What it’s really like to be gay in Greek life
Based on what we usually hear about Greek life in the news and in movies, it’s heteronormative hell.
We read about guys making private Facebook groups to share girlsâ€™ nudes and forcing their new recruits to drink themselves to death. We see girls sending deranged emails and only accepting freshman members who are pretty, blonde, and thin. Then there are the deaths from drinking that happen way too often during hazing periods.
Yes, frats and sororities do community service, too. But the bad stuff really does happen â€” it’s not like the media’s making it up. Lots of Greek life organizations are discriminatory, haze to the point of serious danger, and are a breeding ground for groupthink.
When you think of a typical frat guy, you probably think of a jacked white dude with a trust fund, a polo shirt, and a “Make America Great Again” hat in tow.
You definitely donâ€™t think of a gay person.
But the truth is lots of LGBTQ people are involved in Greek life. Sometimes itâ€™s a defense mechanism â€“ a girl joining a sorority in hopes sheâ€™ll keep up with the girly and straight faÃ§ade sheâ€™s created â€“ but sometimes those who identify as gay or bi join Greek life for the same reason everyone else does: to make friends, have fun, and get the â€œfull college experience.â€
Does that come with difficulties in an age-old tradition thatâ€™s super heteronormative? Absolutely. Does it mean every LGBT person involved in Greek life hates their life? Absolutely not.
â€œSigma Nu quickly became a home for me, both physically and in a non-tangible sense, as I spent the rest of my college years living in the house and being an active member of the chapter and community,â€ said Brian â€“ who graduated from Stanford in 2012 â€“ when I asked him to tell me a bit about his experience being gay in Greek life
And Brian is not an anomaly. In fact, most of the gay men I spoke to said going Greek was a largely positive experience for them in college.
â€œYou don’t have to be masculine to be cool,â€ said Danny, who graduated from Drexel. â€œBe yourself, be funny, and if people like you then you will be fine. Masculinity is cool and I definitely let the masc dudes have their little big boy party, but it didnâ€™t change me.â€
Danny was already open about being gay when he started college, so when he rushed a fraternity his sophomore year, he knew he might be judged on his sexuality.
â€œAt my school it was very popular to be in Greek life,â€ he said. â€œI was looking to party more and meet more people. I had reservations as to how the guys would react to a gay guy rushing, but it really was either try, or be a loser.â€
When one of the fraternities he wanted a bid from rejected him, he couldnâ€™t help but listen to the rumors that they rejected him because they already had a gay brother and they didnâ€™t want to be known as the â€œgay fraternity.â€ But that didnâ€™t stop Danny from finding somewhere else where he fit better.
â€œAt the end of the day that means it wasn’t where I was supposed to be,â€ he says. â€œI fucked two of their brothers after, so it turned out awesome.â€
Other than that, Danny said him being gay didnâ€™t really affect his Greek life experience all that much.
â€œPeople would tell me it doesnâ€™t matter or not even bring it up,” he said. “It just didnâ€™t seem relevant, which was awesome.â€
Granted, it makes sense Dannyâ€™s brothers were chill with him since they knew in advance that he was gay. Would it have been different if they werenâ€™t aware when they gave him a bid?
For Michael, who went to George Washington University, that wasnâ€™t the case.
â€œI wasn’t out when I pledged, I came out senior year, but the whole experience was super positive,â€ he says. â€œMy brothers were really supportive. I had a boyfriend and they were very welcoming to him. There was definitely a learning curve for a minute, but nothing major.”
Michael says although he didnâ€™t come out until senior year, he felt he still wouldâ€™ve gotten a bid from his fraternity even if he was out when he pledged. He says it also helped knowing some success stories of brothers who had come out as gay before him, although he didn’t go to them for advice.
â€œ[Coming out is] something that you just start doing, because once you start asking for guidance the cat is out of the bag, or rather, the boy is out of the closet,â€ he explains.
Michael said two of his straight brothers even low-key encouraged him to come out his sophomore year when they made a point of praising a friend of theirs from high school who came out.
â€œYou could feel the vibe in the air of the both of them waiting for me to come out to them then,â€ says Michael. â€œIt was very sweet and comforting to know I was surrounded by such accepting and open-minded people, even if I wasn’t ready to come out yet.â€
And just like guys may have fantasies of sorority girls getting drunk and making out, Michael saw guys experimenting with same sex relations during his time at GW.
â€œOne of the younger brothers tried to make out with me one night when he was very drunk,” he recalls. “He has a girlfriend now, and we’ve never spoken about it â€“ but if you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, I’m here for you!”
Contrary to what you might expect, of the people I spoke to it was the girls who seemed to have more struggles being gay in Greek life.
Granted, this might be because the men who reached out to me wanted to make sure everyone knew that fraternities arenâ€™t the horrible cesspools of toxic masculinity that you see in the headlines. But it could also be that the entire system of Greek life is intrinsically heteronormative and gay girls can potentially deal with even more negative stigma than gay guys.
