Illustration by Medha Imam

Beyond the Binary

LGBTQ+ students find their letters.

By Anna Waters

LJ Krohn is a sister in Kappa Delta sorority, but they do not identify as female.

genderqueer: People who identify as both male and female, neither male nor female, or outside of a gender binary.

Krohn, a Communciation senior, is genderqueer, so they identify as neither man nor woman. The Greek system, however, has no gray area – women join sororities, and men join fraternities. Those who do not subscribe to this gender binary face unique challenges in their memberships if they choose to join at all.

Even before joining Greek life, the strictness of sorority recruitment can deter LGTBQ+ students from getting involved. Those who go through the process make decisions about which sororities they prefer based on conversations with members. Though never an official policy, potential new members have been advised to avoid the Five B’s: Barack (politics), Booze (alcohol or drugs), Boys (sex, relationships, etc.), Bank (wealth) and Bible (religion). Now it is being discouraged for 2016 recruitment. Regardless, sexuality can be difficult to bring up.

sexuality: an individual's enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same.

“It has to be incredibly stressful to be going through recruitment, trying to decide whether or not you need to make your sexuality known,” says Elyse Ausenbaugh (WCAS ‘14), the former president of Alpha Phi sorority, who identifies as lesbian. “You want to make sure that whichever chapter you end up in will be comfortable with it.”

Treyvon Thomas, a Communication junior and former member of Sigma Chi fraternity who identifies as queer, says potential fraternity members may have it a bit easier.

“It’s very different in fraternity rush. You can say whatever you want to, so you can straight up ask what it’s like being queer in a fraternity,” Thomas says. “It’s really comforting to know that you can just ask because you want to make sure you’re in a place that’s going to be accepting of all parts of you.”

gender binary: the classification of sex and gender into two distinct, opposite and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine.

For those who do end up joining Greek life, many social events consist of mixers between fraternities and sororities, a tradition built on heteronormativity, or the presumption of heterosexuality and an adherence to a strict gender binary.

Krohn says when they brought a female date to a formal, some members of their sorority assumed she was just a friend. Kate Slosburg, a SESP junior in a sorority, says these comments tend to come from a lack of awareness, not homophobia. Most, if not all, Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Association chapters on campus have LGBTQ+ members, but Slosburg says chapters might not be aware of all their queer members.

Those who don’t fit into the sexuality and gender norms of Greek life say they are constantly reminded of it. Krohn says gendered language permeates almost every area of these institutions, and it can be hard to remember that they belong.

“As easy as it is to hear rituals calling us women and think that I don’t belong here, I have to remember that we were founded way back in the 1800s, and people like me were just unheard of,” Krohn says.

LGBTQ+: Acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or two-spirit, and queer or questioning.” The "+" stands for Intersex, Asexual, and any other terms people use to define their sexuality or gender.

Now, the LGBTQ+ community is more visible, though perhaps not in Greek life. Changing that requires coming out: a process that isn’t easy, particularly in a Greek organization.

“There was no script for coming out in a sorority because I didn’t know anyone else who’d done it,” Ausenbaugh says. “It made the whole thing so much more anxiety-inducing because you had no idea what would happen when you came out.”

Once she took the plunge, she says it had a positive snowball effect, and younger women in her chapter reached out to her. Some members of that group meet officially in a group formerly called Lambda. The group now includes LGBTQ+ athletes, and goes by STAG Alliance. They meet weekly to discuss the intersection of their sexualities and Greek organizations, though this year the group expanded to include LGBTQ+ athletes.

Slosburg is the facilitator of the group and says it serves an important purpose.

queer: someone who expresses fluid identities and orientations, or has a sexual orientation or gender identity under the LGBTQ+ umbrella but doesn't identify with one specific label.

“Just being able to voice concerns and being able to talk about things that can be problematic in Greek life with other queer members can be therapeutic in itself,” Slosburg says.

However, many LGBTQ+ Greeks say just talking is not enough. Krohn says they are frustrated at Greek organizations’ reluctance to improve or change. Completely removing heteronormativity from the system seems impossible, Krohn says, especially because a vast majority of members of Greek life aren’t LGBTQ+ and creating a new system wouldn’t be easy.

“My first instinct would be to create groups that don’t focus on gender, but unfortunately we live in a society where that isn’t really feasible because of things like sexual assault and gender inequality,” Krohn says. “There’s going to be a problem with any kind of system you set up because if you just make queer fraternities or sororities, you’re still distancing yourself from the Greek community. To me, that’s not really inclusion.”

heteronormativity: a worldview that promotes heterosexuality as the assumed "normal" or preferred sexual orientation.

All sororities now have Diversity and Inclusion chairs, and at least some members of their executive boards are safe-space trained. Last year, Lambda reached out to Fraternity and Sorority Life to try to incorporate heteronormativity in the NU Greek Leadership retreat, but the idea was turned down.

Slosburg suggests simple changes such as reminding members not to assume anything about anyone’s gender or sexuality. She says especially for social events where some sorority and fraternity members are set up with dates, asking what gender(s) someone would prefer is an easy way to be more inclusive. Bryan Wood, a Communication sophomore and member of Pi Kappa Alpha suggests mixers between four Greek chapters: two sororities, and two fraternities, creating opportunities for members of any sexuality to find people they are interested in.

During Fall Quarter of his freshman year, an upperclassman told Wood she could see him fitting in at Pi Kappa Alpha, but changed her answer to a different fraternity after finding out he was gay. He started looking into the other fraternity, but ended up at Pike, saying he does not use his sexuality as an identifier.

“I never go up to people and say ‘Hi, I’m Bryan Wood, I’m gay,’” he says. “If I’m not into you then it has nothing to do with my personality at all.”

At the end of the day, the complications, fear and entrenched heteronormativity could be discouraging to those considering going through the recruitment process. However, many LGBTQ+ members of the Greek community could not recommend it more.

“Going Greek was the single best thing I did since graduating high school because of the community you get with it,” Ausenbaugh says. “Joining a sorority gave me that community that I think ultimately was able to lift me up enough to have the courage to come out, which was a really incredible, powerful and special thing.”

Krohn also says they are incredibly thankful for the community and support from their sorority, even if they aren’t exactly a “sorority girl.”

“I’m definitely very glad to be part of a sorority,” Krohn says. “Just because I don’t identify with the gender that most of my sisters identify with doesn’t mean I’m not one of them.”

The definitions of these frequently-used terms to discuss gender and sexuality have been adapted from HRC, GLAAD, Oxford English Dictionary and Intersex Society of America. NBN recognizes that each individual asserts their various identities in their own terms, therefore these definitions are meant to be descriptive, but not prescriptive.