Brotherhood and bisexuality

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I’ve never liked the term bisexual. It always felt clumsy. Not just because it sounds like a line of French racing bikes, but because it a) implies that gender is a binary and b) implies that you’re equally attracted to both sides. 

Straight people think you’re queer, and queer people think you’re straight. A fun, humbling merry-go-round.

Bisexuality, too, seems to be the label people try on most often. I admit I felt like a fraud when I checked the “bisexual” box on the UC application, fearing some admissions agent would climb through the screen and demand my body count. 

My mom, reading over my shoulder, didn’t make much of it until later that night, when she came to me with a face that said, don’t think I didn’t notice that, and after I sweated for a second, she followed it with, “Your father and I will support you no matter what.”

Even then, it was clear I’d disregarded any obligation to come out. It’s an odd and embarrassing ritual for everyone involved. Telling your parents you might enjoy sucking on a penis now and then doesn’t really roll off the tongue. I understand that it’s a privilege not to have to — or to come out so flippantly — but that’s the story I ended up living.

All through middle and high school, I struggled to make sense of the things I was feeling. I always thought I had hot friends but assumed that was a commonly held belief.

It’s one of the hardest things to do, detangling attraction from envy. It can be infuriating, trying to puzzle out whether you want to be him or underneath him, especially when you’re unaware that’s what’s going on.

I never fully found my sexual footing until coming to college, where I promptly launched myself into the decidedly heteronormative system of Greek life. I think some part of me was trying to prove I could have and maintain the male friendships I consistently fumbled earlier in life. Rushing was, as I soon found out, an overcorrection to that insecurity.

I did find the friendships I was looking for and was pleasantly surprised to find members that were visibly and vocally not straight. In conversations with them, and in observing everyone around me, I found aspects of fraternity life that were almost homoerotic.

The drunken wrestling, the joking “no girls allowed” signs, the concept of “ferda boys” energy all played a role, but it was the way women were pursued and discussed that struck me the most. Passing around an Instagram profile so people can nod and congratulate you, hooking up with women for male validation defines an almost hyper-performative kind of heterosexuality.

Of course, none of the people in that house are explicitly homophobic. Everyone I’ve had conversations with about it has been open and affirming. I look back fondly on drunkenly announcing to one of my brothers that I was bisexual and him replying, “I really couldn’t care less, man,” then, “Let’s drink.”

But there are also more deeply rooted gender roles, ones that prompt brothers with girlfriends to be chastised for leaving the brotherhood behind, spending too much time with someone that couldn’t possibly understand all the delicate intricacies of beer die. It makes the 20 feet between our house and the sorority next door seem like a different zip code.

The structure of the system itself perpetuates these norms. Sororities are closely monitored by a live-in adult, have immaculate facilities and lack access to their own kitchens.

Fraternities operate largely outside of any perceivable rules, have functional alcohol permits and have their alarms pulled so often they’re practically on a first-name basis with the Berkeley Fire Department. 

The two ends of the spectrum tell us what to think and how to act — that the masculine side is alcoholism and debauchery, while the feminine side is patterned hand towels and brunch menus. This divide has everything to do with how our sexualities are actualized.

Berkeley has, for years, boasted the reputation of being an inclusive, hippie-loving mecca for degenerates and deviants. And yet, here at the poster child for liberal higher education, Greek life persists as a bastion of aging understandings of gender and sexuality. 

There are obvious exceptions. Thorsen House has, for years, been a co-ed haven for like-minded artists and musicians. I’ve heard only good things about Sigma Epsilon Omega, the queer fraternity on campus. 

There is a precedent for more inclusive understandings of gender and sexuality. But the protections Greek life enjoys will continue to manufacture situations where men and women are expected to interact in a very specific way.

Now, I don’t have a solution. I don’t know if there is one. But I do know that my journey is far from over, and that the people in these shared spaces influence each other’s behavior in more ways than we give credit. 

I, for one, am not going to preach the gospel of gayness to entire institutions. My contribution begins and ends with living my life as free from shame as I can and hoping that convinces others to follow suit.

Luke Stiles has written for the sports department and currently writes the Thursday opinion column. Contact him at [email protected].