Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Are The Divine Nine Sororities Ready To Admit Transwomen?

In 2008 Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first African-American sorority will celebrate their centennial year.

AKA's founding was followed by Delta Sigma Theta in 1913, Zeta Phi Beta in 1920 and finally Sigma Gamma Rho in 1922. They have compiled a long and distinguished history of achievement and have done exemplary work over the last century in terms of uplifting our race. I have women in my own family who are members of the various Divine Nine sororities. It's a safe bet to make that if you see a sistah in the news or who's making history, nine times out of ten she's a member of a Divine Nine sorority.

The Divine Nine Sororities have been at the forefront of social change as well. These sororities are not limited to just African-American membership only but admit Latina and White women as well. For example I doubt that many people realize that former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is an AKA. They all have White and Latina members at the undergrad and graduate levels who are more down with the organization and what it stands for than some of their African-American members.

So that begs the question. If the Divine Nine sororities embrace all women, does that include myself and other transwomen as well?

The answer to it would probably break along generational lines. Some of the most conservative institutions in the African-American community next to the Black church and the NAACP are the Divine Nine sororities. They are proud of their history as they should be and are fiercely protective of it.

There's been a firestorm of controversy on the website over a group of gay men who claim to have formed a unofficial chapter of AKA. Those comments about MIAKA have devolved into the usual recitation of conservative gay-bashing Old Testament talking points mixed with the justified outrage of AKAs ticked off over the appropriation of their organizational shield, colors and symbols. So far there hasn't been any comment from AKA National headquarters other than 'MIAKA has no official or unoffical standing with the sorority'.

That vitriolic reaction makes me wonder how a transwoman who met the qualifications for membership in any of the Divine Nine sororities, sincerely wanted to not only be a part of that history but pledge, pay dues and do the necessary work would be received. Then again, there may be transwomen who are already members of the various Divine Nine sororities at the undergrad and graduate levels as I write this.

I'm jealous of you if you are. ;)

These stealth transpersons may be doing wonderful work within the sorority but if their sorors like her, they unfortunately won't associate her positivity with the first out transwoman they meet because their stealth transgender soror didn't let them know her status. This out transsistah may have the same positive qualities as the stealth member but because she is open about being transgendered gets saddled with overcoming the stereotypical baggage heaped upon African-American transwomen.

Depending on the chapter, that may keep her from probably getting in and proving to those skeptics that she's down with what the sorority stands for, is cognizant of its history and wants to be an asset to the organization. Those stereotypes combined with outright religious bigotry by some of the members are why I believe the Divine Nine sororities will be extremely resistant to expanding their membership ranks to include out transwomen.

In my case it's well known who I am and that I'm proud to be an African-American transwoman. I have much love for my mom and sister's sorority. My old neighborhood was chock full of her sorors. I faithfully read that organizations magazine when it hit the mailbox. Before I transitioned I DJed my mom's chapters Christmas party back home with my DJ partner for two consecutive years.

I'd be honored if I were invited to join one of the Divine Nine sororities. I do believe in and practice in my own life many of the same things they value in terms of education, community service and uplifing the race. I have the awards on my mantel to prove it.

So will an out transwoman someday wear the colors and letters of the sororities that have been proudly worn by the women in their families for generations and be embraced by her sorors as one of them at the same time?

While I'm hopeful that the Divine Nine orgs will prove me wrong and emphatically state that womanhood includes females who were stuck in the wrong bodies at birth as well and open their doors to us, I don't think it'll happen in my lifetime.

TransGriot note:
The Divine Nine is the nickname given to the nine African-American fraternities and sororities that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the umbrella organization for African-American Greek orgs. The frats are Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi, Kappa Alpha Psi, Phi Beta Sigma and Iota Phi Theta


Unknown said...

You know I am Greek and while I know the prejudices of the D9 in my lifetime won't allow them to see a person of worth as just that a person I can attest to the fact I wouldn't want to see someone put these theories to the test. The D9 is just as prejudice as the KKK and I believe our people should not seek to include ourselves among these types instead begin things that are just for us without borrowing or begging anything from D9. We can create traditions just as rich as theirs...once upon a time their orgs were new, they were seeking solace on their campues from prejudice eyes of whites and blacks who didn't think people should educate themselves. I don't think they will ever see that parallel.

Monica Roberts said...

Back in the early part of the 20th century when our peeps were overwhelmingly voting Republican there was an effort started to get African-Americans into the Democratic party. The Democrats had a racist mindset at the time similar to the GOP of the 21st century.

Peeps back in the day said roughly the same things you did about that issue as you did about whether we transwomen should push for inclusion in the D9 sororities.

Just as the Democratic Party today is light years different from what it once was thanks to folks like Fannie Lou Hamer and others who fought for inclusion and we're successful enough that the racists left for the GOP, we have to try.

I could start and gat chartered a transwomen oriented Greek-letter org but it wouldn't have the clout or networking power that the D9 orgs do. That point was only crystallized for me this week during the Imus mess when AKA and DST called for his firing. There are major benefits to being a D9 sorority member and I've seen it in my own family.

It would also take time to build a transgender oriented sorority to that level.

If the over 500,000 women worldwide in D9 orgs also include Asian, White and Latina women then qualified transwomen need to be a part of that and should be allowed to join as well.

As a person that would be a legacy member of one of those orgs should that moment of clarity happen I would rather they come to that decision on their own.

Pioneer said...

Hey I am from Iota Phi Theta at UMASS Amherst. We are going to be hosting a discussion in November about the gender binary of the Divine 9. I was wondering if you knew of any more stories or people who are interested in this topic. There is a large trans community up in Amherst Mass especially from Smith College and Hampshire College. While no transperson to my knowledge tried to join, we decided to start this discussion.

Monica Roberts said...

Thanks for posting. Off the top of my head, no I don't, but I'll post your question to my TSTB list and see if someone does.

Good luck to you and your Iota brothers in terms of starting this converation. It's definitely needed.

Anonymous said...

I am a member of Alpha Phi Alpha.. Check me out @