“But she’s a boi.” So what? Why can’t she be a soror too?

A wedding photo from a gay couple who are members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. Their wedding pictures went viral and sparked a conversation about LGBT issues in Black sororities and fraternities.

Just had a conversation with a woman in a sorority (won’t name the organization or state whether or not the person is a soror of mine) about girls who pledge sororities who are masculine of center. Her thing is that if they are identifying with manhood, why would they want to be in a sorority. I tried to tell her that just because someone is masculine of center, if the individual is not a transman and/or identifying as a man, they are well within their right to want to be a part of a sisterhood/sorority. Her point: If someone identifies more as a man, why would they want to be in an organization for women. My point: As straight, cis-gender women, we can’t dictate the barometer for femininity/masculinity in assessing whether or not someone is suitable for membership into our organizations and if someone identifies as a woman, that’s all that matters – who cares what clothes she’s wearing and how masculine her mannerisms are?

Then she asked whether or not I think it would be OK for an Omega to walk around with “nalia” in heels and a weave and lipstick. Good question, which forces me to think about something that my straight privilege otherwise wouldn’t have to be bothered with. So my response after pausing was that ideally, if Ru Paul wanted to become an Omega and wear nalia, he should be able to pledge at a grad chapter and do so.

At the end of the day, her point is not an individual’s sexuality but how they identify and whether or not that identity is in alignment with an organization’s principles.

My point: Sisterhood does NOT mean FEMININITY.

If Janet Mock wanted to pledge at an alumnae chapter of my sorority, I would welcome and embrace her with open arms. If a dude who is feminine wanted to join our sorority, maybe not so much. I’d probably recommend that he join a frat or start another organization.

Times like these force me to reflect on my heteronormative, cis-gender privilege. Prior to conversations had with one of my besties who identifies as a same-gender loving Black man, I had never even heard of the term “cis-gender.” I also have friends who identify as queer who have issues with many of the terms and multiple identities coming out of contemporary queer communities. Sometimes it’s confusing. And, it’s a lot, I’ll be honest in saying that, but our society is changing. There is more language, coming from a space of agency, that allows people to identify how they choose to identify as opposed to being entrapped by the labels that others place on them.

For one of my close friends/little sisters/mentees, Bakari Jones, the founder of the Bois of Baltimore, while she largely identifies as a “boi” she also is clear about her identity as a Black woman and not a transman. She shared with me in a recent conversation that the Bois of Baltimore start most of their conversations when gathered by having folks introduce themselves and their preferred pronoun. I can dig that. The only pronoun that has really caused me to pause was when another queer friend told me that the person she was dating identifies as “they/them.” Um….yeah I feel you, and I’m trying as hard as possible to push my own limitations but um, come on “y’all” (plural) that’s a bit much. But maybe that’s me being singular-normative as well. But I digress.

Getting back to the issue of Black Pan-Hell members (and while we’re on the subject, we can start an entirely different debate related to Black people identifying as “Greeks” and how backwards, Eurocentric, and confusing that is but I’ll save that for another rant and another day) times are changing. People are more comfortable  with openly expressing their identity on college campuses (thank Goddess) and I believe some traditions should be upheld and others should evolve to reflect more progressive attitudes in society, as long as they do not distort the mission our illustrious founders created when they established these organizations over a hundred years ago.

For now, these are my thoughts. I’m continuously engaged in conversations with my LGBT friends whose identities range from one of end of the spectrum to the other, asking questions, sharing my views, and listening and learning. This is one of many moments I’m sharing in hopes that it will provoke more thought, change and acceptance. At the end of the day, the gay community can’t end anti-gay oppression in the same way that Black people can’t end racism –  the responsibility to change anti-gay attitudes is on the straight people of the world in the same way that it’s up to white people to end white supremacy.

Hopefully there are more open and honest conversations being had about LGBT inclusion/participation in sororities and fraternities and this is a small step in that direction.

- Elle Siwel

Note: The conversation was not about whether nor not queer people should have the right to join Black fraternities and sororities but her arguments were against individuals who identify as another gender (or expressing an alternative gender) having the right to join a sorority (in the case of masculine of center women) or fraternity (in the case of feminine of center men).

Resources: 

HBCU Digest | No Country for Gay Greeks? 

EBONY | Love is Love: A Kappa Man Speaks on the Viral Video Controversy

9 thoughts on ““But she’s a boi.” So what? Why can’t she be a soror too?

  1. Thank you for this article. I invite you to check out Gamma Rho Lambda National Sorority. We are all-inclusive multicultural collegiate sorority founded on the values of diversity, trust, unity and family.

    • Thanks for sharing Jacinda!

