art and photo by William Sterling Walker
Gays in Fraternities
Daniel A. Carriveau
Smashing sorority girls, binge drinking, random hook-ups, dirty dancing, and wild parties are many things that people believe is part of the fraternity life. Where do gay people fit into this cluster fuck of preconceived notions? Being gay in a fraternity brings many positive outcomes but also does create negative issues that one will need to encounter straightforward.
In all honesty, there is a lot more to fraternities than what people have come to perceive over the years from the news exploiting cases, movies hamming up the scenes for effect, and stories/rumors that people tell. Each fraternity strives for something more than what these sources explain fraternity life to be like. My fraternity, Zeta Chi of Lakeland College, strives to fulfill our five cardinal virtues of service, strength, scholarship, spirituality, and mercury. This is our primary objectives, but none the less, as in any fraternity, we are connected very socially through the fraternity and develop strong relationships with our brothers. This is where many of the negative issues and positive effects of being gay in a fraternity stem from. I certainly have encountered many of these mainly because of my extreme involvement and the fact that fraternities are very tight-knit groups of people in the social elements the group offers.
My biggest concern was to be accepted by my fraternity brothers. I waited until the semester after I had pledged to come out to my fraternity. I remember being extremely nervous and would not come out to everyone without my big brother present to help combat any negative responses. Needless to say, my big brother was not needed for this purpose. My brothers were all happy that I could feel comfortable around them. They had only positive responses to me coming out. Afterwards, we had a small coming out party to help celebrate this acceptance.
Digging deeper into examining my fraternity brothers on the issue of accepting homosexuals, I have much hesitation and reservation as to if they really do. It can be extremely easy to tell someone to their face that they accept someone because they are homosexual, they are okay with it, nothing changes between us, and all the other cliché responses that people say. Based on the language and behavior from my brothers that I hear, a homosexual would be forced to question the validity of these responses. Many times I have heard distasteful comments involving gays from my brothers. Further, their actions prove my point even further. My brothers act very homophobic; intentionally not getting close to or touching another person. Who cares that in a tightly packed car, your leg is touching another person’s leg? On a trip, I had to sleep in a completely separate room by myself. Another time when I slept in the same room as everyone else, it was specifically stated that I was supposed to sleep in a different room, again by myself. One roommate that I had on the trip decided to sleep on the floor in another person’s room to avoid being in the same bed as me. I guess they are worried that I am going to hit on them or something just because I like other guys. The fact is, I am not attracted to them nor do I hit on them. After I restate the comment or describing the behavior I witnessed, a new light is shined on the issue and often clears the issue up.
Sometimes I feel singled out about issues of homophobia. What is okay for a straight person to do is not okay for a gay person to do. If the topic was not queer, my brothers would very intently listen. It seems like a one way street where I must listen to heterosexual topic conversations while I cannot have a homosexual topic conversation. My fraternity brothers can so quickly dismiss me in conversation because of the queer ideas that I bring into conversation, especially sex. There is only a select few people who I can talk to about relationships and my sexual profile. The others say that it makes them feel awkward, but how awkward do you think I feel listening to stories about slamming some girl’s vagina while I am eating my lunch?
What makes things even more awkward is the difference in activities between homosexuals and heterosexuals. I certainly do not want to go to a strip club but have gone for the bonding experience with some of my brothers. I have invited my brothers to go to the local gay bar on multiple occasions, but have been turned down every time. On my twenty-first birthday, I went to the gay bar, but many of my twenty-one year-old fraternity brothers decided not to attend because of the type of bar I was going to. I have even been dropped off by myself at a gay club while everyone else went to the local strip club.
There are a lot of internal pressure and issues that a gay fraternity boy must deal with. There needs to be some boundaries set to avoid having to deal with pledges feeling as if they are being hit on or being asked to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable and inappropriate. Pledges cannot be looked upon as being attractive. Further, boundaries must exist as to not make current brothers feel pressured or awkward. It is kind of an unwritten rule for us that we should not date our fraternity brothers. The aftermath, if the relationship were not to work out, could affect the entire fraternity as a whole and destroy the success of the fraternity. If anything does happen between fraternity brothers, they are not really talked about and life continues. Any issues are dealt with between the two people. This can be extremely hard sometimes, as we all have great connections and don’t want this to happen. In time, hopefully after college, reconnections can occur and further options pursued. Dealing with many of the above issues can cause lots of mental stress. Personally, they have torn me apart staying up late thinking and dealing with these issues. I have beaten and battered myself into an unhealthy state of being trying to tend to the issues and just reach acceptance from my fraternity brothers, the people who mean the most to me in college.
All in all, there are not just negative issues to deal with from being gay in a fraternity. Despite my sexual orientation, I am still a brother. My fraternity will always have my back in any trouble or fights that I get into. My brothers will still be there to listen if I need to talk about important issue I am facing. I feel as if by having me in the fraternity, the group has become and continues to be more diversified and accepting of people, little by little. I am able to provide a different perspective on topics of the fraternity’s business. Most importantly, I am able to offer guidance and direction to people who have questions about homosexuality. I can answer many questions that my brothers may have about queer theory and homosexuality. This has helped a few of my fraternity brothers and allowed them to be more comfortable with themselves and truly discover who they are.
Considering the many challenges gays have already overcome before attending college, most will also be able to be prepared to face the additional challenges of life in a fraternity. They face more adversity dealing with the rest of society and life, in general. However, if I am able to make a difference within my fraternity, imagine the difference I could make in the future to the rest of society. I know that the task does not resolve over night, but much rather requires much time and effort to make happen in the future. It is a continual process and always will be. My fraternity brothers have taught me a lot about how to engage myself in future endeavors for fighting for equality. Furthermore, I believe that I have made and continue to make a different simply by being myself in an environment where I am not “natural.” Fighting the adversity straightforward is what makes the difference and develops a person and those around them into much better people.
Daniel A. Carriveau is a senior at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, WI. He is double majoring in resort management and accounting. At Lakeland he has been active in Campus Activities Board, Student Association, Habitat for Humanity, Resort Management Association, Mortarboard, and the Zeta Chi Fraternity. He also completes 200 service hours per semester for the local community. He is interested in employment in the hospitality field eventually leading to a position in resort management. Out and proud, he plans to continue making a positive contribution to the queer community.
This essay is reprinted with permission of the author and originally appeared in The Queer Foundation Scholar (April 2014), pp. 1-3. Selected essays from past years appear on the Queer Foundation Web site at http://queerfoundation.org.