How joining a fraternity changed my views on masculinity

By Elliot Zeman | Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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.