Essay, Humor, Life

I WANT THEM AND THEY WANT ME TO LEAVE THEM ALONE: RUSHING A FRAT

Alternately titled “But All of the Boys And All of the Girls Are Begging To…Get Me Off Their Property.”

I have bad luck with guys. I think, by now, that’s probably a well-established fact. There was the guy who never texted back. The guy I asked out three separate times. The guy who skipped a threesome for a date with me—and probably regretted it.

But even for me, there has only been one instance where I was collectively rejected by an entire group of men. I once rushed a fraternity.

It was the beginning of sophomore year of college and, in the midst of serious depression and anxiety, I attempted anything to distract me. I did multiple different newspapers; I became a hardcore Christian; I did backstage work for a play. But the most out of character for me was rushing a fraternity.

The idea sparked inside of me when the formal rushing season for males began in the early months of the semester. I had eschewed Greek life as vapid, shallow, and heavily hierarchical. I was both disappointed and relieved that it wasn’t anything like the show GREEK, which, if you’re looking into Greek life, is not a good indicator. But I saw myself as a Rusty Cartwright, but gay and hotter—a social outcast of the Greek world who would eventually rise up to the highest echelons of red-cup culture.

I was kind of desperate to break into an already established group of friends, and figured that I could fit the role of “funny, quirky out-of-the-norm frat bro” and maybe convince some of my brothers to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race with me.

With some friends, I went to the massive fair of all the frats and sororities. Decked out in J.Crew blazers and Lilly Pulitzer prints, everyone is somehow more coiffed and polished than I could ever hope to be. I had dressed as “heterosexually” as I knew how, so I was in a sweater and a beanie. Actually, that’s how I always dress. I’m breaking down stereotypes and defying your expectations.

There were the Delta Iota Kappas (DIKs), the macho, ‘roided out typical fratguys. There were the Gamma Epsilon Epsilon Kappas (GEEKs), where I was pretty sure I could get into because I was probably the coolest person they’ve ever known. There were the Douches, who I’m not even going to give a punny name to, who were the unofficial leaders of the Greek world and had the hottest trust-fund babies and future corrupt Senators.

I was too skinny for the DIKs, too social for the GEEKs, and was too recently emigrated—only four generations—to America to fit in with the blueblood Douches. Then, I stumbled upon the Sigma Mu Deltas, the SMDs.

They were smart but not too alienating; social without being fratty; and ambitious without being too “Congressionally Nepotistic.” The lead guy at the table was a hot redhead—one of my personal vices—and had already volunteered on a campaign. A cute ginger with political aspirations and—I’m assuming—a hefty inheritance? Sign me up/marry me right now.

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I have no idea what this is from but it is crucial I find out.

I signed up for their mixing events and quickly made acquaintances with the only other homosexual I had seen in the vicinity of the fair. We clung to each other and bolstered each other up. I was better at breaking the ice, but he was better at not having excessively sweaty palms. Together, we made one complete human.

The first rush event I went to was held at a local fast-food burger place—not McDonald’s, but I wish. Dressed in a non-confrontational plaid button-down, I walked into the meeting spot and immediately started sweating.

Unfortunately for my glands, rushing involves a lot of hand-shaking, and since this was a fraternity, handshaking is roughly the barometer for judging someone’s manhood. It’s the acceptable equivalent of a glorified pissing contest. I have a relatively strong, solid handshake, but combined with my genetic anxious pore-crying—sweating—the result for the recipient is getting a sensation similar to a lamprey. Not enticing unless you are a lamprey looking for a mate.

“So how long have you been involved with SMD?” I asked a senior.

“Actually, since it reformed a few years ago. It was disbanded but we brought it back to campus and I was one of the first in the new class.”

“Wow!” I say “Wow!” a lot when I don’t know what else to say. It’s meant to be disarming and meaningless. But even if I had given this guy a $20 bill, nothing would distract from the intense discomfort of what I would say next:

“So you’re like the Founding Fathers of your frat! Except, unlike the actual Founding Fathers, you probably didn’t also own slaves!”

He looked at me, head at an angle as if I hadn’t just cavalierly brought up one of the darkest memories of the collective American historical memory.

“Hahahahaha,” my rush-wingman loudly cackled, drawing attention away from me and onto more PC topics. From there, the event was more or less the way you would imagine. I spent ten minutes talking to a guy about “biology.” Trying to have conversations with these guys was like pulling teeth. Not just because they were big sports-fans and were really into “engineering”—unclear—but also because I thrive when there are no expectations put upon me and we have a common ground. Our common ground was the fact that I was desperately trying to bind us together in institutionalized brotherhood and they were very desperately trying to make that not happen.

When I’m forced to perform, I—like any other serious actor—freeze up completely. Instead of acting like myself, I get a starring role in Awkward: A Play, in the part of Unconvincing Totem Pole Dogs in Trench Coat Pretending To Be Human. I get awkward and weird and standoffish, (but I win a Golden Globe). And my quietness and razor-wit are mistaken for a misanthropic sarcasm and possible devil worship.

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Most people rush as freshmen, and I was one of the very few sophomores attempted to breach the club. These were fresh-off-the-boat former football heroes and lacrosse princes. You know how white racists say that other races all look like each other? White people, PSA, we all look alike. And these dudes all looked strikingly similar: square jaws, Patagonias, pert butts in khaki pants, and thick Senator-parted hair. I was slim, twiggy, in a slouchy cardigan and artfully styled auburn hair to hid the pimple on my forehead. I stuck out more than a minority on The Bachelor.

