In college, I had confusing fights with myself over whether to come out and to what extent. One of the first groups I sought out was the gay group on campus. It was important for me to talk to gay peers at the time, since I had never done so except for online. But ultimately, I didn’t seem to have much in common with any of them, so I started to redirect my social life. I didn’t exactly go back in the closet, I just implemented my own personal “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Don’t leave evidence lying around, don’t bring it up, just don’t deny it if someone does bring it up. Also, I had a boyfriend. I went places with him and he even came to campus to pick me up a few times. No one ever asked me about him.
Wanting to have a better network of friends, I thought it was a good idea to check out the fraternities. I’m just going to call the first one Alpha. I probably knew the least about them going in, and that may be the reason, but for some reason, they really took an interest in me. I was quite surprised when I got invited to their second-round party, which was centered around a sit-down dinner. I guess the more intimate setting made me a little more nervous and reserved than their earlier party, and I was not invited to join.
My next move was to run for Student Government (SGA). Since there weren’t enough candidates in my college, I won without even having to campaign. I don’t remember how I did, especially since everyone who finished behind me put more effort into it than I had.
I thought it would be a good show of initiative if I went to a meeting of the gay organization and let them know that I would be happy to help them if they had any issues. SGA was responsible for chartering student social groups and providing funding. While I was at the meeting, I noticed a member of Alpha fraternity, who was on the fraternity council, walk by at least 5 times, seeming to look in. I didn’t know if I was being paranoid, but I had a reason for being there other than being gay, so even if he was looking and did see me, I didn’t think I had much to worry about.
So a few months later, rush started again. I was told when I went to the first-round party for Alpha fraternity by one of the members (who I thought was my friend) that they weren’t really interested in inviting a guy to a second-round party when they had already rushed before. I knew this was false, because there was at least one such guy at the second-round party I had attended.
I asked a few guys that I still consider friends (not that I really talk to them much) how the meeting (where they chose guys for the second round) went. One told me he got angry and walked out, and the other one told me those meetings were bullshit and he didn’t have anything to do with the decisions that were made. When I wasn’t invited, after repeatedly going over it in my head, I started to put the pieces of the puzzle together and realized that they had probably stood up for me and gotten shot down by the fraternity council member, and that was the closest they could come to telling me. I also know that a “black ball” can cancel out votes in your favor, and depending on the fraternity, even one can eliminate you. So it may not have mattered if almost everyone else were on my side as well.
I did get invited to a different fraternity, Beta. They were a smaller group and a lot more to themselves. This seemed like an alright fit, although I had liked Alpha because they would have been more of a complement to my personality.
A few weeks after joining Beta, one of the members who was on the fraternity council heard a rumor that I was a founding member of the gay organization (who had changed its name from one year to the next, hence the “founding” part), which I said was not true. I was never a dues-paying member, just went to a few of meetings and a couple of social activities.
Soon after this, the head of the fraternity needed to have a talk with me, just between us. This was highly unusual. The set-up for pledging is “us against them.” So normally he only talked to us in a judge’s robe in a room full of guys, and the vice president (the only person who was supposed to be on our side) was the one who spoke to us. He had me sit down on a bed, which was more awkward. He asked a couple general questions. Has anyone done this or that to us? What do I think of this? He then said that he dated a girl who, it turns out, prefers other girls. I think I started to sweat around this time. He then said, “So, I don’t have a problem with it (which was a non-sequitur, but I guess he was desperate for a segue), but I need to know for your sake if you’re gay.”
I took a deep breath and said, “Yes, I am.”
Then HE asked ME, “What do I do?”
“The other guys. Should I tell them? They’re going to find out.”
Then, I let him know that one of the other guys in my pledge class heard the leader of my pledge class say “that” didn’t belong in the fraternity.
He said, loosely, “What the hell does he know about it? It’s not up to him. You wouldn’t be here if we didn’t want you here. But I need to know what to do about this.”
I said, “Talk to them, they should know, but it would be better if they didn’t bring it up.”
It wasn’t brought up, except for once. One of the members (trying to be a drill sergeant) asked the pledges if they sucked dick. I just kind of smirked and the rest said no. Another member standing next to me said in a low voice, “Why isn’t (my name) answering,” and we both just kind of smiled about it.
I didn’t ultimately join the fraternity. I felt too alienated from people I liked who were in other fraternities or who felt differently about me because I was involved with one at all, and I knew there were those in Beta whom I would never like, but for the first time I felt the confidence to make friends, even masculine straight ones, without worrying about revealing my sexuality. Eventually, just about everyone found out and there wasn’t ever an issue (with people finding out alone), even though I was also on the lacrosse (club) team and in a religious retreat group.
The only things that happened were that I lost a friend because he got drunk and kissed me and then freaked out about it, and I made some other guy uncomfortable because even though he jokingly refers to how hot (or even good in bed) other guys are all the time, he couldn’t take such a joke about himself from me.
Although the official policy of Beta is that being a pledge and quitting makes you the scum of the earth, many of them still said “Hi” and were even cordial with me.
I somewhat shyly walked up to “the” Alpha table in the cafeteria once and asked if I could sit there (one Alpha had complained that I was presumptuous when I did so while rushing…but I think he was just grumpy), and one of my friends (not the one who had told me about the meeting) looked at me like I was crazy and said, “(My name), yeah, of course.”