As a trans man, joining a fraternity seemed like the most masculine activity I could do in college.
When I first came to American University, I was interested in rushing. While I had some male friends at home, I didn’t have very many in college. I was imagining beer, football and stocks, none of which I had any interest in, but these also seemed like ways I could perfect masculinity. What’s more manly than joining a frat? I feared this type of man and felt like I had to become him to conquer him.
While I was rushing, I fell in love with Beta Theta Pi, but it was nothing like I expected. Not only was I met with other queer men, I found a larger community of respectful, considerate men. I was given a bid and eventually I was initiated as the first trans brother in my chapter.
At first, I tried my best to seem as masculine as possible, so they wouldn’t realize I was trans, but my guard fell quickly. I remember sitting on the couch with one of the brothers while I was pledging. I was so nervous, but I decided I wanted to tell him that I was trans. I told him through a shaky breath. His response? “Oh, cool.” Even before they realized I was trans, I never heard a single transphobic comment. These were legitimately accepting men.
During my first semester as a brother, I joined the disciplinary board, which I adored. This semester, I was elected as vice president of education. Due to unexpected circumstances, the presidential position became vacant. I was elected, uncontested. It felt monumental. The brothers not only accepted me as one of their own, but wanted me to lead them. Not only did they see me as a man and their peer, but someone who could lead them. If a trans man can be the president of a fraternity, what other opportunities that seem impossible for transgender people are next?
I recognize that transness and Greek life don’t always mesh and I know that Greek life isn’t the right fit for every trans person. At the national convention for my fraternity, an amendment to the constitution that would change “male” to “male-identifying” people as being eligible to rush did not pass. This change would allow non-cis men to join the fraternity on a national level. The brothers that represented my chapter fought tooth and nail for it with me in mind. They knew how important these few words were for the future of Beta and spoke against dozens of other brothers.
I can’t speak to other fraternities, especially at schools with larger Greek life systems, but my experience has been invaluable. When I got top surgery last summer, and when I lost my dad, my texts were filled with brothers checking in, and genuinely asking what they could do to support me. Transphobia is rampant these days, but Beta acts as a solace for me.
I get nervous when the topic of Greek life comes up in my classes. Because of my deep voice and facial hair, I worry that my classmates see me as just another frat boy, but I also don’t want to out myself to every stranger. I’ve decided to let our reputation speak for itself. All of my female friends feel comfortable around my brothers, and I’m proud to be a part of a group that embraces me fully as a trans man. I know that Beta does not fall into a stereotype, and my election is proof of that.
My time in Beta had taught me so much about myself, but also about being a man. I thought being masculine meant being commandeering and stifling emotions, but my fraternity taught me that masculinity is compassion, trust and integrity, and I am so proud to be a Beta.
Elliot Zeman is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences
This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Zoe Bell, Alexis Bernstein and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Sarah Clayton.