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).