      From my understanding many young men and women of African descent who grew up in the States (and others who attend college here), have been exposed to the organizations known as the Divine Nine because of their histories, the traditions associated with them, their extensive networks and even family traditions. My own mother is a member of one of the Divine Nine sororities (different from my own organization) and was my first introduction to the world of Black sorority/fraternity life. I admired the bonds that she had with her linesisters who were literal “aunts” to me. While I did not opt to follow in her footsteps and become a member of her organization, I did want to join my sorority for the long and rich history it has upheld among women of African descent and the leaders that it has produced. I definitely support other organizations especially those that are inclusive but I also feel that the Divine Nine need to amend their own attitudes towards queer young men and women who want to join their ranks and/or its members who want to freely express their identity without being shunned or ostracized.

      Thanks so much for reading and your commentary!

      - Elle

  2. I’m so disturbed by the idea that just because someone applies for membership, that we are obligated to accept them! What part of the game is that? If I don’t think you embody the principles and ideals of my sorority, I don’t HAVE to give you a yes vote. Be mad, say it’s cause you’re a girl who wants to be a boy, whatever — as a duly initiated, active, financial member, that’s my RIGHT.

    • S. Dot,

      I also agree wholeheartedly that many are called but few are chosen. My organization and chapter have been said to be elitist actually because of this attitude.

      I just don’t know if I agree with someone being denied membership because they are more masculine than someone else. If the person identifies as a woman and upholds the virtues/mission of the sorority and thus would make a good soror, I say why not?

  3. While I appreciate your ‘open-mindedness’ this commentary is boarder line malarkey. Sisterhood is about femininity and we women need to stop doing everything to undermine ourselves and the femininity we possess. There is strength, boldness and vitality in being a woman. A part of being a woman includes femininity. Can some women be ‘tomboyish’ while some others prefer the ‘pillow princess’ role? Or the boss role, demure, or vixen, sporty, etc? Sure! I too think that being a gay woman or man should NOT prohibit someone from becoming a member of a sorority or fraternity. But adopting the attitudes, mannerisms and mindset of men and at the expense of one’s own femininity is a disservice. As a man thinkith, so is he, that goes for the boi’s too…

    • V.

      Thank you for your commentary. However, I do not think that femininity nor masculinity are rigid. I believe that they are both very fluid. The balance in life expresses a yin and yang and harmony between the two. Women are not completely feminine and men are not completely masculine. My worldview is formed by the African aesthetic and in tradition beliefs, there exist a balance.

      While I identify as a straight, cis-gender, Black men loving woman, I embrace both my feminine and masculine energies. I was very much so a tomboy growing up (not so much now) but I think it would be a shame to deny someone access into a sorority simply because they are masculine of center.

  4. Elle,

    The primary reason for the Uproar on the above picture is because a “Gay Gossiper blog site” falsely promoted this as a “gay couple who were members of Kappa”. If you took away the slander, the edited video, and the promotion as the “gay Kappa wedding” then it would not have been as big of an uproar and people would have been more accepting. Unfortunately you started your blog with the SAME Slander. The above photo is not a couple of Kappas marrying each other and it was not a Kappa themed wedding. Please consider taking the false information off of the page. While ONE of the gentleman in this wedding is a Same-Gender Loving Kappa man it does not do your blog, or the Kappa brother involved any good by slandering the fraternity…. you make a point of saying that “Sisterhood does not mean femininity” While that point can be debated the problem is that the organizations may be attempting to PROMOTE femininity which if they are then that means that this organization is not right for the person who does not want to portray that. It makes not sense to have respect for an organization built on one thing but then want to change what they were built on. But the great thing is that it does not mean that your idea is bad it just means that it does not mesh with the idea of the organization which means that it may be time to consider another organization OR.. Time to start their own!

    • Luck,

      I’ll research the photo more…from everything that I read, one of the men was a Kappa. I was not implying that it was a Kappa wedding as much as I was implying that there was a strong reaction to this image and at least one member of the fraternity publicizing his wedding to another man.

      But to your point which addresses this post, I can’t speak for other sororities but I know for a fact that MY founders did not include a clause about “femininity” in their mission which was established over a 100 years ago, in a different time.

      All Pan-Hell organizations have gay members whose self-expression run the gamut. I just personally believe that people should not be ostracized just because they are a little more masculine or a little more feminine than others.

      I also believe that all institutions should evolve and be dynamic. I don’t think any organization founded over a hundred years ago should remain static. My founders were VERY progressive women. Continuing to accept progressive women, no matter how they identify or express themselves, who uphold our principles, is carrying on the legacy of our organization into the future.

      But thank you for your commentary! I think this kind of discussion is important. I’m having it with my linesisters, prophytes and neos as well as sorors from other chapters.

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