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Friday, March 7, 2014

Fraternities


I have read a myriad of biased [1] [2] articles regarding fraternal goings-on, which is not to say that many of the criticisms laid against frats aren't legitimate. In some fraternities there is racism, misogyny, homophobia/antigay rhetoric, pastel popped collars, and alarming levels of douchebaggery. Some have labeled the rites of passage as "meaningless, difficult, dangerous and/or humiliating," while others have trumpeted them as "ragey" and "not all that unchill."


In reality, the same negative labels could be attached to many of our accepted institutions. Aspects of our educational system could easily be derided as meaningless, difficult and humiliating, and people also have no trouble being hateful or dangerous outside of fraternities.

Further, an honest and two-sided discourse about fraternities is rarely had. This is partly because criticisms are almost universally written by people who have never been a member of a fraternity themselves. The resulting articles tend to be very "OMG these frat things are crazie!! I don't get it...but I still feel I have the authority to write about it." The other problem is that fratbros tend to be fucking idiots so they can't articulate the value of frats beyond "BROTHERHOOD, yo."

Bullshit notions of arbitrary and unconditional "brotherhood" aside, there are some aspects about pledging a fraternity that I have never seen discussed.

I can only speak about my experiences and those I've come to know through friends, and I don't claim that the following couldn't be achieved through other means.  

Apparently unlike others, my experience was that...

Everyone was a "target"
The cherry-picked quotes from fratboys that I've seen in the media almost always have a minority as a subject because that's what shocks people and makes for a "good read." The truth is, however, that everyone in a fraternity is a target of sorts. Everyone gets ripped on for one thing or another. Yes, there were jokes about the Black, Asian, and Indian people in our fraternity (there were a few) or in general. Were the racial jokes particularly hateful or offensive compared to everything else that was said? No, not really. Being white just meant that you would be ribbed about some other characteristic: height, weight, look, religion, family background, etc. Again it was less that bros were trying to hurt each other's feelings, and more that there was...
Drink up, bro

Brutal honesty
Haven't you ever wondered what people say about you when you're not around? Is it really nicer to say something behind someone's back than to say it to their face? Sure, no one should ever think anything that isn't nice—thanks, thought police! In a fraternity, dudes are going to tell you straight up what they think of you and your actions. Being overly sensitive to other's words, especially when they are true, is a life disadvantage. In this vein, pledging helped develop...

Psychological resilience 
We had some events that were physical challenges, but nothing like the military or even like training for a major athletic competition. Instead, most of the events were more mentally difficult. This often meant doing something that previously conceived as disgusting or impossible. Through the process, I reexamined what these and other concepts meant: my threshold for what grossed me out increased vastly and my conception of impossible also changed. I also found that...

"Bad" pledging experiences gave perspective 
Many arrive to college, especially at top private ones, sheltered and naive 18-year-olds. I like to think I was less sheltered and naive than most, but who knows. Looking back, the value from pledging was not that it "built character," but rather the understanding that life has been, and probably will be, relatively easy. People who complain about things like a line at Starbucks or having to walk a tenth of a mile in the rain lack perspective. Admittedly, people who have led comparatively more difficult lives probably would get much less out of the process. And is it a tad pathetic that some people are so sheltered and privileged that they need to voluntarily subject themselves to pledging to encounter negative experiences? Sure. I'm not equating pledging to something real such as living in a third-world country, but it does help to put things in perspective--it helps separate easy from difficult, necessity from superfluity.

Trusting others & Asking for help
No one was "forced" to do anything, and not everyone was able to complete every pledging task—at least not on their own. Pledging was not you versus everyone; it was your pledge class versus everyone. It was also necessary to learn to trust others and be trustworthy. Each person had and event or two that were hard for them in particular, and because most of these events were designed to have some group component, if you really couldn't do something, someone was there to help you. Hopefully, you later returned the favor to that person or someone else.


Lol gay, your dick is in my ass, dude.  I didn't say stop.

The homo perspective
I knew I was not hetero when I decided to join. My particular fraternity had no openly gay dudes in it. Since I graduated I have learned that a couple guys, surprising ones, were actually homos. The house was split between conservative and liberal people, but when it came to homo issues the liberals would mostly shake their head in disgust, but not really take further action. The two main concerns with having non hetero memebers seemed to be:

1.) At a formal party (think suits and gallons of liquor) where brothers bring dates, how fucked up would it be if a guy brought a guy?
This one never really made sense to me. Never seemed like a big deal—still don't understand.

