Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fraternity Reunion

All of us have a Past, especially Transpeople.

Many of us don't like to speak of it- because that past is like it happened to another person.  Because it WAS another person.  When we transition, we are born anew as the person we were meant to be.  Often we pay a heavy price to be that person- higher than most people would be willing to pay, including many of our trans brothers and sisters.  After all, how many times have you heard "I would transition, but..."   And that's OK.  Transition Should be the last resort.

As for my past, I have no issue writing about it.  I am the sum of my past experiences, for good or ill.

I joined Phi Kappa Sigma at Drexel University in May 1985, and, in 1986, transferred to Penn State.  My membership transferred with me.  I knew everything would be different- I just didn't know HOW different.

In 1986, I'd been denying myself for three years.  I was angry, bitter, and suffering a pain that I could never admit to anyone- especially myself.  After all, my secret was utterly shameful.  I was a freak.  Obviously demented.  I was transgender- but I would fight it with every ounce of my being.  And so I did.

Me in late 1986/early 1987.  The jacket is my 
Drexel fraternity jacket.  I still have it.

I thought Penn State would be a new beginning.  I could recreate myself as whoever I wanted to be.  Unfortunately, all I could manage was to maintain my angry shell.  That shell worked well enough- it pushed people away.  I thought myself unattractive, and many women were quick to agree.  The few I became close to, for the most part, saw me as friend material.  "I don't think of you as a guy."  "You're too nice."  I'm sure many others heard the same things.  I knew that these women were quite perceptive, as I really WASN'T a guy.  I was just pretending.  I was a caricature of a guy.  But this only added to my bitterness.

Soon that shell hardened and became the base of my armor against outside pain.

This was the person that the brothers at Penn State knew.  I did my best to fit in- be cheerful.  Eventually, I even found love- my first real adult relationship.  It ended badly when she cheated.  Another layer of Anger.  Of self hatred.

My last semester at Penn State before going to student teach was Fall of 1988.  During the year 1988, I met some great people.  Actually, as far as the House was concerned, I met some of the best people I'd meet.  I met people who didn't care that I was a "transfer."  They only cared how I handled myself and about my passion for the Fraternity.  Yes, I was passionate about the Fraternity.  I'd sworn an Oath, and I meant to keep it.

In early December 1988, the fraternity held a formal dinner for Graduating seniors, of which I was one.  We ate very well- ribeye steak and shrimp.  We sat at the head table, our backs to the fireplace in the dining room.  The guy sitting next to me at the table, Brett, loved shrimp, so I traded him shrimp for steak.  At the end of the dinner, we were given shots of whiskey.  The Brotherhood toasted us in song, we drank our shots, and each hurled our glasses into the fireplace in turn, and we became Alumni.

The graduating seniors then left to go to a bar together.  I was invited, but had other plans.  There was a party being given by my friends in the Secondary Education major, and there was a girl there who I desperately wanted to hook up with.  I failed.  I regret not going with the guys.  They invited me and I shrugged them off.

A week later, my time as a brother ended.  I wouldn't see many of these people for a long time.  Others I still haven't seen since.

Graduation, May 1989

During the weekend of November 6-8, 2015, the Psi Chapter (Penn State) of Phi Kappa Sigma celebrated its 125th year.   If one counts the several years when it was the Latin letter QTV society, it is the oldest fraternity on the campus.

I wasn't going to attend.  It cost quite a bit of money, between hotel and the event itself, and, well, I was very different.  The shell had broken, and my True self emerged.  I am now a Woman.

My time at Penn State was not an easy one.  Many of the brothers were abusive toward me.  They did their best to drive me away.  But not all of them.  The brothers and little sisters of my last year were different.  Many of them were Facialbook friends, and knew of my transition.  They were supportive.  However, none of them had ever seen me face to face.  In fact, only one brother had, as he came into the book store occasionally, but he didn't know it was me.

Most of the brothers did not know of my transition.  What would they think?  Was this really a can of worms I wanted to open?  I wrote about it in this blog some time ago.  Many wise people counseled against me attending.  After all, it was expensive, and it really could end badly.

However, a couple of the Brothers from my time pressed the case.  I wrote to one of them who is now Vice President of the Alumni board.  He is gay- out and proud.  He said I should attend, and that he would make sure that I received a good reception.

I thought about it.  Penn State means so much to me, and so much of that was the Fraternity.  But I couldn't afford it.  Well, of all things, Penn State came to the rescue!  I was hired to do a Transgender Presentation, and I was to be paid!  The amount would be enough for me to attend!  But, the presentation was AFTER the weekend.  Wife said she'd spot me the money and I would pay her when the check from Penn State arrived.  So I made my reservations.

Friday November 6 dawned a rainy cool day.  I awoke early, and got ready.  I then went to get a mani/pedi.  I wanted to look my best.  I then turned my car west toward State College.  As was my tradition, I blasted the Who Quadrophenia on the way (I always listen to it on a trip to Penn State.)  A few hours later, I arrived at Penn State, and checked into the Days Inn room 520.

