The first man I ever told I was gay was a guy named Ken. Ken was my Big Brother. Not my actual Big Brother but the guy that the fraternity I'd pledged had assigned to me in the role. He was supposed to look out for me, show me around campus, be someone I could call if I had any questions regarding the pledging stuff. We got along great. Ken was in Law School but still an active member of the fraternity. Whip-smart, dryly funny and soberingly responsible, Ken immediately struck me as the kind of guy I'd like to be one day. Not when I was 23, like he was, but when I got to 40, like his soul seemed.
Anyways, the conversation took place in his red Jeep Grand Cherokee(the old boxy ones) and went something like this:
K: "So, anyways, I was thinking that after dinner we might go to the Madison for a couple of drinks. It's shitty and loud but it's a decent place to meet some girls."
B: "...Actually, Ken, I'm...not really. Like, I wanted to tell you guys this before but I'm not into chicks."
B: "Yeah, I'm gay"
K: "No shit. Well, in that case I don't know what bar to go to."
Full stop. The secret that had been burning it's way through my stomach lining in high school was out there. I knew, my sister knew and know Ken. Ken from Sarnia. Ken who reacted to it in the way I'd always hoped someone would, like it was nothing at all. Honestly, I wanted to cry.
See, I'd always wanted to be in a fraternity. My father, in the first in a long line of questionable movie choices for his evenings with his two sons, showed me Animal House when I was 8. My brother wasn't much for it but it immediately was, and still is to some degree, the greatest thing I ever saw. The idea of anarchy within the structure of a social group. The ritual of it all. It was for me. I was instantly in love with John Belushi(in a conventional sense) and, later, Tim Matheson in an unconventional sense. It was the Greek life for me.
Ken called me later that night and asked if he could tell Dougal, the chapter president or if I would prefer to. I said he could. I'd made the decision to be open about it(at least at school) and whatever reaction the fraternity had I was willing to deal with. About an hour later I got a call from Dougal who said he'd heard, said he wanted me to know that I wouldn't be the first gay brother the chapter had(although I was the first in a few years) and asked if I would want him to dig up the phone numbers of the gay alumni just in case I wanted to talk to them and their experiences.
And so it went. Dougal told the rest of the executive council who told Kyle, the pledgemaster, who told my pledge brothers. At some point over the next week I'd say I got 15 random phone calls from various guys in the house who just wanted to tell me how little it bothered them. Boy oh boy, did I hear about everyone's gay cousin or brother or whatever. It got to be a little much. Pretty soon I sort of started pushing back against it. I didn't want to be thought of as different. I wanted the full experience.
And, over the next four years, I got it. We weren't big or super-popular but we threw parties, we had stupid events, we did some minor perfunctory fund-raising. I've talked on GT about the Moustache Bowl and Sister House Draft. I wanted Animal House and I got it, albeit a sort of Toronto-fied hipster-y Animal House where everyone was way too nerdy to flunk out("If you wanted to drink yourself into failure," my pledge brother and eventual Chapter President Amal liked to say, "then you should have went to York and cut out the middle man").
I can't say things were perfect. There were too many "gays" and "faggots" thrown around(although, it does have to be said, that while I've since evolved to be more on the team on that one some of them were from me) and I did once get into a pretty bad argument with someone I expected better of who wanted to give my first Little Brother a fairly offensive nickname. That said, of the 100 worst instances in my life revolving around the fact I like dudes? 99 of them came from people who didn't wear Greek letters.
This was all sort of a very long preamble to this. I know my experiences weren't typical. I know that fraternities are a weird concept. I know that there are awful guys in frats and, I'm sure, awful chapters.
But still, it's tough for me to read an article like the End Fraternities article on Gawker today. I read it, get what's it's saying and even agree with it in parts but, you know, it was a positive experience in my life. The acceptance I got from guys like Ken gave me a ton of confidence to face the world honestly and openly. It continues to be a good part of my life. I'm not a particularly active alumni but of the handful of people I'm still in touch with from Uni, most of them are frat brothers. I want to defend the idea of it. I want to say that most Greek systems are big enough that they accommodate houses that represent every single potential combination of people and that the shitty ones shouldn't ruin it for the good ones.
Moreover, regarding the specific sort of stuff we're talking about...look, I have no idea what went on at all of our parties. I know nobody ever got in touch with us about any sort of inappropriate conduct. The worst thing that happened at one of our parties that I know about was a girl who got way too drunk and requiring an ambulance to be called.
(True story: While everyone was bummed that a really good party was getting shut down, by far the biggest jerks of the evening were the cops I shit you not, they made fun of the unconscious girl once as they learned how "little" she'd had to drink from her friend)
Can I say with certainty that everyone in the house treated women properly? No. But, truth is, I can't say that about any 25 guys I know. The guys I play softball with, the people at my work...I couldn't say that about them either. You just can't know people that well. I want to say that, as far as I know, the guys I shared a Fraternity with...they're really good guys who treat people really well. After all, that's how they treated me.
But I'm probably going to stop sticking up for fraternities. My experience was probably too niche, too Liberal, too Canadian. It might have just been the right group of guys at the right time. I don't know what college is like in the states, how ingrained it might be in the culture. Maybe they do more harm than good. Maybe the bad ones are bad enough to make the good ones pointless.
"Nothing's over until we say it is!" Belushi says, rousing the Deltas, the good guys, to fuck things up one last time.
Maybe we should.