[1/23/17] A Northwestern University freshman who recently came out as transgender tried to join a sorority this month, yearning for deeper friendships on campus.
The case is unusual because the student is a transgender man, born with a female body but identifying as male, and already beginning to make that transition. Eighteen-year-old Adam Davies said he was drawn to the tenets of Greek life — philanthropy, bonding and leadership — but that with his changing body he might not feel comfortable living in a fraternity.
So he sought out the sisterhood of a sorority instead.
“I guess I see it on a level that transcends the gender binary,” said Davies, of Appleton, Wis.
While many international sororities have in the last few years adopted language to better include transgender women, this was among the first instances in which an openly transgender man participated in Panhellenic Recruitment, according to the organization’s national conference based in Indianapolis, which covers 26 social sororities on more than 670 campuses around the world. Northwestern officials believe this is likely the first case of its kind at the university.
In the end, no sorority extended Davies a bid. Because each chapter’s membership decisions are private, it’s unclear whether gender identity was a factor. Other students — regardless of gender identity — in past years have attempted to join a sorority without receiving a bid.
Davies said he’s disappointed he won’t experience a candlelight ceremony, wear Greek letters or have a mentoring relationship with an older sorority member.
“The vibe was — as far as I could tell — we would love to have you, but we can’t,” he said.
Before winter recruitment, which ran Jan. 5-10, Davies said he was told by Northwestern staff that all 12 social sorority houses were notified of his gender identity and many of their international headquarters might find him ineligible based on their bylaws or guidelines, which often state that recruits must be women or identify as women.
“Student Affairs staff explained what he might expect based on national organizations’ bylaws, with the information we had available at that time,” university spokesman said Alan Cubbage in an email, adding that Northwestern has no authority over any sorority’s membership decisions.
Davies said he was transparent throughout the recruitment process. He said he felt welcomed at all of the houses and described his talks with members as deep and introspective, often delving into the nature of feminism.
“I made it very clear that I was a transgender man,” he said. “Because I’m not afraid of who I am.”
Amid an ongoing national debate on transgender rights covering everything from public bathroom use to school locker rooms, Davies’ case highlights the particularly thorny realm of Greek life, where sex and gender identity have historically been at the core of membership eligibility.