How My Girlfriend's Sorority Helped Me Embrace My Own Definition of Femininity

My experience with homophobia has usually been nothing extremely public and blatant. I’m blessed to have supportive parents and immediate peers, but that doesn’t protect from all the casual occurrences of prejudice in the social sphere. In this, my experience with sports may have hindered rather than helped me. Coming out at an early age meant that I was the one bearing the brunt of explanations to my teammates. If anyone had a question about anything queer, I was the one to go to (see: common phrases like "Why can’t I say faggot if I don’t mean it in a homophobic way?", "I think this girl likes me, isn’t that so creepy?", or the classic "am I your type?"). There was always a noticeable difference between me and the other girls on the team by virtue of my public queerness; I was bound to be the only "out" girl on the team and therefore always cautionary of the distance between my teammates and myself. This isn’t to say that I didn’t make meaningful relationships through my hockey teams; I’ve made some great friends this way! It’s just to say that the tangible distance between us persisted regardless.

The caution and distance that I had already intuitively felt became tangible when I heard that a former teammate of mine had said something akin to "I changed in front of her before, what if she was watching me?". The idea of the ‘predatory lesbian’ was solidified in this single interaction—a nagging, persistent feeling of being held back from full involvement in female spaces due to the possibility of a predatory classification, regardless of any action that would support the claim. The predatory lesbian trope was always present in my mind in this way; even if people didn’t blatantly prescribe it, my former teammate’s imaginary voice stuck in the back of my mind, a reminder that my interaction with other women was always to be limited by the connotations of my sexuality.

Having "predatory" as an adjective implicit in your identity is objectively not a great feeling, and it’s a feeling I still experience, but one that is slowly diminishing. There's an unexpected reason for this diminishment: my girlfriend’s sorority.

When I first met the girls of Kappa Phi, McGill’s chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi (AOII), it was through my girlfriend. She had just moved into the sorority house, and we had been dating for around half a year. It was mostly brief interactions and small conversations with her sorority sisters, nothing substantial, but nothing bad either. I would make fun of my girlfriend for her involvement, never giving her much credit (definitely some internalized sexism to unpack there) for her interactions in what I thought of as a traditionally and stereotypically feminine and heterosexual space.

Now I can concretely say: I could not have been more wrong in this evaluation (at least in the case of this sorority). In two months of my girlfriend living in a sorority house and me being constantly exposed to the lives of these ladies, I’ve learned more about the definitions and limits (or lack thereof) of femininity than I could have previously conceptualized. In contrast to the way that my experience in organized sports made me feel closed off and cautionary -always scared of overstepping invisible boundaries into precarious and predatory territory-, being around the women of AOII has made me feel nothing but comfort. Playing hockey, it was hard to be included in conversations about things like relationships in a way that was more than tokenistic. My role was more to make the “men are all horrible” comments, nod when girls said they wished they were gay because "it would be so much easier," get a laugh, and then fade into the background. In the context of the sorority, I’m not just clued into conversations to offer a funny comment that relates directly to my sexuality; I feel like an actual participant in the conversation, with valuable input that extends past the binary reduction of my identity for laughs. The women who I’ve recently gotten acquainted with are unashamed and celebratory, unafraid of overstepping these invisible boundaries in order to build bridges with anyone who comes into the house with an attitude as open as theirs. Yes, they do sit and braid each other’s hair and paint each other’s nails, but also always invite others to come and join. Their acceptance of each other and their varied expressions of ‘womanhood’ lends to an environment that I never thought I would be privy to, one that is explicitly and irrevocably female yet is boundary bridging rather than boundary making. All these ladies, truly intelligent, compassionate women, bring a perspective that fundamentally supports the variance inherent in femininity, rather than discourage it.

When I had just started meeting the ladies of AOII, my fear and self-doubt remained concrete; I still had my former teammate’s comment stored away, popping up whenever one of my girlfriend’s sorority sisters tried to hug me or braid my hair. But as I hung out with the women of AOII more and more, my self-doubt receded further and further, allowing me to examine and understand more carefully my own discomfort with connections between myself and other women in stereotypically feminine spaces. The more comfortable I became around the sorority women -women so fully accepting and welcoming that it was hard to believe there wasn’t a catch- the more I realized that the boundaries I had previously set in order to avoid the predatory lesbian trope were limiting figments of a homophobic imagination that had little to do with the experience of interacting with women, as a woman.

My girlfriend’s sorority made me realize that I wasn’t inherently wrong or creepy for appreciating these connections between women and wanting them for myself as well; they showed me that I didn’t have to miss out on an entire facet of femininity and connection just because it was traditionally juxtaposed to my existence as a stereotypically butch lesbian. The women of AOII expected these connections -they worked hard to foster and maintain them within their sorority- and through this they showed me how essential they could be. They showed me on what I was missing on, by what I was being held, and ultimately showed me a better way of parsing through my own identity as a queer woman in relation to others.

Disclaimer: I am of course speaking from the standpoint of a white, cisgender queer woman, so I can only account for that particular experience with this particular sorority; this is by no means an exhaustive account of realities for all women interacting with sororities. What I, personally have found though is acceptance and self-reflection in a place I never would have expected it.