I then walked to campus.  I went to the Heinz Alumni Center, where I met Tina Hay, the editor of the Penn Stater magazine.  I'd written to her about writing an article for the magazine about this weekend, and she politely turned it down.  I went to meet her to put a face to the name and to see if she had changed her mind.  She hadn't.

From there, I walked up to the Nittany Lion Shrine.  There I met two college girls.  I took their pictures at the Lion, and they took mine for me.

I then walked around campus a bit.  It was a busy Friday afternoon, and the paths were filled with students.  They all seemed so young.  Eventually, I went back to my room, showered to get the sweat off me, and made myself up for the night.  That night was a reception for alumni at the House.

The brother that convinced me to go was Ty.  He met me in the lobby with another brother, Dave.  He told me there was a small gathering up in someone's room, and we went there.  In the room were maybe five guys.  All but one welcomed me and hugged me.

One shook my hand (fraternity handshake) and said "Hi LANCE!"  I didn't recognize him at first.  In fact, I had to be told who he was.  He looked like a pudgy, middle age Charlie Brown, right down to the tuft of hair on his otherwise bare forehead.  He never addressed me as Sophie.  He was Jerk #1.

After a beer, most of the group walked the one block to the fraternity house.  I did my best to keep up, as I was wearing 2" strappy heels.  We walked in the back door, me in the middle of the group.  I felt a mixture of dread and excitement, like at the crest of a roller coaster.  What would happen next?

There was a table in the foyer, and on it were a Guest register and a bunch of name tags.  I took mine, and pinned it to my purple blouse.  I circulated around the room, greeting brothers from my time- some of whom I hadn't seen in decades.  All were receptive.  Some didn't recognize me (I can't imagine why) but remembered me when I said my Nickname.

The event was BYOB, and many alumni brought beer.  Lots of beer.  The current pledges made sure an alumni never lacked for a beer.  I don't think my hand was empty the whole night.  I drank more beer that night than I had in the previous two decades combined, it seemed.

I walked out onto the broad porch out front.  There I bumped into someone who I absolutely didn't expect.  He was one of the famous "Whereabouts Unknown" brothers.  In fact, I don't even know if he finished his degree.  He just one day up and disappeared.  But there he was!  We spoke maybe a couple of minutes.  He had no idea who I was.  When I explained my previous identity he literally jumped back four feet yelling "WHOA!  ICK!"   We didn't speak the rest of the night.  He was Jerk #2.  And, thankfully, the last jerk.  Later that night, I spoke to one of the brothers with whom I was close.  I told him what Jerk #2 said.  He asked how long we were speaking.  I said maybe two minutes.  He said that I held the record so far, as no one could stand speaking to him that long, as he was so incoherent.

Friday Night

Most of the night I spent circulating, especially with the active brothers and pledges.  After all, they are the future of the fraternity.  They were all quite nice.

By the end of the night, I was loopy.  I walked back to my hotel room.  I felt bloated with beer.  As an experienced drinker, I knew how this was going to end, so I changed into my PJs, went to the bathroom, and stuck my fingers down my throat.  As a result, I had no hangover the next day.

The next day was cloudy and very chilly.  I awoke, showered, and put on my makeup.  There were two events that day.  The first was a gathering at the house to watch the Penn State vs Northwestern game.  I arrived right before kickoff.  The crowd was sparse- mostly older guys in their 60s and older.  In other words, people who HADN'T attended the night before.  They paid me no mind, and I did the same.  I just watched the game.  As the game went on, more people arrived, including some who came in just for the day.  Lunch was set out, and it was AMAZING!  As I ate, I sat next to one of the pledges, who is from Istanbul.  We spoke a bit.  He is a very intelligent young man.

Game Day!

One of the people was a Little Sister named Iva.  Many fraternities in the 80s had Little Sisters, and their role varied from house to house.  Most of our Little Sisters were sorority girls who wanted the prestige of being a Skull little sister.  Some were girlfriends of brothers.  Others still were just girls who just liked hanging out with the brothers.  In other houses, the Little Sisters were like a "Ladies Auxiliary," helping out at events and such.  Our little sisters did some of that as well.  At still other houses, Little Sisters were just girls who wanted sex with the brothers.  Iva?  Iva was someone who cared about the brothers and cared about the House.  She was a good person, and, frankly, one of the few little sisters who even spoke to me back in the day (for whatever reason, most of the Little Sisters regarded me as one would regard a worm ridden corpse.)

Ty and Iva.  (Photo by Dave Sieling)

Iva has been one of the biggest supporters of my transition.  We even coordinated our Gala outfits online.  We hugged and caught up briefly, then she was making the rounds of the brothers, most of whom she hadn't seen in a long time.  We would hang out a lot that weekend.  One thing Iva mentioned struck home.  She said that back then I "radiated anger."  She was not the first to tell me this.  She said I seemed so much happier now.  I smiled.

Penn State lost a close game.  After the game, I returned to my hotel room, took a short nap, then prepped for the night.  I wanted to look as good as I possibly could.  I wore the same dress that I wore to my "Debutante Ball" some months ago.  I decided to forgo the corset.  I also wore contacts for the first time in a long time.

