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LGBTQs and As: Identity in Greek Life

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Loosely taped to the walls hung hundreds of yellow papers, each with words scrawled on them in Sharpie. Words of hatred, of shame, of ridicule, of hurt. Words that are thrown around in snide group chats and blockbuster films. Some were expectations about who did and did not belong. They were words like “Daddy’s money”, “Whore”, “Rich Slut”, “Dumb Blonde”, “Exclusive”, and “Heterosexual”. They were all words associated with being Greek.

One by one, the women of Stetson’s chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta ripped a paper off the wall and explained its falsehood as a term that should never define Theta women or, on the bigger spectrum, any Greek affiliated women. Breaking these stereotypes down was influential and emotional. So much was hidden beneath the surface that could never have been assumed from just looking at these sorority women.

Women shared their stories of rough childhoods, of eating disorders, of assault, of breaking their religion, of coming out to their families, of coping with loss, of being incredibly alone, of not feeling loved, of moments when their hope had gone. These women were not “cookie cutter”. They were proud of their lowest moments because each one of them made them strong, genuine, and appreciative of their sisterhood. The vulnerability of these strong women was beautiful, but it was the larger story that made an impact.

Being a part of Greek life comes with a preconceived notion of identity. A sorority woman is stereotyped and conceived to be tall, blonde, thin, white, heterosexual, preppy, silly, and promiscuous. A fraternity man is labeled to be physically strong, white, heterosexual, extremely tolerant of alcohol and drugs, and hypermasculine. Theta’s retreat began the process of tearing down those stereotypes by recognizing the uniqueness in every Greek member. It took over an hour to tear down the wall. But in reality, the walls of Greek misidentity are much higher than the women in that room could tear down alone.

The facets of socially constructed human identity are far too much to address in one hour at a retreat. Expanding on the idea that to be Greek is to be heterosexual and accepting of gender binarism is timely in both the Stetson and global communities. During the week of April 2 through April 6, 2018, Stetson Kaleidoscope hosted Pride Week, which consisted of fun activities to celebrate inclusivity. In the global sphere, LGBTQ+ inclusion has been a heated topic in politics, athletics, and social media. Between President Trump’s transgender military policies, media attention on the first openly gay Winter Olympian from the United States, and the ongoing social media movement “Free the Nipple”, gender and sexuality is not a new conversation. Questions of these identities, especially those of Greek life members, have been prevalent since the premiere of Animal House in 1978. Even with all this attention, the conversation of what it means to identify as LGBT+ and as a member of Stetson Greek life has not received enough attention.

Recently, we were able to sit down with Kayden Vigneux, a new member of Alpha Tau Omega, and Dayna Chaname-Matos, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, to discuss how gender and sexuality play out within Stetson’s Greek life.

The following is an interview with Kayden Vigneux, lightly edited for readership clarity.

How do you identify on the LGBT spectrum?

“I identify with T for Trans. Trans is a gender which LGB is more of a sexuality acronym, but I’m also bi.”

How do you talk about your identifiers?

“If I’m talking to someone I’ve never met before, then I most likely won’t tell them that I’m trans. It’s kind of on a need to know basis. Not many people are chill with it, so I’m not really open to getting the negative feedback from them. If I’m talking to someone within the community, then I’ll say FTM which is a female to male transgender.”

What are your preferred pronouns? How does it feel to be asked that?

“My pronouns are he/him. It is so liberating to hear. It is so nice to hear someone want to get it right that they just ask. It’s nice to know that people are really trying to get it. I’ve had a lot of people try to ask in a roundabout way like ‘who are you’ or ‘what are you’ and I’m like ‘I’m Kayden I don’t know what you mean’”

Have you ever had to correct someone?

“I always thought that correcting people meant you were taking your gender identity and shoving it in their face and I never like doing that. I always wanted to stay casual, stay back, let people think what they want to think and do what they want to do.”

What was starting at Stetson like?

