Letter to the Editor: I Experienced Sorority Recruitment and Rejection as a Trans Woman of Color

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Letter to the Editor: I Experienced Sorority Recruitment and Rejection as a Trans Woman of Color

The Delta Gamma sorority house decorated for sorority recruitment. (Chronicle archives)

The Delta Gamma sorority house decorated for sorority recruitment. (Chronicle archives)

The Delta Gamma sorority house decorated for sorority recruitment. (Chronicle archives)

The Delta Gamma sorority house decorated for sorority recruitment. (Chronicle archives)

By Guest Opinion

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I’m Ermiya Fanaeian, a University of Utah student.

Like many people in marginalized communities, I didn’t have the best notions of sorority life when I started my college journey. I believed Greek Row was excluding those in marginalized communities — a mindset that was established not just from media representation, but also the real-life experiences I have had with many of those within Greek Row organizations. As someone who visibly embodies numerous marginalized identities, the thought of even passing by Greek Row gave me chills.

However, during my first year at the University of Utah, I inadvertently became friends with many women in sororities. After I became friends with one sorority girl, I became friends with 10 other girls in her house a couple of days later. I realized that the majority of the people I spent my freshman year with, told my life experiences to, partied and cried with were sorority women. These women came from intersecting marginalized communities and backgrounds themselves. I greatly admire these girls who have empowered me in ways that I never knew I could be empowered. I know for a fact that they are people who I will never forget.

My friends continuously talked about how sorority life empowered them. Knowing I was listening from the outside, they pushed the thought that joining a sorority would be an amazing experience for me as well. At the same time, I read an article posted by the magazine Her Campus, which encouraged trans women to join sorority life. This article attempted to dismantle the stereotypes associated with sororities. Recognizing the ways in which my freshman year affected the ideas I had about Greek life, I decided to rush my sophomore year.

Greek Row at the Unviersity of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah on Wed. March 7, 2018. (Photo by Cassandra Palor| Daily Utah Chronicle)

Within the first hour of stepping foot into the room during the first day of recruitment, I was continuously told that one of the primary goals was to get rid of any stereotypes and negative ideas anyone had about Greek life. This was something that they wanted to ensure to emphasize to me. By the second hour, I was already misgendered and a blonde woman yelled a negative comment towards me for not going out of my way to move out of what she perceived to be her path as we walked down a tight hallway. She assumed that it was my inherent responsibility to move, and similar assumptions filled the recruitment atmosphere the entire weekend.

By the time we approached the first sorority house of our visit, it was clear that my natural Persian curls were no match against the intense mid-August heat. That morning I had tried everything I could to straighten my hair, crossing my fingers that it would stay straight. I did this as a means of assimilation. I find myself straightening my big curls anytime I have to navigate a certain environment in which I know I will have difficulty if my ethnic features are visible. This is not because I don’t love my very visible ethnic features, and I am still very visibly ethnic even when I try my hardest to conceal them.

The visibility of each of the multiple marginalized identities I must carry makes it much more difficult for me to succeed in many environments. Some may find this aspect of my experience contradicting to who I am as a person — they’ve known me as an empowered individual, but no matter how empowered I may be, it is exhausting to have to constantly take a stand in every space I walk into. Sometimes I don’t want to take a stand as an unapologetic powerhouse who proudly proclaims the fullness of who I am, because the consequence for doing so will always result in facing rejection. Sometimes I am so exhausted from doing so that I simply want to straighten my hair, thin my eyebrows, heighten my voice and assimilate in quiet.

While my Persian curls seeping through began to worry me, I simply carried on. The women within the houses told me all about the charity work that sororities are doing — something I was incredibly impressed with. I was also impressed with how these women were capable of fundraising thousands for the charities that they have dedicated themselves to. As a full-time political organizer that has worked for some of the largest organizations in the state, I know that fundraising is always the hardest but most crucial part of the job.

The Alpha Chi Omega sorority house decorated for recruitment. (Chronicle archives)

The conversations we had were incredible. We talked about our shared passion for different sociopolitical issues, our relationship problems and why we chose the fields of study that we are in. While speaking, we were often interrupted by every single girl I knew in whatever house I was in with their excitement to see me. For the most part, the conversations went well — at least, the ones happening to my face did. One girl was ecstatic about the fact that I was rushing and was excited to see a woman of my experience in the room. After our amazing conversation, she got up to walk me to the door, turning to her fellow sorority member to say, “Yeah I just got done talking with him” in reference to me.

The fact is, some people slip up on pronouns, and it is completely understandable and not humiliating when it is simply done on accident. My womanhood will never be defined by the way cisgender people perceive me because my womanhood will never be in the power, control and regulation of cisgender people. It wasn’t that she had misgendered me that troubled me. It was recognizing the environment we were in and the fact that she knew me well before recruitment that troubled me. She should have known, and yet she still referred to me as “him” and did not even correct herself afterward. She was incredibly excited to find out that I was rushing after years of knowing me, yet simultaneously rejected my proper pronouns. It led me to question how performative her excitement to see me, and our conversation with one another was.

As I was getting ready for the second day of recruitment, I received a phone call around 10:30 a.m. I was told on this phone call that I was unable to move forward with the rest of the recruitment. As I hung up the phone, the only thing that came through my mind was what could it have been for them to not invite me back. There were so many girls who went through this process without knowing a single person on Greek Row, feeling as though they didn’t have a connection with any of the houses, but that wasn’t my case at all.

I began to question if my identities were visible enough for me to experience such rejection. Was it my voice? Was it the fact that my hair curled? As I sat there and thought about this, I realized that I am everything they say I should be. I am a trans woman who is only 5 feet 6 inches, a size 1, attracted to exclusively masculine men. I feel powerful in feminine expression —  something that is not in any way tied to my womanhood — I have achieved more than I could have imagined at such a young age outside of my school life and I was even willing to assimilate so many aspects of myself.

Greek Row along 1st South just north of the University of Utah Campus, Salt Lake City, UT on Thursday, July 13, 2017 (Photo by Adam Fondren | Daily Utah Chronicle)

For those who do not have intersecting marginalized identities, it is easy to tell those of us who do that we shouldn’t believe our rejection is an issue of identity. For those of us on the margins who do have to experience this social and cultural rejection, we know what it feels like when our identities stop someone from getting to know us, when our identities make someone so uncomfortable around us they can’t even have a conversation with us, and when our voices and existence are devalued.

After I spoke out about my experience during recruitment and rejection, my direct message inboxes began to fill with messages from sorority women I didn’t know. They were messages of support, telling me they agreed with me and were appalled that I went through such an exclusionary experience. Some even mentioned how they have continually strived towards making Greek life inclusive of trans women. I began to question why their supposed support of trans women, and their support of inclusion, was never brought up when an actual trans woman of color was there. Their support didn’t seem to transcend the secrecy of my direct messages.

The most impactful allyship is allyship that is unapologetic. To this day, supporting a trans woman of color is incredibly beyond the social norm. People are terrified of losing their social capital and the prospect of possibly facing ostracization of their own if they are to come out in support of trans women — especially trans women of color.

 

– Ermiya Fanaeian, U student

 

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@TheChrony