Greek life’s harshest critics understand fraternities to be girl- and beer-obsessed capitols of hazing and alcoholism, where dignity and innocence go to perish. Naturally, people seeking a comfortable place to feel accepted and supported as they begin their journey out of the closet, and who hear this argument, would be inclined to turn their backs on Greek life, assuming they would not be welcomed among the ranks of alleged booze hounds and girl-crazed, salmon-short-wearing frat boys.
But during the spring of my junior year, I came out to my fraternity and began living as openly gay. Not only was it accepted by my brothers, it was applauded, and though parts of the road were bumpy, many parts were smoothed out by the brotherly love and support my chapter offered me. Greek life is moving in a positive and accepting direction, and my experience as an openly gay fraternity president is a testament to that face. So, as a takeaway, I offer you the five things you might learn if you come out to your fraternity:
1. The fraternity is stronger than you in incredible and wonderful ways.
Before making an announcement to my chapter, I came out to a select number of my brothers over the course of a month, in an attempt to build a supportive coalition. One after another, they each made points to applaud what they called my “bravery” and my “strength.” By the time I made my announcement at a chapter meeting, about one-third of the brothers already knew I was gay. But when I came out to the other two-thirds, I quickly realized that it wasn’t I who was strong or brave — it was they, my brothers. Without the love they had always provided me, and without the acceptance I had already come to know as a brother, I would have never been able to come out of the closet. Suddenly, it was clear: we shouldn’t have been celebrating the “strength” I had. We should’ve been celebrating the strength of our bond — the strength we had. It was the brotherhood, which had always surrounded me and supported me, that enabled me to finally accept the truth about myself. And after I came out, we only grew closer. The burden was diffused among my 80 brothers, who learned to accept the fact that I was gay and support me and love me nonetheless. It wasn’t I who was strong — the fraternity was strong, and it was there to support me and be strong when I was weak.
2. Some members of the fraternity will celebrate your decision to come out. Others will tolerate your decision to come out. But few, if any, will denigrate your decision to come out.
These are the tiers of reactions I encountered as I came out to the individuals in my life. Those who loved me most — and who were also the most accepting and progressive –celebrated with me. The brothers who I chose to tell in person, one at a time before making my announcement at a chapter meeting, celebrated my newfound clarity and calmness. They celebrated that their brother was finally able to be himself and be comfortable. Others, who, for whatever reason, weren’t as ready to celebrate the decision, tolerated my decision to come out. It was a bit of a letdown, but coming out requires patience and understanding. The brothers who tolerated the decision were “fine” with the fact that I’m gay or “didn’t care.” Their reactions were nonchalant, cool, or unemotional. And that’s fine — it’s all we can ask for. After all, we are revealing a large secret about ourselves to some people who may not be ready to digest the information. Obviously, as we come out, we want our happiness to be shared with those whom we love — that’s just a characteristic of the human condition. But not everyone is going to be able to immediately celebrate, so we accept tolerance graciously. However, the third reaction — denigration, the one I feared the most – never happened to me. If any number of my brothers wish or wished to denigrate me for my sexuality or my decision to accept it, they have restrained themselves and masked their prejudice expertly. Even if they were to speak up, they would be hushed and censored by other brothers, the vast majority of whom have expressed acceptance and support. I can’t speak for all fraternities, but I can speak for mine, a fairly typical 80 man chapter of men from all different walks of life. The celebration and tolerance expressed by them outweighs any potential denigration or ridicule.
3. No matter how “obviously” or “unobviously” gay you seem, the fraternity will (eventually) accept it.
Hardly anyone suspected that I was gay — in fact, my grandmother, of all people, was the only one who called it. There are coming out advice columns online that advise closeted men and women to “act more gay” so that when they do come out, people won’t be as shocked. I learned that, in a fraternity, the best thing you can do at all times is act like yourself; changing your behavior to warm brothers up or to prepare them to receive the news just adds stress to your already-stressed mind. Whether you’re someone who “seems gay” — whatever that even means — or doesn’t seem gay, just be yourself. That’s what good brothers expect of one another. Even the most calloused of chapters can come around in time if we’re honest and open, whether we “seem gay” or not.
4. You’re a leader now.
Before a man can lead others, he has to lead himself. Coming out to a fraternity does take a serious amount of confidence, and so you’ve proven that you can lead yourself when you are finally ready and comfortable to do so. Certain brothers in your chapter will see that and when they comprehend the inner journey you’ve been on, they’ll gain a ton of respect for you.
Everybody has to “come out” to themselves at least once in their lives—maybe they’re not gay, but they’ll one day have to confront an inconvenient truth about themselves. You’ve demonstrated an ability to do that already, and in front of a potentially tough crowd. That means that you’re a leader now, and certain people will be looking up to you. It’ll also demonstrate to you that…
5. You’re not the only one.
Fraternities are big, complex, diverse organizations. Even if you’re the only homosexual in your chapter, you’re most definitely not the only homosexual in your school’s Greek system. Should you choose to step into a leadership role in the community, you have plenty of options for how you want to operate and set an example or precedent for closeted Greeks and non-Greeks across your campus (if you even want to do that). There’s no question that the Greek community is moving towards a more open and accepting mindset, and that you have the potential to take part in setting a new precedent should you choose. But no matter what, we can take solace in knowing that there are other gay Greeks from all different campuses and chapters, and therefore know that we’re not alone in our experience and don’t have to endure it as if we are.
The Greek experience is a whirlwind on its own, and coming out can be a challenging and frightening process that seems daunting when held up to the dark light cast by fraternity stigmas. But the chief export of the Greek community is friendship—strong, lasting, meaningful friendship. And who better than to rely on and trust with your journey towards a more complete happiness than your best friends?