“When I got to Stetson, it was one of the happiest days of my life. When I came to Hatter Saturday to walk around the campus and look around, I knew instantly I was supposed to be here. And that was an amazing feeling that I knew this is where I’m going to grow and thrive and flourish. I’m from New York and I had lived in New York my entire life, in Syracuse, right up until move in day. Coming down here, it was so nice to be who I am and not have anyone know who I was before. I wasn’t necessarily reinventing myself, I was just finally able to be who I am authentically and that was a great feeling. It was great to be able to walk around and say ‘hi I’m Kayden’ and not have people look at me like that’s a different name or shake my hand and look at me and go ‘you’re wearing different clothes’ or ‘you’re acting different’, ‘your voice is deeper’ what have you. It was nice to have those questions disappear behind me and just be able to be me and have people judge me for my personality and not a label that I put on myself. When I first got here, it was this overwhelming feeling of I can be me.”

What about starting out in ATO?

“When I first joined the fraternity, everyone welcomed me with open arms. And it was really amazing. And it was really funny because they just had a Kayden who was also trans just graduate. And so it was like an exiting of one, coming in to another.”

 

What has been difficult about joining ATO while being transgender?

They were very open to having a trans guy in ATO. The logistics of it all is very difficult and we’re still shifting that around for me to become initiated. Specifically for fraternities, I don’t know about sororities, there’s a lot of obstacles that if you’re trans, you have to jump through. And I think that it’s really stupid. In their bylaws and nationals, they have rules that say you cannot join if you’re trans unless you legally changed your gender or you’ve legally changed your name on your license. I have very mixed emotions about that. One, it’s not doable for everybody. Two, I don’t think that I should have to legally change something in order to be in it. I feel like it’s kind of holding people back from joining ATO.”

How has being trans affected your relationship with your brothers?

“Everyone is completely fine with it, it’s like a second thought to them at this point. So, me being trans while I’m with my brothers means absolutely nothing because it’s almost like it doesn’t exist to them. I’m just one of the guys. But on paper, it’s he’s not ready to join and he can’t be initiated because he hasn’t done this yet.”

What was your rush experience like?

“I went through rush and after it ended, I had no bids. I was wondering why I didn’t have any bids because I had been talking with all the guys at multiple fraternities who say that they were going to bid me and then I didn’t get any. I kind of complained to IFC and they took it as ‘oh this guy is just really upset that he didn’t get bids’ instead of ‘we should really look into this issue’.

Why do you think that happened?

“When my name came up on the rush site, it was my legal name and they realized that they couldn’t bid me because they all have bylaws that say you can’t bid a trans guy unless he’s legally changed his name. It’s deeply rooted in words on a piece of paper.  You can’t necessarily just call up nationals and say let’s take this out.

Have people tried to make changes?

“The Kayden that came before me in ATO, he was doing a lot with trying to get that law reversed and I know that he went through the school. He did a lot with school outside of Greek life with trans guys having to get their name legally changed before anything could be changed on their transcript or on their My Stetson. Now, it’s against the law not to change it if the student asks.”

How did that foundation affect you?

“It was great to see that already when I got here as a forefront. He laid the ground for me. I always thought I was an activist and he laid the concrete for me to come along and say ‘okay, we’re gonna change something here because this isn’t right, this shouldn’t be here’. It shouldn’t be this ongoing struggle for things to happen.”

What are some stereotypes that trans people face?

“Not all of us go through shit lives, like yes we go through some stuff, but not all of our lives are bad. And I think that’s something that people have to overcome and stop thinking of all of us as charity cases. I lived a good life. I’m here. I’m alive. I’m able to do everything that I want to do. Some people don’t have that and their not in the LGBT community.”

How do you feel about calling the difficulties that trans people face a battle?

“Calling it a battle is giving us more charity, it’s telling us we have to fight for everything. We shouldn’t have to fight at all. We should be able to say ‘hey this makes me uncomfortable, can we change this?’ ‘Hey can you call me this instead of that.’ And it should just be ‘yeah, I’ll try’ or ‘yes I will’ or ‘yeah, you know this should be changed’. A lot of people would say that it’s a battle because you’re always feeling like you have to fight for everything, but I feel like it should just be. And battle sounds so confrontational, it sounds so we’re in your face, we’re here, we’re trying. I don’t think the trans community in general is really trying to be in your face aggressive, we just want what we need. We need acceptance, we need universal understanding. I don’t want to say tolerance. Tolerance is not acceptance.

