on august 3, 2015, i read an article on the Total Sorority Move website, “Sig Ep Moves To Include Transgender Men As Eligible For Membership.”
from the article,
“Sig Ep [Sigma Phi Epsilon] is a national Fraternity built on the brotherhood and fellowship of men. Any individual who identifies as a man is welcome to seek membership in the Fraternity. This policy is intended to uphold the mission of Sigma Phi Epsilon as a fellowship of men and should not be interpreted as changing the all-male character of the Fraternity or as a waiver of the Fraternity’s exempt status under Title IX.”
Total Sorority Move is the sister blog to Total Frat Move, a conservative-leaning, self described “satirical” website aimed at the modern american fraternity man (i wish we could all retake the class on satire that failed us, so that we had a better grasp of what good satire actually is & does). i have been reading TFM on and off since 2013, when i first became – shall we say – obsessed with fraternities and greek life, and it is one of the only venues through which i get a glimpse of conservative politics (many of TFM’s posts are actively anti-hillary, if not outrightly pro-trump/sexist/homophobic/transphobic).
there was barely any greek life to speak of at my alma mater. the only glimpses i had into the lives of frat boys and sorority girls at NYU were: advertisements for “meet the greeks” events during welcome week, which i would look at and actively wondering how many wings i could possibly steal from ; my three friends in the Delta Lambda Phi, the “gay fraternity”; a cramped party in an east village apartment, where my friend and i stole three water bottles full of jungle juice; and in passing when i lived in a dorm in chinatown, whose top two floors are devoted to penthouses for different chapters.
i have wanted to join a fraternity since high school. as a senior, my best friend K convinced me to apply to dartmouth, where she was a double legacy: both of her sisters had attended and both of her sisters, S and J, had pledged Sigma Delta. K was deferred for early-decision and eventually rejected, but i got in. i visited the hanover campus that green spring, crammed onto a coach bus with other east coast potential students, and the one thing i remember on the 7 hour bus ride from manhattan to new hampshire was a brief stop in connecticut, where dandelions bloomed outside my picture window. dartmouth had never been one of my top choices for school—in retrospect, i wish i had applied to an HBCU or two, or perhaps to smith or mount holyoke, but dartmouth was one of two ivies i applied to, and brown’s liberal campus and dearth of academic requirements was much more attractive to me at the time—but to say that the big green won me over that weekend is really an understatement. the weather was a consistently gorgeous 70 and sunny. i watched students throw frisbees across the great lawn in front of baker library. i sat in on american literature and microbiology courses. i slept on the futon of my host student’s massive single bedroom, which came complete with canted ceilings and a fireplace. everything smelled like weed and fresh-cut grass.
when i told them i was choosing between dartmouth, brown, and nyu, they laughed. they asked why i wanted to live in the “real world” so soon.
“why would you want to go to school in a big city where everyone is stressed and it rains all the time?”
“you have the rest of your life to live in the city. this is like summer camp.”
“you’ll love it here.”
what lured me most, though, were the adventures my newfound friends and i took to webster avenue, dartmouth’s fraternity row. my host led us like lemmings to the Tri-Kap house, where they were having their annual strobe light dance party for potential 13s (Dartmouth students refer to themselves and each other by their graduation year). there was free beer for miles around and gyrating bodies, everything shimmered and the air tasted like saliva, cigarettes, and warm keystone. i loved it. the next day, i skipped a lecture on financial aid and had brunch with K’s sister, who was then a senior pursuing a degree in political science. we ate omelettes at collis and she brought me back to the Sigma Delt house, where we played shrug and battleship and other variations of pong in the basement.
i have wanted to join a fraternity since high school. it’s a shame that i still thought i was a girl back then.