(Hey, that’s a problem with mainstream broadcasting.)

It was so clear that genetics had blessed these boys with fraternal acclimation abilities, whereas I was skittering across conversation topics with the grace of a deer on a frozen sidewalk.

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For the last hour of the burger boys’ night—not the name they chose for the event, but what a missed opportunity—I was talking to two SMD brothers who were sophomores too. I nudged into their circle and attempted to strengthen a connection. They weren’t bad, but one of them had a wispy, douchey mustache that immediately told his entire history and future. Private school, fraternity, business school, Wall Street, brunette wife, two sons. It’s disconcerting to see someone’s entire life wrapped around a vaguely pubescent piece of facial hair, but it was there and I saw it and I hated it.

Also he was kind of a homophobe, but it was the mustache that really made me alarmed.

I was glad when I was able to slip away from the forced friendship-making and began to walk home. I was replaying how I had acted, seeing me in my mind’s eye and watching Frat Danny—Franny—lose the colorful characteristics I had so lovingly cherished and become a bland, palatable fraternity lackey.

Despite the skeevies from Meat Meetup: The Boys of SMD Welcome You To Babble and Burgers—not the name, but come on people, I wish—I decided I would do another rush event. I mean, I skipped one of them because I was busy (read: lazy), but the next event (the last event) was at a Mexican restaurant. How could I pass up tortilla chips?

Dressed in my best Relaxed Business—the same cardigan and button-down from my previous two interactions with SMD—and black skinny pants instead of brown skinny pants (read: classy) I soon discovered that this was a more formal “informal get to know you” session, and that everyone else had apparently gotten the Brooks Brothers memo. I also learned that I would have to choose between eating and talking. Never, if you want me to be productive, force me to choose between food and people-interactions.

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Placed in a precarious position, I just held onto a plate of chips while making awkward conversation with a guy with superb eyebrows about his future career. I was learning that, for the SMD guys, you needed to know not only what you wanted to do after graduation but what path you would be taking to Congress and which seat you were taking. Safe to say that these guys weren’t grabbing Democrat seats. Is that how Congress works? Idk, clearly I’m not in SMD.

After failing at trying get Eyebrows to disclose his grooming regimen—not in the manscaping region, just his eyebrows, you pervs—I moved on to someone who talked to me. About sports. I know nothing about sports, except that the Mets are in New York and a guy was kicked out of a Dolphins game for wearing a speedo. I couldn’t even tell you what sport the Dolphins play.

He was boring and talked about a sports internship and I made witty comments about hockey—probably? Frankly, I blocked this out from my memory—but given the fact that I hadn’t had a chance to shine with any previous interactions, I was going to make this frat bro my frat babe. And by “frat babe” I mean “best friend” and I was going to ride his coattails into SMD.

I scrounged together my minimal knowledge of sports and cobbled together a conversation. It wasn’t hard; he loved talking about himself so essentially all I had to do was be his combination Hype/Yes man. It’s a very easy job; I think I could do it professionally. After literally an hour of nodding in a platonic, heterosexual manner, the mixer came to a close and it came time to say goodbye.

I had wiped my hand against my cardigan precisely for this moment and gave Sports a firm handshake, looking him in the eye and, in the style of Wiccans and followers of The Secret, said, “See you soon.”

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I didn’t see him soon. Spoiler alert, I had come across weird and yes-man-y and too interested in Eyebrow’s eyebrows to be a friendly frat bro. The next step in the process was to receive a personal invitation to be interviewed one-on-one by the brothers. I waited the obligatory week before getting my hopes sky-high and then waited another week before crushing my hopes beneath my heel.

A few weeks later, I saw the chief pledge, the Optimus Prime of Square-Jaw Football Senator boys, leading a merry gang of future Congressmen on some sort of soft fraternity hazing adventure. I had not made it into the exclusive club. I had been, frankly, stood up.

After the sting went away, I realized I was grateful that I had been rejected. It was one of the less painful rejections I had ever gone through, despite it being collectively from upwards of forty guys at once who decided that I was “a total grenade.” And I was glad that they had preemptively prevented me from quitting. Because, you better fucking believe, I would’ve quit when the euphoria had faded and I realized that I was knee-deep in straights watching football.

I know now that I was not made for a fraternity. I am made for small groups of people who look at me like an alpha. I am not made for interviewing, which means that I will be impossible to hire but impossible to fire, and I’ll eventually either become my own boss or die on the streets.

I like being weird and sweaty and wearing flannels and skinny jeans. I don’t like wearing blazers or talking about football. It makes me think I’m back in high school, and that deathtrap has seen the last of me.

But rushing SMD taught me a very valuable lesson. No amount of built-in support system is worth me not being myself. Or me paying dues, because frankly that money could be going towards flannels. Frats, and Greek life in general, are really excellent for a certain type of person. But I’m not that type of person. And once I had finished contorting myself into a palatable pretzel shape for the boys of SMD, I realized that it wasn’t worth it, and that my foot had fallen asleep. And I think if I had gotten into the frat, I would have realized that I would need to act like Franny—bland, amiable Franny—all the time, and that’s way too much. I only act unlike myself on two occasions: when I’m talking to a cute boy, and always.

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