It’s a conversation that needs to be had instead of a battle that needs to be fought.”

How do the stereotypes of being trans and those of being in a frat mix?

“The stereotypes of being trans and being a frat guy clash. I first started my transition when I was fifteen. When you’re fifteen, you’ve been raised for fifteen years to understand how a girl operates in society. You understand how she’s supposed to carry herself, how she’s supposed to respond, how she’s supposed to interact with other people. And now that you have this new facet to your identity, it’s almost like relearning who you are. And it’s also relearning how to be masculine. Masculinity shifts within years now in society. Masculinity isn’t necessarily a set of rules, it’s not a set goal for anybody. Frat guys are seen as so stereotypically over masculinized. They’re men. They’re tough men that drink beer and break things. They’re just like crazy party guys. And then trans guys are seen as this interwoven mix of masculinity and this kind of in between. We don’t really know where we lie in a masculine scale because it’s so hard for us to be masculine because we’ve never had to do it before. We never grew up with those rules and unwritten rules that you don’t do this and you do this. Masculinity is so rigid where femininity comes with its blurred lines. When you try to intermix a man who doesn’t know what it means to be a man and you mix him into a group of men who know exactly how it means to be a man and their hypersexualizing that and they’re over masculinizing that, it’s hard for us to mesh. All the guys in a frat are stereotypically supposed to be way over that line of masculinity, and so when you’re a trans guy and you’re already underneath that line, it’s hard for you to jump up there, it can be alienating sometimes.”

How do you think this stereotype can be broken?

“You’ve just gotta be you. You don’t have to conform to a stereotype and that’s why they have different fraternities. That’s why there’s not just one big fraternity that all guys just rush into. We’re different. We’re not all cookie cutter over masculinized men. We’re our own vision of how masculinity looks.”

 

What about trans people in Greek life do you think bothers people?

Trans comes with all its own stereotypes and fraternity guys come with a stack of their own, we all know that. A lot of people think that trans guys are just these little confused feminine people that don’t really know where they fit in society. The last part is kind of true, we really don’t know where we fit in society, but it’s not a box for us. We span a lot of boxes and people don’t really like that. They don’t like when we’re not cookie cutter.”

How does it feel to have ATO be accepting of this?

“It’s nice to have a chapter like ATO that is so open with their masculinity that they’re willing to push it aside to invite someone else in and I feel like that’s how all Greek organizations should be.”

Are you proud to be a part of Greek life at Stetson?

“I feel proud to be part of Stetson Greek in general. Taking away my experiences with ATO, I’m proud to say that I’m part of Greek life. I feel Greek life has an image of not letting in trans guys, they also have another stereotype where they’re closed off to anything like that. I’m proud to have a place in Greek life where I can show people that it’s fine. It’s okay to be trans and want to be in a frat. It’s okay to join Greek life because it’s open.”

What is a high point of your Greek and LGBT experience?

“Meeting the brothers in general was a high because as soon as I met them, I knew exactly that I was meant to be there.”

What is a low point of your Greek and LGBT experience?

“Any normal person can go to the court and say hey I want to change my name and they’re like okay give us a month and then it’s done. But if a trans person were to go to court and say hey I want to legally change my name and you cite the reason as transgender, it automatically takes like six times longer. There’s an overarching understanding that we’re confused. That we don’t want to make any legal decisions until we’re sure of ourselves. The jumping through hoops is definitely the low. I mean, a few guys in a few fraternities have made comments, but I’ve heard it all. It’s definitely not a big deal for me. I mean once you’ve heard it all, it’s kind of like alright you’re not that creative anymore. When you hit me with something I haven’t heard yet, then I might be offended. If you don’t like me as me, then why are you talking to me? Why did you even make the effort and take the time to walk up to me and say that? Don’t acknowledge me as a person if you’re not going to acknowledge me as the person that I am.”

How has being in Greek life affected you?

“Being in the house with the guys and spending time with them and other fraternity men has brought me into my own masculinity and my own definition of who I am. It has shaped my lines, where my masculinity stops and where it starts. It’s showed me that whoever I am, I can be. I don’t have to conform or make myself more masculine to be in Greek life because it’s just a stereotype.