2.) Brothers hooking up with brothers would "tear apart" the house.
This is at least an interesting point to bring up. It does complicate house dynamics if you have bros in the same fraternity banging each other. Conservative members would cite other frats that had dudes hooking up and how detrimental it had been. Still, the stories were usually about frats that had good overall reputations and pulled plenty of girls.

I didn't weigh in on these discussions at the chapter meetings, but I wish I had. I hadn't joined a fraternity to meet dudes, at all. If that were my goal I would have joined the frat with all the pretty dudes. I guess I didn't meet the stereotype of my fraternity because whenever people try to guess which fraternity I was in they always guess wrong, and it's usually one of the pretty-boy douche frats.

But I've left out all the fantasy stories about having to blow brothers and spanking pledge's asses with paddles. Oh wait, none of that happened. True to their rhetoric, there was basically nothing homoerotic about our pledging, aside from the fact that were were in our underwear a lot. That's pretty gay I guess. I did hear stories, however, about other fraternities.

Allegedly, at one house a pledge would lay on the ground with ice cream on his stomach and the other pledge brothers had to eat it off of him. Sounds super hetero. Then there were the stories of elephant walks.
Naked hetero elephant walk

The above weren't why I joined a frat—just a few takeaways that occurred to me looking back.

The reason that I accepted the bid was simple: I was at a college where about half of the student body did nothing but study, and my freshman dorm was about 95% that type of person. The fraternity system had people who were there not just to study, but also to have a fucking great time and be idiots. I thought fraternities were dumb, but I wanted to enjoy those four years of my life. And I did. Partly due to my frat, I had a fucking blast while at college. Some of the guys from my class are still close friends, including my roommate. We don't really discuss the fraternity much though—we're just "college friends" now.

I never intended to join a fraternity, and I haven't felt much of a connection to it since graduated, but I definitely don't regret the decision. It's also kind of chill that when I go back and visit I can stop by, have my name recognized and have some person I've never met tell a story about some impressive and/or stupid shit I did when I was an undergrad. I'm 26, but I still like to get fratty on occasion. I admit it. There's nothing quite like it.

If you didn't like frats, maybe you just weren't drunk enough.

What were your experiences with fraternities in college?

18 comments:

  1. Is the picture with the dog actually you?

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  2. Hi, I realize it's that olympic medalist. I ask this because I'm very confused by the contradictions in nearly all your posts. For all your self-professed masculinity and strength you still blog *anonymously*. I'm puzzled by that> Anonymity means people can make shit up and not be held accountable. I'm curious as to what your position is about your blogging without being visible is. It sort of negates any claims you make about being a strong, confident and empowered gay man. I say this, and provide the link to my own blog - which actually features me, my friends, and my family on it. Showing who we are, as gay men, and as non-gay people who stand up to visibly and vocally support the LGBT Communities.
    As long as your posts are made from a place of complete anonymity it's very hard to take anything in them seriously, or as truth - after all, none of it can be verified. Now, if you're doing it anonymously because you still have concerns about people knowing, or finding out, that you're gay...perhaps that should be the subject of your next blog post. Why you, as a 26 year old, still worry about people knowing that you're gay.

    me, for full disclosure: littlekiwilovesbauhaus.blogspot.com

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    1. You could always just go back and read why: http://nohetero.blogspot.com/2013/04/why-im-not-out-yet.html

      I mean, I'm not the bro, and he's more than capable of answering for himself. But from my perspective - as someone who came out when he was 13, at a time when that was still WTFery - being strong and confident has nothing to do with what other people know about you.

      The whole point of this blog is that there's a lot of extra baggage that comes with the "gay" identity, and it doesn't suit everyone - especially not "No Hetero". So, in some ways, "coming out" could be counter-productive: it just leads to a totally different set of assumptions about a person, none necessarily more accurate.

      I mean, it's something *I* deal with all the time - and I'm certainly not anyone's idea of a frat or jock type. But still, I have to come out again and again, over and over, because I don't "look" or "act" gay. At some point, it's just honestly not worth the effort: who the fuck cares if they know I love sucking guys off or that scent of a guy who's been at the beach all day.

      Coming out, at the individual level, isn't about strength or power or confidence. It's about having the freedom to be yourself. If coming out itself restricts that freedom, why do it?

      (Obviously there's a social-awareness level, but I think it's unethical to force someone else to take on harm in the name of the good of society; that's a decision we can only take on as individuals.)

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    2. Unfortunately, his inability to Come Out, visibly, negates his claims and your own.

      As long as you remain invisible and anonymous you cannot complain about "how people don't realize that people like you are gay."

