Recently, it has come to my attention that more and more openly gay men are joining fraternities. As a first-generation, gay student from the rural North, I understand the appeal of joining a fraternity. I’ll be honest, I even tried — to no avail — to rush as a sophomore. Finally being accepted by a group of masculine straight men would be a dream come true to a young gay kid who never fit in. Gay people throughout time have had to make their own families, and I understand the appeal of wanting a group of friends you can call your “brothers.” But that is the same reason I am glad I did not receive a bid. I realized that I was trying to reach a sense of hyper-masculinity or aggressively male behavior that I felt I lacked for being gay. This internalized homophobia is a struggle for many younger gay men. It is also why I believe so many younger white gay men are joining fraternities now.
But, is that sense of validation worth contributing to a system with a history of violent racism, homophobia and misogyny? The other day I watched a TikTok where an openly gay white fraternity brother joked about how he has to make sure that girls know that they are “safe” around him because he is not straight. In a sense, he knows that fraternities are infamous for being a dangerous place for women, but for some reason being gay absolves him from that part of the fraternity? Gay people are no strangers to violence, especially sexual violence, so why would you as a gay person contribute to a culture that perpetuates it?
A lot of people like to argue that by being gay in a fraternity, a person can help dismantle the institutional homophobia of Greek life. To that, I ask: Why are there so many closeted men in fraternities? In my experience, a fraternity — no matter how progressive the school they are at is — is going to be completely unwilling to accept a pledge if they are not heterosexual passing. In fact, I was told by a member of one of the fraternities I tried to rush that “they probably wouldn’t bid a member if they knew that he was gay.” So then, what exactly is a gay person gaining from their fraternity other than validation from their straight peers? I’ve heard arguments that some gay guys might want the recognition that comes with certain fraternity letters or just guys to drink with. However, there are plenty of organizations on campus that provide a sense of community without the toxicity of a fraternity. White gay men especially are criticized for their lack of social awareness. We may be gay, but we still benefit from the privilege of our skin color and the fact that it is fairly easy to pass as straight. This comes with a responsibility to fight against systems that oppress LGBTQ+ people of color, not join them. If you have the privilege of passing enough to join a fraternity, you should use it to help your community, not contribute to systems that hurt it.
This increase of gay men in fraternities is symptomatic of a larger problem within the gay community. I see less of an emphasis on gay men existing in spaces that they created and being lauded for existing in spaces created by straight people. Last summer, NFL player Carl Nassib came out as gay, making him the first openly gay NFL player. Many saw this as an important step for gay representation in sports media, but why? A straight-acting, registered Republican existing in a place created by straight people for straight people is hardly contributing to the LGBTQ+ community. Every gay person has heard, “I hate gay people who make it their whole personality.” Existing how oppressors want you to exist is not revolutionary, and this same idea can be applied to gay men in fraternities. It’s almost as if we have fetishized the straight experience so much that we forgot where we came from. The LGBTQ+ community started as a revolt against social norms. I want to see representation of effeminate men and trans men and women of color, people who still have to fight to be themselves, not people that straight men have deemed acceptable to be in their spaces. It may seem like you are breaking barriers by being gay in a fraternity, but all you are doing is contributing to the toxicity that so many are still victims of on campus.
Jacob Fenlon is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.