Obviously, we all walked into Greek life with these running thoughts of what happens in movies, but I walked in and over time my masculinity was chipped away until I made it into a sculpture that was mine and not a replication of someone else’s.

 It’s unique to feel that you can mold yourself to be whoever you want and you will always have people there to back you up no matter what.”

How did telling people you’re trans in ATO work? Do you want people to know?

“If someone can look at me and say ‘that’s a guy’, I would prefer that over ‘that’s a trans guy’. Within the fraternity, it was definitely need to know first, but then I was like I’ll tell them. Context

I would rather tell them because it’s my personal thing and I would do it on my time.”

Tell me more about your thoughts on fraternity stereotypes and how they manifest.

“It’s considered a fraternity thing in general that we’re all sexually deviant, we’re all rich white guys that aren’t the best people. We’re all assholes. No. We’re not all assholes. We’re actually really great guys who care a lot about why we’re here. We care a lot about our academics and going somewhere in life.

 A lot of people aren’t in it just because they want to drink beer, have a good time, and have a lot of sex. You’re there because you care about the people that you’re with, because you care about being part of something bigger than what you really are.

 A lot of fraternities get that bad rep. They’re seen as party central where girls go to get drunk, drugs, and not good stuff. I think fraternities need to start taking those stereotypes and break them down because a lot of fraternities don’t fit into that stereotype. They don’t get a lot of funding because of the stereotype. They don’t get brothers because they don’t feel they fit the stereotype. Stereotypes are damaging. It’s hard to break those because it’s so deeply ingrained in us with popular media. It’s not good to sit there and think I’m in Greek life, but all I can think about are negative stereotypes for it. The whole point of it is to be in a brotherhood that is going to help you succeed. It’s not known for Greek life to be scholars, to be seen as successful individuals that go somewhere. We’re seen as party people that are either expected to drop out or quit because we’re not actually there for our academics. We’re seen as not caring, as not having personalities, to have emotions or expectations for ourselves or others. When you actually get into Greek life, you see that people have hopes, dreams, emotions. We are people. We have personalities. People tend to skip over those dreams and just say ‘well, he’s got a beer in his hand so he’s just a party guy’. We’re seen as less people and more objects that go and have fun. It’s kind of stripped away everything we’ve been building up our entire lives.”

Do you think being in Greek life has helped you embrace your identity?

“In high school, I never thought I was going to join a frat. Not once in my life did I think I’m gonna go Greek because I just didn’t think I was a frat guy. When I got here and realized the dynamic of the guys on this campus and the dynamic of the fraternities in general, I saw it as this can be really good for someone like me because I’m still figuring out my masculinity, where I fit in society, who I am, and what my interests are. Being part of Greek life is an amazing feeling because you get to sit there and just be you. You figure out what you value.”

 

Why did you go Greek?

“It’s so easy within Greek to find yourself in the values and morals of other people. I say that in a good way, not that you’re molding yourself based on who you’re with, but you’re molding yourself based on how other people value certain things, you figure out how you value certain things. You get to know yourself a lot better than you do anybody else. I went Greek because I wanted that backbone of brotherhood to stay with me forever and I wanted to be a part of that, but I also wanted it because I wanted to know more about myself and I wanted to know how far I could push myself.”

The following is an interview with Dayna Chaname-Matos, lightly edited for readership clarity.

 

What part of the LGBT spectrum do you identify as?

“I guess I identify as lesbian. I’ve been playing around with the idea of queer.”

What are your preferred pronouns? How do you feel about someone asking that?

“She/her/hers. I think it’s appropriate, but the main way people try to do it is to introduce themselves and say their own pronouns. That’s a better respected practice than just ‘what are your pronouns’. There’s no shame in always asking just to make sure someone feels comfortable.”

How has your Greek life experience been so far?

“It’s been pretty positive. I’ve met a lot more people. I talk to a lot of more other sorority people and fraternity people than I thought I would. With my own sorority it’s really nice, they’re supportive and nice.”

Have you had a coming out moment at Stetson?

