When I came to college, I had been assigned to live in the dorms with five other suitemates. I was initially intimidated due to the fact that I had no idea if I was totally safe being an openly gay male in this environment. I had always had guy friends, and pretty much everyone I had ever met said they had no idea I was gay. I could’ve hidden it exceptionally well, but I decided not to. After I told my roommate with whom I shared a room (let’s call him Jim), he was incredibly supportive and nonchalant about the whole thing. “I don’t really care, dude. No big deal.” I didn’t make it a big deal. I just felt like it was something I should disclose. After a few months, Jim and I became very close friends. It was then that he encouraged me to pledge the fraternity he belonged to on campus. I put a lot of effort into joining this fraternity. I went to events, I made an effort to meet the dudes and get my face out there. I was even invited to parties at the house before rush week even began. I had struggled with very debilitating depression in the months leading up to the pledging process, but I had decided to push through it in an attempt to find somewhere I belonged on campus. “Joining a Greek organization is gonna change your life,” my friend in a sorority on campus told me. “It’s the best decision I’ve made here. You’re gonna love it.”
Pledging a fraternity was a process. You attend optional events and an information session, and then go through an interview. If your interview is successful, you get a phone call telling you that you received a “bid.” Once you receive said bid, you were in for all intents and purposes. During the information session, they told me how their organization strived to be better than the typical Greek organization. “We’re not a frat. We’re a fraternity. We hold ourselves to higher standards. We are a brotherhood.” After a few months, you’d be initiated and become a “brother for life” at an official ceremony.
I was told I was a shoe-in. I had made a few good friends in the organization, had recommendations from brothers, extracurriculars under my belt (including rugby and political activism groups), a 3.33 GPA, and had been told by members of the rush committee that my interview went extremely well. I had even been told that a few of the men on the committee said they couldn’t wait for me to join.
I never got a phone call. What happened next was like a punch to the gut. I wasn’t even sure if it was discrimination, but I realized I wouldn’t have been in this situation if I slept with girls.
My roommate was furious when I was denied a bid, so he did some prodding and found out the reason. At one of the parties I attended, I met an openly gay brother who was a senior. We got to talking, and the evening culminated in a one-night stand. I was heavily intoxicated, and it was my first time. I didn’t tell anyone about it, as I was embarrassed, but it didn’t seem to be a big deal. Apparently, he talked about it, though. It was the reason I didn’t get a bid, which both the president of the organization and the pledge chair admitted to Jim. But they (albeit absurdly) claimed the decision was “neither personal nor homophobic” but in the president’s words and not mine, they “didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.” During my interview, I was asked the question: “Do girls feel comfortable around you?” I made the mistake of coyly answering by saying, “Well yeah, usually. I’m gay.” The brothers laughed and told me they were glad I was comfortable enough with them to admit this. I consider being gay no more important than the color of my eyes, but I live in a time and place where saying you’re gay is okay, but what that actually entails makes people “uncomfortable.”
I’d learned that before my interview even started, my private sexual history was hung out like dirty laundry for everyone to prod through by a member of the fraternity whom I’ll call Ryan. Ryan was extremely influential in this organization. He didn’t like me. He was popular on campus, and we shared a lot of the same friends. He decided that I shouldn’t be allowed in, and despite only being a pledge chair, his word was law. I was utterly humiliated. A few of the brothers in the organization were outraged. They made phone calls on my behalf. While the board of trustees for the organization got involved and recommended the dismissal of everyone involved in my decision, they still refused to tell me anything. Nobody was dismissed. Nobody wanted the school’s board of fraternity and sorority life to find out. I was assured the situation wouldn’t be swept under the rug, but it was. I was the mishandled matchstick that could’ve started a wildfire. One morning, I received a phone call from the organization’s president once they discovered that I knew the reason I was denied a bid and was considering letting it blow up into a huge matter with the University. (I’ve even read national news stories of similar things happening to others.) They assured me that they’d meet with me and talk it out. Despite my unanswered phone calls, they never did.
I could have suffered worse discrimination, but injustice is injustice. Despite the fact that my state, city, school, and the fraternity I sought to join all had protections against sexual orientation discrimination, I chose not to go through any official channels to file a complaint for the sake of my own personal privacy. I was told by a bisexual acquaintance of mine, who is affiliated with a different Greek organization, that “hooking up with a brother in your fraternity is like incest.” Never mind the fact that it happened months before I’d considered pledging. Never mind the fact that I was not only outed, but my right to sexual privacy was violated for no good reason. Never mind the double standard in which straight guys can score with whoever they want and brag about it while I was experiencing repercussions for a mistake I told nobody about. It was my fault. “It’s like sleeping with the boss’s daughter. You don’t do it,” he said. Fair enough, but the leadership even admitted they didn’t even bother to ask the brother I was involved with if he would be uncomfortable if I was granted a bid. I knew him, and he and I were on good terms. They were uncomfortable.
The whole experience turned me off to the Greek life completely initially, but for the sake of my privacy with regards to my sexual history, I let the whole matter die. This organization did not live up to their “higher standards.” The leadership were made up of individuals like Ryan. They were not something I wanted to be a part of. But as they claim to do, I’m striving to do better for myself. I’m preparing to study abroad in Taiwan for my spring semester, and I recently moved into my first apartment.
I’m telling this story now because I still feel cheated and I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. When we’re silent in the face of injustice, injustice lives to see another day. To quote Denice Frohman, a Philadelphia local and fantastic, queer, spoken word poet,
You’re the reason we stay in the closet. You’re the reason we even have a closet. I don’t even like closets, but you made the living room an unshared space and now I’m feeling like a guest in my own house.
I’ve considered giving the whole pledging process another shot, in the hope I can possibly find somewhere else I actually belong. Such is life. However, at this point, I think I’m comfortable enough with myself to know that I don’t even need to.