As a non-Greek woman at Duke, I have a complicated relationship with sororities. A lot of women I sincerely admire and respect are members of them. But, during the wonderful day known as “Bid Day”, I find myself cringing at all their high-pitched wailing of Greek letters.
Now, I didn’t join a sorority, because like a lot of non-Greeks, I possessed an image in my mind of what a sorority girl was supposed to look and act like. I didn’t feel like I would belong, so I found alternative social circles to devote myself to. Honestly, I can say that I love the people I spend time with and I don’t regret my decision to not participate in Greek life. However, thinking about the justification behind my decision to refrain from sororities reveals some intriguing parallels with the common reasons people give for not coming to the Center. In this post, I hope to articulate my understanding of the current divide in the Duke LGBTQA community between Center “regulars” and Center “non-goers”. At the end, I also hope to provide an engaging incentive to attend Center programs other than “give us another try, we promise we’ll try to talk to you.”
Before I start, let me preface by saying that I am devotedly loyal to the Center. I work there, I socialize there, I eat there, etc. So yes, I am biased in favor of the Center, but give me a chance and hear me out.
From what I can discern, there are two main reasons why people don’t come to the Center. These reasons are not necessarily mutually exclusive and of course there are tons of other reasons why people don’t attend Center events. However, the two main ones I most commonly come across are:
1. Personal apprehension with being “visible”
The first reason is a complicated one that most need to overcome individually. Of course, personal apprehension with being out could be alleviated with having a better and more inclusive campus culture. However, what I’m really interested in is the exclusivity that is associated with the Center.
What do people mean when they say that Fab Fridays are “exclusive”? Well, on a simple level, they mean cliques, coteries, the “in-crowd”. On a deeper level, they also may be referring to the behavior norms of Duke’s LGBT community.
It’s no secret that any community will have community “norms”—for better or worse. Norms include language, common interests, clothing style, you get the point. I think part of the reason some people don’t want to come to the Center is that they feel that they won’t fit in. Nobody wants to feel marginalized for not following the norm in larger society only to find that they are also outside the norms of a smaller community. Just as I had a preconceived image in my mind of what norms a sorority girl must follow, I think many students have an image of what queer life at the Center is.
Now, the LGBT community both at Duke and in the larger context (contrary to popular belief, there is a world beyond these gothic, pollinated borders) is unique in a lot of aspects, but it is especially distinct when it comes to norms of behavior. Usually, I believe you can’t rightfully criticize a community for having norms. Yes, you can challenge them, question them, fight them. But you can’t criticize a community for actually having a set of norms to operate in. In other words, you can challenge the law, break the law, fight the law. But you can’t criticize the existence of laws. Some of you anarchists may disagree with me, but I tend to think that having some sort of legal system is probably a smart thing for a civilization to have.
This principle of having a common set of norms holds for every community, except when it comes to the LGBT community. We are a group of people whose very existence challenges the propriety and utility of gender norms. In this same vein, I find it incredibly regressive when, as a community, we try to regulate how gay men and lesbians are supposed to act. For example, we shouldn’t use a love of Lady Gaga or the Indigo Girls as an indicator of someone’s sexual orientation. Sure, it’s funny. Maybe it may even be true most of the time. But, it’s still backwards to our mission as a community: to prove that sexuality cannot be embodied or encapsulated by mere physical appearance.
So how does this relate to me not joining a sorority and the Center in any way?
Well, even though I don’t regret my decision not to join a sorority, I do regret my reasons for doing so. I gave Greek life an unfair image without ever giving it half a chance to prove me otherwise. And, as someone recently pointed out to me, if my perception of sorority norms was so troublesome, I should have done more to engage with and change the norms.
So if you don’t come to the Center because you don’t particularly care for Lady Gaga and you don’t think you fit the community norms, I give you a personal challenge. We at the Center will do our best to reach out. But meet us halfway and challenge the way we define ourselves. The more diverse individuals with diverse interests we get, the better. With every new face and new personality at social events, the closer we are to proving that the LGBTQA community is more than the way we dress or the music we like. This is a truth that we must convey to the larger community, but, more importantly, to ourselves. See you at the next Fab Friday, Women Loving Women discussion, and/or Blue Devils United meeting :D.