“I’ve never officially come out on Stetson’s campus. I think people just assume whatever I am because I’m the President of Kaleidoscope and I don’t really correct those assumptions. I just go with it.”

How do you define community?

“A community for me is a place where people are able to have free communication and talk about different ideas and perspectives and their own experiences and have a voice and ear to listen to that. So, as long as it’s encouraging as a space where you can communicate how you feel, that’s a community. And if it doesn’t feel like it’s overly judgemental, then it’s a good community.

 

Do you feel like the Stetson Greek community fits that definition?

“No. I feel like a lot of times when anything happens in any of the orgs, it is usually pushed under the rug and not really discussed. It’s not really an open community to discuss things or make change because with community comes changes. I don’t feel like it’s a successful community sometimes because a lot of things are brushed under the rug and we’re just told to get over it.”

How does that affect being LGBT and Greek?

“I think you can be Greek and LGBT+, but sometimes it’s difficult because I personally don’t want to be the person that’s like ‘oh, there’s that gay Greek kid’. It’s a stereotype or it’s just a label in general that I didn’t personally want. I’m just being myself. I think it happens more in other places. It happens a lot more fraternities where people feel like they can’t come out or have to be less of who they are because of the place that they’re in. When I talk to some of them, they’ll be like ‘I feel like I have to change who I am when I’m around my brothers’. They feel like they have to change how they act around their sisters or brothers which sucks because that’s their identity.”

Do you personally have to deal with changing yourself around your sisters?

“I feel like I have to watch a line between being overt gay and what can be seen as acceptable gay. I always feel awkward sometimes going to socials or date functions if I have a date that is a women because I don’t want to be judged or stared at and sometimes it happens.”

Can you explain the line between overtly gay and accepted gay?

“I think you see it a lot in like media and social perceptions. I personally think your personality is your personality, but there are labels put onto that. We’ll use an example like Glee. If you look at Kurt compared to a more accepted would be Blaine because he looks and acts a lot more masculine.”

What have been your best and worst Greek moments?

“There are a lot of good Greek moments. I just like the times when I am just hanging out with some sisters on my own, just talking to them without having to be in a formal setting. Worst moments: when people just bash on each other for no reason or don’t give them a chance to explain or there is no compassion. It’s so easy to judge. I think that’s one of the worst things sometimes especially, in some of our groups as Thetas and within others. I feel like there isn’t a lot of compassion for what people are going through or like some questions people have.”

Best and worst LGBTQ moments?

“Being president (of Kaleidoscope) is pretty cool. I like the events we did this year. I made a door. It’s called the gateway. That was a pretty good moment. It’s challenging sometimes talking to people. I’m just human and a lot of people come to me with certain things and it can be challenging to find the right word to make them feel validated because some people are still coming to terms with their identify. It’s not a worst moment, it’s just challenging. I’m always trying to grow more and answer questions in a way that I can to help people. A worst for me is just I feel like I’m not doing enough to help people.”

Is there a stereotype or reoccuring moment that bothers you?

Something that just bothers me sometimes is some people just ask me for advice on relationships and someone would be like ‘you don’t understand because you’re not in this type of relationship’. I mean, a healthy relationship is a healthy relationship. The fact that you’re imposing that there is a clear difference between a same sex relationship and a heterosexual relationship, besides just I’d assume maybe intercourse, it’s ridiculous to me and it just annoys me. I understand what a health relationship is and I can critique on that, especially if you ask me to. I can’t think of any other major stereotypes imposed on me that I just care about anymore. I feel like I cared more last year; this year I’m just trying to graduate.”

What do you say to those moments?

“I’m me. You’re going to like me or you’re going to hate me. If you care enough, to confront me about this, I’ll try to change, but I’m trying to just get through the day.at the end of the day, I’m just trying to keep going.”

Why did you decide to “Go Greek”?

