When I first read this article about the straight girl at Smith College who circulated an email to her friends in an attempt to set up a “straights only” sorority my first instinct was to do a whole post about all the awesome ladies who would be in a lesbian and bisexual only sorority. Who better to be our Social Chair than Rachel Maddow making pink drinks or Santana Lopez as Pledge Master or Suze Orman as Treasurer?
But while I was patting myself on the back for being so very clever I had a wave of empathy wash over me. I know, it was shocking for me, too. This woman, whoever she may be, is living a reality with which most of us should be able to empathize. It’s pretty terrible to live in a world where you feel marginalized, pushed aside, surrounded by people who make you feel wrong or weird. This woman may have, for the first time in her life, discovered what I felt basically from the time I was a little kid. Doesn’t that suck? Doesn’t it feel terrible to not have a place to fit?
Thinking about starting her own club so she can hang out with people who are more like her and more like the people she’s used to be around doesn’t seem like an altogether stupid plan. The execution leaves something to be desired but it’s hard not to understand the need to find a place to belong.
When I came out, I cut my long hair. It was the hair I grew long in the first place because, for once, I just wanted to fit in. I cut it again when I wanted to fit in somewhere else, a place with other ladies who were interesting in kissing each other and not watching dudes play pong in the basement of a fraternity. Now we can argue whether getting a friend to cut my hair in her dorm room is more or less radical than sending an email about a new selective sorority, but I think you get the point. Sometimes we do impulsive stuff when we feel alone. So, as much as I disagree with, and am a little repulsed by, this woman’s plea for an exclusively heterosexual space, I can empathize with her underlying need to feel understood and included.
But if I may be so obnoxious as to offer this woman a tiny bit of advice it would be get out of your comfort zone. Let me tell you a story of the little lesbian and the sorority. I went to a college with a very active Greek scene. Something like two thirds of eligible students were in a house. I decided early that I wanted nothing to do with those stupid houses with their antiquated notions of femininity, homophobia, and general snobbery. I was an ass.
My girlfriend, and several of my teammates, joined sororities. I was petrified that the sorority was going to shove my girlfriend farther into the closet and create another space where we couldn’t be together. I was wrong. Sure, it was hard to watch her go to formals with guys because she wasn’t ready to be the girl who brought a girl. But after awhile, she got to know the women in her house she decided she was ready to be that girl. We got all dressed up and went to the formal together. On the bus ride there we got asked if we were a couple or just friends and we both blushed and said no we were together. They answered ‘“oh, cool,” and gave us about three seconds to breathe before diving into a million questions about how we met and how long we had been going out.
Over my last two years of college, I spent a lot of time at their house. I slept over (gasp! don’t tell the national organization). I saw the sisters in the bathroom in the morning when we brushed our teeth. I played pong there. I was welcome there. And just as the sisters who might have been a little uncomfortable with the lesbians in their house grew more comfortable with my girlfriend and with me, I came to see them in a new light, too. Before I got to know them sorority sisters were a class of women akin to Stepford wives. They were all the same to me and they were only interested in looking good and meeting boys. It’s true that they were interested in boys, and many looked very put together, they were also really kind, funny, smart, and weird in wonderful ways. Some were competitive on the pong table, amazing singers, and hilarious dancers. As much as lesbians stopped being some sort of scary “other” to them and became people they knew, those sorority girls stopped looking to me like something out of a satire and became just regular ladies who were interested in a million different things.
I hope you will find a place to belong at Smith College and that you will take the opportunity while you are still there to get out of your comfort zone. You never know who you might find. You might make a few queer friends. You could discover your perfect wing woman for when you go meet boys at Amherst. If you look hard enough, you might even meet some gay ladies who like a good Lilly Pulitzer outfit, too. At the very least it will help you understand what it’s like to feel like an outsider, what it feels like when to be excluded. It will help you hone your empathy and it might stop you from offering a smart-ass response when a little compassion is so much better.