating men and women. Fraternities can host parties. Sororities can’t. Fraternities provide alcohol. Sororities have strong national regulations against it. Fraternities invite sorority women to their parties and determine who can be let inside.

There’s no question that fraternity men host social events to form romantic or sexual relationships with sorority women. The gender binary excludes those who do not identify as straight or cisgender from the center of social interactions in Greek life. And if this exclusion is allowed and even encouraged on a large-scale level, how can one expect to find gender inclusivity within the smaller organizations themselves?

The Greek system embodies a groupthink mentality that causes individuals to do what they would not normally. Members feel pressured to be straight, to binge drink and/or use drugs and to engage in sexual activity that they may not normally. Fraternity men get caught up in the power play; they provide what sorority girls cannot, putting them in a position of control. Simultaneously, sorority women are pressured to submit to and willingly accept validation from the men in power.

These conditions produce a standard of hypermasculinity for fraternity men that excludes those who do not fit the mold. My friend who is gay and in a fraternity felt so pressured to “conquer” women by his peers in his fraternity that he ended up questioning his sexuality, convinced he was falling for a girl. He, too, felt excluded from dialogues that involved bragging about sex — to the point where he was pressured to question his identity just because it deviated from the norm. It was hard for him to fit in — harder than in other spaces — because fraternities normalize sexual assault, druggings and generally being a misogynistic asshole.

Over time I’ve become increasingly insecure about being gay in such a straight-dominated space — which has caused me to avoid speaking out about the issues I face for fear of being misunderstood. But  I can’t be a part of a system that creates a hostile environment for LGBTQ+ people and rejects people for being trans or not identifying as male or female. For me, changing this starts with not being afraid of openly identifying as gay within sorority spaces.

During sorority recruitment, potential new members are given tours of the house. I made my bed and checked that my rainbow flag was still hanging. I thought nothing of it until I had a conversation with one of my sisters after that day of recruitment had ended. She told me about a potential new member of the sorority she had given a tour to. When she saw my flag, her face changed and she asked, “There are gay people in this sorority?” breaking from her rehearsed correctness, unable to hide her surprise. Despite the institutional barriers that keep Greek life insulated from making progress in diversity and inclusion, I want people to know that we gays, though small in number, are here, and we want you. Let’s slowly work to overthrow the straight people’s dominance of Greek life — from the inside.  

Contact Isabel Lichtman at [email protected].