I always thought sororities were pretty ridiculous. I didn’t come from one of those families with a long lineage of memberships in specific Greek organizations or even have any friends who were members of any really. In high school I compared sorority girls to the people who joined the cheerleading squad or went on expensive foreign trips after they graduated as a group: rich people who only wanted to know more rich people who were exactly like them.
I had a pretty bizarre time in my early twenties. From the murder of my partner to a string of bad roommates to weird vaginal surgery, it seemed like it was one thing after another keeping me off track. While that made it pretty conducive to sharing great stories with friends, it didn’t make for what you’d call a standard college experience. I flunked out of some classes, dropped out for a while, struggled with trying to figure out how to pay my own way after my folks rightfully decided that they were tired of fronting cash for an education I obviously wasn’t invested in.
This led to me not really taking my education seriously until I was about twenty six. I finally had a steady job and with everything else going well I decided to take another stab at finishing up my degree. I enrolled in my old college, determined to stick with my education plan this time.
It’s worth saying now that overall I’ve been pretty lucky when it comes to my sexual identity. I'm one of those lucky few who’s been relatively confident in the fact that I liked women exclusively as soon as I figured out that I liked them at all in the first place. While I had my bumps in the road, I had a supportive family and largely supportive friends.
But I’ve never felt like I fit in to any of the LGBT spaces in my city, or any other. They mostly seemed to center around gay men, whether they were clubs, bars, or a cute café and book store. At first it was great just to be around other people I could be open with, people I could hold my girlfriend’s hand in front of. But that novelty wore off pretty quick. Where was my space? Where was everyone else?
I was talked into going to a meeting for our local LGBT club at my university. I was reluctant because I’d been before at my last stint at this particular university, and from my experience it was more a club for the “g” than anyone else in the alphabet. My clearest memory was of twelve or so of us sitting around in a room and gabbing for a bit before going out back to play volleyball as the conclusion to our meeting. As someone who spent the majority of her time fansubbing Naruto episodes and picking out the latest installment in the Suikoden video game series, I didn’t exactly fit in.
But as it turns out it was a good call. It was at this meeting that I heard about a local sorority for transmen, queer women and folks who lived off the beaten path of the gender binary, Gamma Rho Lambda.
I was skeptical; it was a Greek organization, after all. But the people who spoke weren’t what I imagined when I thought of sorority members. As I somewhat reluctantly pushed myself to attend their first rush event, I found out that they represented a wide variety of ethnicities, sexual identities, gender identities and economic backgrounds. Going to the next events few wasn’t hard at all. Soon I found myself enthusiastically participating in the new member program and taking on an officer position my first semester as a full member. I was in, I was hooked.
Joining felt like the most natural thing in the world in large part because for the first time I felt like there was a queer group that I fit into. In my local chapter alone we had writers and math enthusiasts, video game geeks and comic book nerds. Actors, teachers, social workers and engineers. We weren’t about conforming, we were about creating an inclusive community together. We listened and learned from each other. There were no rules about wearing the same brand and style of dress to an event; we were given a general guideline like “business casual,” told to wear our colors and the rest was left up to us.
And sure, it wasn’t always smooth sailing – we had our fair share of drama. But Hollywood lied to me; it wasn’t the kind that ended in slammed doors and a practiced flip of bleach blonde hair. Reality was much less dramatic. Anyone who didn’t ultimately feel like the sorority was a fit left, but it’s a testament to how strong that bond is that I still keep in touch with them. When you’ve been that open and candid with people in regards to parts of your life that you haven’t shared with many other people in your life, it’s a hard one to let go of.
See, sometimes Greek organizations are essential. Sometimes they’re the only way you find space, and sometimes they’re what save you. Through the years I ran into several siblings (we call each other siblings instead of sisters since we allow anyone to join that isn’t a cis-male) who have confessed that they probably wouldn’t be alive in a very real and literal way if they hadn’t stumbled upon the organization. We provided a place with support that a lot of our siblings don’t find anywhere else.
We’re located in Texas, Indiana, Arizona, and Louisiana, amongst others – areas where rainbow stickers aren’t always welcome. We had siblings who had to lie to their families about what kind of an organization we were, siblings who we set up scholarships for so they could keep on attending without having to pay our membership fees (which, by the way, were substantially lower than most) because they suddenly found themselves without financial support from anywhere else. When a sibling was outed to their parents and kicked out of their home, they pulled up their local roster and called down it to find places to couch-surf while they figured out what to next.
And we aren’t alone. A lot of Greek organizations aimed at a variety of minorities exist for this very purpose. Some exist to provide a general support structure, some are there to cheer you along as you aim for an educational goal, law school for example, that you’ve been told your whole life that you aren’t wealthy enough or from a prestigious enough family to actually achieve. While some clubs can provide a similar structure, they very rarely provide the same sense of family. Of belonging. Your fellow club members are your friends, your Greek siblings are the family you mass text or call with your code word for “I’m slowly losing it, please help me” to pull you out of situations so dark that you can’t even see the light at the end of the tunnel. Both serve important roles and neither can replace the other.
I’m not saying that all Greek orgs are perfect; far from it. There are plenty out there who give the rest of us a bad name. Even after reading this some of you may never be able to imagine yourself fitting into a setting like the above, and that’s fine. They don’t have to be for everyone. All I’m asking is that you consider my experiences the next time you accuse every sorority member of being a spoiled rich kid, or accuse them of being the kind of person who’s just in it to buy friends. Because that’s not what we’re all about. Sometimes we’re just about finding the family our biological one refused to be.