After all, so many girls in college are all for the idea of a male “gay best friend,” but many would never give a thought to a female one. And just like straight men, straight women are equally guilty of the whole, “If she’s a lesbian, won’t she try to sleep with me?” mindset.
In many sororities, so much of life is dependent on hookups, whether that’s finding a boy to bring to a date party or dressing like the sluttiest “corporate hoe” at the mixer to attract male attention. Sorority girls may get shunned by their sisters for sleeping around, but they can get equally shunned for being too “prude” (as do girls in general). Being a sorority girl who’s not interested in men at all complicates things further.
Take, for instance, a lesbian sorority girl who may want to bring her girlfriend to her sorority formal. Depending on which chapter she belongs to, bringing a female as her date that isnâ€™t a part of the same chapter may be forbidden.
â€œBringing female dates to events was always a contentious topic, since having an unequal gender ratio was seen as un-cool,â€ explains Jillian, who went to a private college in New York. â€œGreek life, as I experienced it, was exhaustingly heteronormative.â€
Jillian joined a sorority partially because, like most freshmen, she wanted to meet more people, but also partially because she says she was hiding from her true self.
â€œI wasn’t out of the closet and was really struggling to convince myself, and everyone around me, that I was straight,â€ she says. â€œBeing in a sorority helped with that a little. Or, at least it did until I slept with one of the older sisters. That stayed secret for an approximate five minutes, which was really hard emotionally because suddenly something I was trying to process privately was gossip.â€
Jillian came out of the closet a few years later when she decided to bring her girlfriend at the time to a formal, and while her sisters were mostly supportive, that didnâ€™t mean she felt gung-ho about being queer in Greek life.
â€œI never really felt comfortably attending events like stoplight parties (guests wear green if they’re open to a hookup, yellow if it’s complicated, and red if they’re in a relationship) and frat mixers, both before I came out and even more so after,â€ she says. â€œBy design, those events just aren’t engineered to be inclusive of queer people. Plus, it only takes one frat guy yelling â€˜dykes!â€™ at you and your girlfriend at a party to make you never want to attend anything Greek ever again.â€
Ugh, donâ€™t you love how mature guys can be when they see two girls making out?
Even though Jillian had â€œall but deactivatedâ€ from her sorority by senior year, she doesn’t regret joining in the first place.
â€œBeing in a sorority was great when I was 18 and a college first-year,â€ she says. â€œIt really helped me figure out who I was as a person. But once I figured that out, I realized that I was a person who really didn’t fit in a sorority.â€
Britt, who went to a small private college in Pennsylvania, also joined in hopes of continuing her â€œfaÃ§ade of being the straight, girly college girl.â€
â€œI never wanted people to think I was â€˜butchâ€™ or manly so I felt if I joined the girliest sorority, that would compensate,â€ she said. â€œThe closest thing to gay friendly in my sorority was when two girls got drunk and made out.â€
Britt knew she was gay when she joined, but stayed mostly in the closet until after college. When she did come out, she did it gradually, first telling her sister and close friends from high school that she was bisexual before coming out fully as a lesbian on social media and publicly.
“I â€˜came outâ€™ to a lot of my college sorority sisters and friends about two years after I graduated when I went back for Homecoming,â€ she says. â€œI brought my girlfriend at the time. A lot of the girls were accepting, but it also felt a little awkward. I only felt like two girls in my sorority were truly happy for me and non-judgmental.â€
This is a bummer, but Britt said she hardly keeps in touch with anyone from her sorority and instead stays tight with her high school friends â€“ which says a lot.
Do these stories prove sororities are the real monsters when it comes to targeting gay people and fraternities are a jolly old place for those of us who aren’t straight? Definitely not.
The problem with throwing all of Greek life under the bus when one dumb fraternity guy gets drunk and spray paints racist shit on the sidewalk is that you can’t let one idiot represent roughly 750,000 undergraduates.
Greek life is overwhelmingly heterosexual, white, and wealthy, which is likely where many of their problems â€“ and the negative stereotypes associated with them â€“ stem from in the first place.Â Additionally, Greek life is largely more racist and intense (whether that’s in terms of hazing or their standards for giving out bids) in the south, and no one we spoke to in this story went to school in the south.
This is also potentially why all the men who reached out told of positive experiences. Fraternities generally get a worse rep, so gay men who had good experiences probably wanted to share that and fight the stigma, whereas guys who may have dealt with some serious shit didn’t feel the need to comment.
Either way, these people’s stories prove Greek life isn’t always black or white. Sometimes it’s amazing while you’re finding yourself, and exhausting once you figure your shit out and realize it’s not the place for you. For others it’s about trying to fit in until you realize nobody cares and you’ll actually make more friends if you’re truly yourself. For some, it’s a place to hide from yourself until you’re truly ready to come out â€“ and sometimes taking beer bongs with loser frat guys can make you come to terms with your sexuality real quick.