      Coming Out is never counter-productive - and thats' an excuse someone gives when they're not ready to be a man, and stop being boy, and no longer give excuses.

      This is why I'm calling "bullshit" on this entire blog. It's all bullshit. It's the unverified claims of a self-professed "masculine guy" who "people wouln't think is gay" who refuses to do what millions of other LGBT people do every day: live openly, and put a face to who we are. THAT is how things change.

      You can't say "i wish people knew that gay guys are also like me" while giving tired excuses for remaining invisible and closeted.

      You know how you remove "baggage" from what bigots think of the gay identity? By coming out - and showing everyone how diverse our communities are. Not by continuing to give excuses to remain closeted.

      If you're not Out, you're no free. If you're not Out, you can forget calling yours "masculine" - unless you associate "masculinity" with being an excuse-giving coward who refuses to stand up to be counted and only feels strong and manly while hiding via internet anonymity.

      Oh really the "gay identity" doesn't Suit" this blogger? Great. And thus, it never will - as those who give excuses to hide cannot complain about how gays are perceived or seen. The Gay Identity is what you make of it - and this blogger is, at 26, where I was when I was 16. Here's hoping he realizes that as long as he remains anonymous, every word he says is negated.

      real men stand up to be counted. boys give excuses not to.

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    3. wow little kiwi, nothing like throwing a troll-y little bitchfit then posting your blog for self promotion - nice!

      anonymity doesn't necessarily equal loss of authenticity. why are you being so militant and righteous about how people have to come out to somehow 'move homosexual kind forward one step at a time'...not everyone has to be that person. we are not all obligated to be gay role models/educators of the masses.

      you've become the douchiest thing in a post about frats.

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    4. By all means, take your time coming out. I just think it's very odd that a blog that talks so often about "breaking stereotypes" or "how gays are seen" is being written by a grown adult man who still refuses to do what millions of LGBT people do all over the world - which is live by example. You can't be closeted and upset about the way Gays Are Seen or Stereotypes. That's what's so strange about this blog - by all means, take your time coming out. Heck, never come out for all i care. But as long as you're not Out, you're in no place to complain about the way gay people are seen. When you're invisible and choosing to remain hidden you're the reason people don't realize that "gays like you exist"

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  3. Longstoryshort - "I don't want to come out because i dont' want people to have assumptions about me" is the excuse every gay guy gives before he's ready to just plainly admit that *he's scared of people treating him badly when he comes out*. And for a blog that worships straight men, and boasts of so much self-styled masculinity, the blogger's inability to be Out, and visible, makes for some massive eye-rolling.

    Don't care what assumptions people may have. Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission. You cannot complain about how people view the gay communities, or how people perceive gay people, when you give excuses every day to not stand up to be counted and change those perceptions via an authentic life.

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    1. Great point. If someone can come out with relative ease (that is, won't be shunned from all their friends / family) and hasn't yet, it's because of shame and insecurity. People don't want to be defined as "gay" because they're afraid to be perceived as feeble or feminine, when in reality hiding a part of one's self is the most emasculating of the lot. If you're comfortable with who you are, most people really won't give you shit. Gays before us did most of the heavy lifting, I know how privileged I was to come out and not deal with much backlash. Yea I lost a few friends, but that's really not much to deal with compared to what many have gone through. I really enjoy this blog, so I find it disheartening that Mr. No Hetero is so sure of himself and his e-voice as a gay man but won't actually reveal it that much in real life, when from what he's written most of the people in his life won't really mind all that much.

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    2. that is PRECISELY my point. thank you, brother.

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    3. For all we know, NoHetero has already grown comfortable with coming out and his family is going through the process of dealing with it. It makes sense that he won't unveil his animosity because he has already written about the guys he has slept with and potential romantic relationships (pretty personal stuff). It makes sense that he would have put that stuff up with the mindset that he would not come out. He might have changed his mind. Imagine if he proclaimed his name, connected his blog to his facebook/twitter/etc. and had to deal with (creepy) exes and flings finding out that he wrote about them. People would hate him because he wrote about them. He already said he is much less cynical in real life so as long as his blog remains his personal relationships would remain intact. What would you have him do? Reveal to the internet his name and delete the personal stuff? The entire blog is personal. Blogging anonymously let's you really get everything out there and fully develop your ideas because you would censor yourself because people you know can read your blog. Just sayin...
      I would blog but I'm too busy/lazy with an undergraduate life to make a blog and not sure what I would write about.

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  4. My school doesn't have/allow frats or sororities, so I've never really experienced them before. I don't really view them negatively though. I don't know if I ever would have joined one, but I feel like the only time frats are ever in the news is for some bad, and you never really hear anything good about them.