“I don’t have a sappy story. I was just chilling around. I was working for Hub in the Cub at the time, now the information desk, and Ryan Manning was like ‘hey Dayna you should check out the Theta table’ and I was like ‘okay, I never saw myself as a Theta’. He was just like ‘Why?’  I had a bad experience with something that I dated that was a Theta. I ended up just checking out the table and Megan and Ansley were pretty chill. They were our ELCs. And I was like ‘sure! I’ll try it’ during the interview. I really like interviews and it was an interview process, so I was like I really have nothing to lose. And I love CASA. So like that was the main reason. I always told myself if I found a philanthropy that I really wanted to get behind and do things for, then I would do it. There are a lot of great philanthropies on campus, but I have always worked closely with children since I’m an education minor, so, it’s just something that I am passionate about.”

What about Theta made it feel right?

“Definitely the philanthropy. That was probably my main reason for joining in the first place. After that, it would be some sisterhood. I’ve met a lot of great people who are fun to hang out with. They had like a lot of the same passions and values as me and that’s why I felt comfortable.”

Has being a part of Greek life changed your view on being LGBT?

“It did not change how I viewed it. I don’t think it did. I don’t think there was a difference, like in my thought process, I was just Greek and I was just LGBT+ and they intersect sometimes.”

Has being a part of Greek life supported you?

“I think it has. I have met a lot of people who are encouraging of my stuff, like my events now. I think that, especially within Theta, a lot of people that I’ve met and event directed with are uplifting. They’re always encouraging me to keep going on and like, you know, I’m tired sometimes, but they’re just like ‘you can do this’ and ‘good job’. That’s always uplifting because you don’t always hear that a lot, especially when you’re working so much.”

Talk to me about the Homecoming Royalty process.

“I thought that it was really great that Stetson decided to do a gender-neutral court. I think that’s something that is necessary. However, I disagree with the way they implemented it. I believe firmly that they should have said something like explaining the importance of it to our University and how it aligns with their values because there was a lot of oversight. Like halfway through voting when it was Homecoming King and Queen, they changed it to royalty. There was a lot of upset. I feel like when people are not educated on the importance of things it breeds more ignorance and intolerance. This should have been something that that had been discussed since the beginning of the school year like ‘hi, homecoming this year is going to be a little different, this year we’re doing royalty’, and then we can talk about all the different things and different platforms for it just to give people the time to warm up to it. I mean I would love it if everyone was just immediately accepting, but in reality, it doesn’t always happen. I think that would’ve helped a lot with breeding more acceptance towards this idea and wish it wouldn’t get as much backlash as it did. But it could have been a little less if they had educated, but again I am happy that Stetson did a neutral court. The gender isn’t binary. Gender is a social construct, but I digress.”

 

Is there a link between Greek life and being LGBT?

“I think that there is a link. I know that I definitely have worn my letters more when I’m doing LGBTQ+ events just because I think it’s important to show representation. There are people in the Greek community that identify on that spectrum.”

How is that received?

“It’s very mixed. There is push back on some of my org members in regards to getting more involved with things in the Greek community because they have experienced things from members of Greek life themselves, just being negative, which makes total sense, I would not blame them.

What has happened that you know of?

“Something happened to one of my friend’s friends in the Hat Rack and they witnessed a guy who happened to have like bigger pecks than like normal and two people from Greek life were just like ‘so what are you, are you a girl or a boy?’ and stuff like that happens a lot. It’s upsetting. It’s invalidating. It is considered a microaggression. It’s a full-on aggression honestly.”

Why do you think that happens?

“It’s easy to say like, oh they’re stupid. Sometimes I think it is like an education thing, but sometimes you can educate someone until you’re blue in the face and do it in a positive way that promotes conversation and dialogue and it still isn’t enough. Sometimes it just feels like ignorance that they’re okay with.”

What should Stetson’s Greek community be striving toward?

“I think in general, one being more educated, and two being more accepting and having more compassion. You see this across the board, if you look at the people that are in Greek life right now, it’s just cisgender white people and people do not feel welcomed to these spaces because it is not open.”

What can people do on an individual level to be a more accepting member of Greek life?

“Realizing people on the spectrum or like anyone that is different from you isn’t obligated to educate you. There are resources everywhere for you to educate yourself. Being open to educate yourself and being understanding and actively listening. Listening to respond isn’t the same thing as active listening. You’re not going to learn anything if you’re not fully hearing what the other person has to say.”

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LGBTQs and As: Identity in Greek Life