Ready for the Gala!

I arrived in the lobby.  The Gala dinner was the second big event of the day, and it was being held there at the hotel.  In the event area was a bar.  Each of us received two drink tickets.  Mixed drinks cost money, but Yuengling beer was free.  By that point, I had enough beer to float an ocean liner.  Before dinner were some speeches, including one by the Grand Alpha, who is in charge of the whole fraternity.  He and I had a chance to speak briefly.  We'd met back in 2008, when the Fraternity was re-established at PSU  (long story.)  We spoke about a few things.  I was going to pin him down about the lack of a National LGBT policy, but I decided that this event was neither the time nor the place.

I sat at a table with many of the brothers from my time.  Iva joined us.  To my left was a guy I didn't immediately recognize.  When I was told who it was, I couldn't believe it!  Hartzee!  He is a Native American who was a junior Olympic champion wrestler, and was now a lawyer and a lobbyist.  He was very nice to me at the dinner.  In fact, he treated me very much as a lady.  He even bought me a drink!  He'd had a reputation as a ladies man back in the day, and I could see why.  His manners were very polished and he was smooth!  I was very impressed.

With Hartzee

After other activities, we all gathered for group pictures.  First it was everyone in attendance.  Then it was just Brothers (I was included in this.)  Then it was just actives.  There were then pictures by decade, and I stood with the 1980s group.  I felt a strange mix of emotions.  At first, I felt old, as here I was with many guys who were gray haired and older looking.  But I also felt gratitude, as they had accepted me.  They accepted me enough that despite my transition, I still belonged.  Most of all, I felt Pride.  I was proud to stand with these people.  They are good men, some very different from the boys they used to be.  They are accepting, generous, and they too are proud of their Fraternity and University.

In many ways, I had conflicting feeling about coming to this event.  I knew as I stood for pictures that I had done the right thing.  I was Home.  I was with my Brothers.  Time had been hard on some of us, but here we were, all these years later, sharing a special bond.  I am a Woman- they now All know the secret that I hid from them for years.  And they accepted me.  I could argue that they even liked me better as a woman then they ever had as a guy.

The pictures taken, a DJ started playing, but lets face it- in a room of 95% men, most of whom are in their 40s and older, no one was going to dance.  Most people left to go back to the House.  I went up to my room.  I made a quick video for YouTube, then changed.  I was exhausted, but I wanted to go to the House one more time.

When I arrived, I mingled a bit.  I noticed one of the actives had passed out on the couch.  After verifying he was indeed alive, I asked some of his brothers if they were going to take him to his room.  "We're not going to haul his ass up to the third floor!"  was the reply.  So, in the time honored tradition, he was posed for pictures with various objects, etc.  If the actives got out Magic Markers, well, I know nothing.  I deny all rumors of a picture of him with my breasts resting on his head.  After all, I am a Lady!  ;)

Before leaving, I took a few more pictures.  (Back in the day, I was House photographer, and I did the scrapbook.  The brothers called me "Lens.")  One of the pictures was with a brother named Jim.  Back in the day, I couldn't stand him.  Let's just say I had a very low opinion of him, and his opinion of me wasn't much better.  A couple of years ago, out of nowhere, I received a Facialbook message from him.  It was an apology.  He apologized for the way he treated me back then, and wished me well.  I thanked him for the message and accepted his apology.  I wanted a picture with him.  As we posed, he told me that he was very impressed that I attended, and that many people were as well.  He said it took "a lot of balls" for me to show up.  I smiled.  I thanked him again for the note he sent all that time ago, and for his kind comment.  I am proud he is my Brother.

Jim and I

Soon after that picture, I returned to my hotel room, cleaned up and went to sleep.

The following morning, I awoke, showered, made myself up, and went downstairs for the last organized event.  It was a sponsored continental breakfast.  There I saw maybe a dozen brothers total from all eras.  They were telling stories, you know, the same old stories they'd told for years.  I sat apart from them intentionally.  I wanted to take some pictures, and just listen.  Iva arrived.  I hugged her goodbye, and parted from the others.

I then drove home.  The sun shone brightly as I rode through the Pennsylvania mountains.  A few hours later, I was back in my apartment.  From there, my full attention was on a presentation I would be giving three days later.  And I will tell you about that as well, dear readers!  I've had some time to consider what this visit meant to me.

I needed to do this.  It was a Rite of Passage.  I opened a new chapter in my life.  And I think I opened some eyes and hearts.

It may be a small thing.  Back when I was an undergrad, my hands were balled into fists at all times.  On campus, at parties, wherever.  That was the level of anger and self hatred I felt.

This weekend, especially at the House, my hands were freed.  Open.  Just as I was.


  1. Nice story and glad it was a great weekend for you as well. Unique perspective and most of us left with a heightened love for the past and had our own story from the Reunion. It had been since graduation that many of us were together and it was epic. All the best, Club91'+LT

  2. Awesome. Great story, great courage, and wonderful (for the most part!) results. Congratulations, both on your transition and on your courage.