    I have had a "frat-like" experience, I'd say. I've been an athlete at my school for the past few years and it's a similar mentality. We study and work hard, but at the same time, that's not all we're doing. We'll throw parties and have a good time, usually with one another. It's kind of a similar brotherhood feeling, where we all make fun of each other, say stupid shit, and get along for the most part.

    I guess since I see my experience as similar, I have no issue with frats. I feel like people give them a hard time simply because they only know negative things about them.

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  5. I wasn't in a fraternity in college and never had a burning desire to be in one, so I don't have a strong position either way. If you found the experience useful, despite the publicized problems, then good for you.

    As for the comments, you should not be expected to be an activist for our side if you don't want to be. If you strip away Kiwi's belligerent language, the underlying issue is whether you should join others who have come out. There is a benefit because people will see another a regular guy that counters the typical gay stereotype. However, no one should force you (as if they could anyway) if you are not willing.

    I'm sure you will followup with another post in response. That's how you react when challenged.

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    1. just remember, there really is no "you can't force me to come out", when the reality is that person is already allowing others to "force them to Stay In"

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    2. One could argue that No Hetero has benefited from the more accepting environment of LGBT by the people who did the heavy lifting before that came out. That has really countered the negative and demonized stereotypes.

      That said, coming out is a personal decision and No Hetero doesn't seem ready yet. He may be ready when he finally gets into a serious relationship.

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  6. What the blazes is going on in these comments?! Talk about off topic. Anyway, since I'm British and have nothing to say about fraternities, I may as well roll up my sleeves and wade in to what is a tiresome and pointless debate...

    One wonders whether it has occurred to the miniature kiwi fellow that there's an argument that someone who violently comes out to anyone and everyone, regardless of whether it's of any relevance to their dealings with those people, has an issue.

    Isn't a blanket "I'm gay" announcement a bit like standing up and loudly announcing "my politics are broadly left of centre" or "I'm a vegan" or "my favourite colour is blue"? Outside of some narrow contexts, basically no-one gives a shit about any of these things, and it would be weird to randomly reveal them without any particular reason to do so.

    I'm really scratching my head at an attitude which essentially seems to say: "unless you live your life exactly like I do, all of your opinions are automatically invalidated". That's discrimination, right there.

    Apologies to this blog's esteemed author for becoming involved in this unseemly scuffle.

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    1. I don't mean it to be unseemly, truly. The reason I've provided links to my *own* blog is to show that I'm not making my claims anonymously. I'm not sure - is the blog owner afraid of how people will feel once they find out his favourite colour is blue? If they find out he's a vegan? Did he grow up in a culture that demeaned those who love the colour Blue? Does he worry how his parents will respond to having a son who loves the colour Blue? I don't know what it means to "violently come out" - I came out about 15 years ago now, and there was nothing "violent" about it.

      I'm not discriminating against him. At all. What's odd, however, is that one cannot remain closeted and then be bothered by "how people perceive gay people" - when you live Out, people see you as the gay man that you are and therefore you change perceptions and preconceptions by living openly. There's no need for a scuffle here, boys.
      it's just reality - you can't hide in the shadows and complain that "guys like you" aren't known about. You can't choose to remain closeted and then complain about "how gay people are seen.

      By all means, take your own time in coming out. But if "nobody cares that you're gay" then why remain closeted? You don't hide the things "that don't matter" - you hide the things that you fear will matter *too much*, and negatively, in the minds of others.

      I've never "violently come out" to anyone - i don't even know what a "violent Coming Out" would be. What I am, however, is a confident, secure, empowered, strong gay man who lives openly and doesn't ever hide his being gay. Why? Simple: because far too many other grown-adult gay men still give excuses to hide, and live invisibly.

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  7. Perhaps it's just my old-fashioned British upbringing, but I think it's unbelievably rude to lecture someone you've never met (i.e. based on assumptions inferences and guesses) in the comments of their blog.

    It's also rude to conduct an off-topic argument, so I'll stop now.



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  8. At the risk of making this board completely anglo-centric, I completely agree with Ben. It may be cultural confusion but, sitting here in London, Kiwi's fulminating feels very silly.

    I have no direct experience of frat houses (I can offer late-90s re-runs of Saved by the Bell: the College Years as a point of reference) but I guess they must be vaguely similar to the societies we had at Uni (e.g. Vinnies). If so, then they're harmless if taken with a pinch of salt and often pretty fun (or do I mean "chill"?)

    Keep up the posts up mate, they're always interesting.

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