TTLG: Frat Enough or Nah?

by Prodhi Manisha | 10/2/14 8:04pm

by Annie Ma and Annie Ma / The Dartmouth

As I come upon my fifth term at Dartmouth, I have reached the status of what one would call a SWUG — “Sophomore Washed-Up Gender-nonconformer.” Despite the growing exhaustion, I have undergone an incredibly comprehensive process of self-discovery. For many of my peers, the last week of September may bring an opportunity to explore how they fit into the social fabric of Dartmouth as they navigate the rush process.

Me? I feel like I’ve been rushing for over a month.

During my freshman year, I loved exploring the social scene on campus with my friends. I loved Dartmouth. For the first time, I felt a sense of community. By the end of spring term, I was sure I wanted to rush to extend that sense of belonging. The social scene here mostly consists of single-sex Greek houses. Like others planning to rush, I wanted to meet people I could consider family. Given my appearance, people around me expected me to rush a sorority, which is great until — wait a minute.

I’m not a self-identified woman.

I’m not a self-identified man, either.

I’m neither.

The epiphany hit me like a fast-moving truck — I would have to rush both fraternities and sororities to stay true to my identity. The coeds are wonderful spaces, but I didn’t want to close myself off to the larger social scene simply because I was gender-nonconforming. During the last month, I’ve had long conversations about this with several people. In my experience, the sororities are accepting of anyone who doesn’t identify as a self-identified man. One would assume the converse might be true for fraternities — that I should be able to rush if I were not a self-identified woman.

Apparently not. The “constitutions” of these houses mandate that most fraternities only allow self-identified men to rush, barring self-identified women and genderqueer people.

“Sex and gender aren’t one and the same,” my entire body screamed when I heard about these rules.

When I finally went through the process of rush with the few houses that could work their way around it, I couldn’t get in — some people still didn’t get it and couldn’t accept me for who I was.

When I was 16, I experienced gender dysphoria causing me to feel completely out of place with my body. I wore baggy “boyish” clothes in places they were frowned upon. At 18, I hacked off my long hair. These days, I’ve been embracing my body because it’s my body, not because it’s a female body upon first glance. I wear dresses because they simply make me feel good, not because I feel like a woman. If I were still stuck in my state of gender dysphoria, would I be more qualified to be in a fraternity because I’d seem more like a “dude,” even though the person inside has stayed the same Prodhi?

I’m not vilifying the houses that have had to turn me away. These houses were welcoming spaces that made me feel safe, so much so that I could see myself being a sibling to these brothers. A lot of the affiliated individuals don’t even agree with their archaic constitutions.

Some people do identify strongly with being a man or a woman, so I see how the presence of single-sex spaces, if they operated like affinity houses and living-learning communities, would be beneficial. However, what I want to question is what it means when these single-sex spaces end up constituting our ruling cultural force and what it means when our dominant social scene is so sharply binarized. If I’m not “man enough” to be in a fraternity, does that mean a cross-dressing “feminine” male would not be allowed membership either? What determines this “maleness” (or “femaleness,” conversely)? I may appear “female,” but right now I could be undergoing hormone therapy for all anyone knows.

I feel defeated. Rejected. Very lost. Like my identity isn’t good enough to be part of the social scene here. I’ve been living in private hell trying to fight my discomfort and paranoia surrounding this campus, where the social scene actively hurts and alienates me. To those who are affiliated I ask — are you feeding the very system that perpetuates a discriminatory binary? It shouldn’t be this exhausting being me — the “me” that I love and am proud of beyond its non-normative identities.

I probably sound complicated because of the label: “gender-nonconforming.” It’s a mouthful. Ask yourself though — do any of us really conform to being completely masculine or completely feminine? What does it mean to be in a “male space”? If, let’s say, it means a space full of “masculine” interactions, several people without the stereotypical male genitalia probably thrive off these as well. It’s perfectly valid to seek out spaces where we can identify with similar people. In the current system, however, the overarching assumption is that “men” and “women” are too inherently different to identify with each other on a deeper level of siblinghood.

Take a moment to think about how this idea perpetuates antiquated gender stereotypes. Take another moment to think about how membership was once barred to people of different sexualities, races, et cetera on the basis of a similar argument. Right now, having a binarized system like the one we have in place allows a handful of privileged individuals to take away someone’s agency to fully participate in the campus’s dominant social space on the basis of transphobia.

College can be a fantastic time to discover that those we have considered the “other” for so long are actually our peers — our siblings. If a house opened up its membership to everyone regardless of gender, would it not be a self-selecting process anyway, where the people rushing the house would be similar people (and not just by the virtue of similar-looking genitalia)? Would it not, dare I say, make the dominant social scene inclusive of trans* people such as me who don’t fit into the socially constructed boxes of “man” and “woman”?

Would it, after all, be so bad to simply be the children of Dartmouth, rather than its sons and daughters?

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