I helped found the Kappa Chapter of Gamma Rho Lambda at University of Houston. I had never been interested in going Greek, everything I heard about sororities—hazing, required miniskirt day, the hive mentality—sounded like a cult I did not want a part of. In 2010, I showed up to an information session held by our founding president and I stared at a table of ten people who looked way cooler than me and asked, “This isn’t a cult, right?” Those ten people all looked around the table with the same face of concern I had. I knew I was in the right place.
Tonight, is Theta class’s, our eighth class, Night of Prophesies (NoP). It’s an event the new class puts together to show the active members they care, but also to show who they are as a class and what GRL has come to mean to them. It’s an important event and one the Thetas have worked hard on in secret from the actives. Yes, it’s a tradition, but it’s a positive one. It makes me happy to watch over the semesters as the new members smile to themselves when NoP comes up and all the actives want to know. It makes me smile to see them excited for it, to see them taking a traditional event and making it into whatever they want. Because yes, we do have traditions, we have things that come every semester, but those traditions don’t have to be the same thing every time.
GRL is a living organization, it changes with each new member who joins. We do not adapt to our traditions, our traditions and values adapt to us. Watching this happen over the semesters is one of my most valuable experiences as a sibling. I have watched us shift from a group of ten, to as small as six, to up to fourteen. I have watched as our average age went from mid-twenties, to under 21. I have watched as we went from a group going hard, doing events every weekend, always volunteering, always fundraising, always planning to one that takes a step back and remembers we’re a sorority—a family and we’re also college students, we need sleep sometimes. I have watched us go from no involvement with other Greeks, to participating in homecoming, to helping out other sororities raise money for Make-a-Wish (and winning second place in the penny wars).
Our ideologies change, when I came out as nonbinary, and we started to get in more nonbinary members and trans* masculine members, we realized our rituals and constitution were very cisnormative and very woman focused. We changed the language to be gender inclusive. When we have members who work, or have curfews, or religious services on certain days or nights, we schedule around them. Our traditions adapt to us. We don’t adapt to our traditions.
A sorority or fraternity is what the siblings of that chapter make it. Yes, you have some rules and restrictions to follow, but you have leeway in how you do that. Yes, there are the old money, hundred year old frats and sororities who party and violate FIPG (our insurance guidelines) left and right, but there are also Greeks who joined frats and sororities that raise money for sick kids, or go out and build houses, or stay home and study, or have LAN Parties—because that’s what they were looking for in Greek life.
Yes, there is the reality that you may not love all your siblings equally, or you may not get along with them. But you learn to make it work, because even if you don’t get on with a sibling, you’re both here because you love your siblings, or you love what your sorority or fraternity stands for, what they do. You learn to work together for the group, for the organization and for your siblings.
Yes, Greek life can be expensive, yes you have to pay, but that money goes back to you. GRL’s dues are extremely low and of what we pay, a majority of it goes to pay the insurance that allows us to exist. The rest goes back to the members, to buying t-shirts, or swag, or supplies for events. We fundraise a lot of the money we save. And when someone can’t pay, we work with them, we fundraise the money to support them, we go to the local community for sponsorships, we seek donations from alumni. We don’t just take the money and run, we don’t stop being family because someone can’t pay.
Yes, we go to drag shows, we have bake sales. But those aren’t our required events. We go to and perform in drag shows because we think it’s fun, but if a sibling has stage fright, or just doesn’t like drag for any reason—we don’t force them to attend. No one has to attend every event we go to, host, or help with. Yes you have a certain number of volunteer hours, of hours for attendance, but there are options for how you get those. A sorority or fraternity is what you make it.
Kappa chapter is my family, my siblings who I stay up late texting, that I cook for, that I eat with, or go roaming bookstores, or sex shops, or the queerborhood with. They are what I care about. The rituals, the rules, those events you are required to go to are just a trapping that let you get to know one another. Driving way out to one of our sister’s parent’s houses for a barbeque, having a sleepover at a sibling’s house where we play Rockband til it’s so late no one can remember the words, going paintballing and everyone cursing out the sister with military training, planning rush events that are a party throughout time—these are what we make of our requirements.
Those philanthropic and volunteer events? Helping out with Houston’s Transgender Day of Remembrance Memorial service, ushering for the Vagina Monologues hosted by the Student Feminist Organization; helping kids at Texas Children’s Hospital make picture frames; or organizing a campus wide photo shoot supporting positive body image—those events provide a vehicle for supporting and giving back to the wider community. When we founded this shindig we wanted to give back, we weren’t required to volunteer as much as we did, but it’s what we wanted to do, it became a part of Kappa chapter and it’s a part that draws new people looking to give back to us. Greek Life is what you make it.
When I joined GRL I was in a sea of questioning, questioning my sexuality, my gender, my own self-worth in a lot of ways. I had been in a lot of bad situations when I was younger and didn’t have a healthy support system. I have had a lot of toxic relationships and friendships where people loved me on the condition that I was useful and compliant. My siblings in all this time, have never put me down, have never called me worthless or been angry when I couldn’t do something. My siblings thought I was competent enough to be president in Beta semester when we had an emergency. They thought I was competent enough to reelect me. They also accepted my limits, when I came to them saying I needed help, that six officer positions were about five too many.
They accept my tears and my panic and my anxiety. They are there when I need someone to talk to. And I am there for them. We are there for each other. We have spent hours in emergency rooms or on phones, we guard dog to make sure those who aren’t out aren’t outed. We have emergency codes for when someone needs help. We look out for each other, we love each other. We’re a family. Sometimes we’re a family for people who might not have an accepting one. That’s why I have never wavered in wanting GRL to be here. That’s why I know people will join a queer sorority. Even when times are hard and we’re stressed because we have too many eggs in way too many baskets, or we’re mad and fighting with each other. We’re still a family. Families work it out.
If Greek life just isn’t for you, not even queer Greek life—that’s okay. I have plenty of friends I love just as dearly outside GRL, who are family to me just as much. I have friends who have rushed and not joined, and I understand it completely. It is not a casual commitment joining a sorority, even a smaller one like GRL. We have lots of people who love us and what we do who don’t join us and we love them back. But please, don’t disparage us because Greek life isn’t your digs. Hell, don’t bag on any sorority or fraternity just because they’re Greek. If you don’t like how they operate, that they haze, or that they require a dress code, or look down on non-Greeks—call them on that BS. But don’t hate on them for wanting a bigger family or to be part of a tradition. And yes, a queer sorority is still a sorority and sororities are part of a traditional system that can have a lot of nasty classist, racist, cissexist, misogynistic, heteronormative crap in it, but there’s more than one way to disrupt a system. You can steer clear of the system entirely, you can fight it from the outside, or you can mosey on in and set up shop and refuse to leave. There isn’t only a single true path to disrupting the power system. Queering Greek life helps change the face of what Greek life is, it challenges those negative institutions in the system, it creates shifts and takes away the power of gatekeeping and exclusion wielded by some Greeks. It says: We can be Greek too. We can have family and tradition in this system. We are valid. Again: Our traditions adapt to us, we don’t adapt to them.