i am obsessed with greek life. i follow every social media outlet dartmouth possesses. i have seen every episode of abc family’s GREEK multiple times; indeed, i marathoned the four-season series on netflix over the course of a month. i spend much of my waking life wondering what house i would be in, given a(nother) chance: a divine 9 fraternity or a predominantly-white social frat? a co-ed fraternity where they serve mysterious drinks called “cutters” at their burlesque balls? much to the chagrin of my boyfriend, who is applying to psychology doctoral programs across the country while i apply to creative writing programs, one of the (unspoken) criteria that i investigate when looking into schools is their approach to greek life. (seriously, it’s a huge reason Michigan and USC are on my shortlist.)
in my experience, part of coming out as transgender involves rapid cycling of these kinds of obsessions, this kind of grief. if i had been assigned male at birth, what would my life had been like? would i be a professional skateboarder, unafraid of the throngs of 14-year-old catcalling boys who thrashed the brooklyn banks and throgs neck skatepark? would i be a drummer, pumping out beats with my shirt off like travis barker? would i have played football? rugby? lacrosse? would i have gone to dartmouth and rushed SAE, or Tri-Kap, or TDX? if i had been born five years later, and come out as trans five years earlier, would i have rushed Sig Ep? would i recite their creed, wear their letters, become a “Balanced Man”? would i be hazed? and if so, would i take it like a “man”? would i chug the beers, do the jumping jacks and bear crawls, sleep in a kennel?
several fraternities have followed the lead of Sig Ep’s 2015 decision to accept trans men as pledges. in august 2016, Chi Phi voted to shift the definition of “eligible males” to include anyone who self-identifies as a man (and has the legal documentation to back it up), and the list has grown to include Delta Tau Delta, TKE, Phi Mu Delta, Pi Lambda Phi, and Delta Chi — at least, according to Wikipedia.
in an article critical of dartmouth’s greek system, the president of a co-ed undergraduate society says, “Rush is an inherently racist and part of an exclusive system. Even if people are not overtly homophobic, there are a lot of both internalized and externalized assumptions prevail in gender-exclusive spaces.”
as time passes (slowly but surely), i am realizing that what i want is not to literally rush a fraternity – especially not a historically-white fraternity at a predominantly-white institution like dartmouth. i would almost definitely have a terrible time, what with all the toxic masculinity, misogyny, and racism. (although, i was the type of kid in high school who thought girls “put out” and described myself sometimes as “socially liberal and fiscally conservative”—as if that makes any fucking sense—and who thought i might study marketing or economics, so who knows.)
what i want is to have been born cisgender. i want to have had close male friends, and gone through all those coming-of-age experiences that it seems every boy and man around me had: hazing, athletics, secret societies, dazed an confused, animal house, big T traditions like that. and yes, these are all vectors of the patriarchy and white supremacy but you look me in the eye and tell me the white american dream ain’t the most seductive lie you ever heard.
i feel like an incomplete man without these experiences…or at least the chance to have these experiences. i had no choice but to go through my childhood and teenage years and early twenties as a girl.
and that might be why these things preoccupy me so much: i wonder how to feel like a complete man. (i suppose you could call it a garden-variety crisis of masculinity.)
all of this also makes it difficult to accurately reflect on my actual history. so much of transitioning is presented as an exercise in forgetting: you were never a girl, or a woman, you weren’t the social chair of the queer women’s group in college, you were never a lesbian, never went to the dyke march or kissed someone under the stars at autostraddle camp. and with the obliteration of all of my lived history, everything that happened before i came out and changed my name and started hormones and had surgery (and yes, a lot of my history as a girl was traumatic, pregnant with stapled-on masks and suicide attempts and overcompensating and running away), i guess i have been trying to pull a jay gatsby and recreate my history. but one of the ways in which i think we misread f scott fitzgerald is this—gatsby’s life is tragic; it is not something to aspire to. he recreated his entire history in the pursuit of what he thought might be love, and it killed him.
i don’t want this to kill me. i want to forget, but i want to remember. i don’t want to join a fraternity, but in the absence of being given the chance to join an exclusive racist club in college, to make true good old boy friends, what do i have left?