Recently, I was asked about the difference between being friends with similarly identifying queer femmes and becoming a formal member of a Greek organization. I knew it was one of the best decisions I ever made but it was hard for me to articulate why. I could say since I wanted a teenager, I have wanted to join a sorority. The idea of chosen family is something that has always appealed to me; especially since blood ties do not guarantee a positive supportive loving family environment. However, knowing that a chosen family does not guarantee those things either, the agency that comes with being able to choose my family is one that felt like I needed.
After getting it, I have come to KNOW that it is something that I needed. And it is something for which I am grateful. I am grateful for the women who started building a safe space for me to find. It was the answer to a very private prayer - one of those silent-oh-by-the-way prayers that you make in passing after asking God for big things like gainful employment and an easy Monday. I am even grateful for the meandering process that was even coming to find that there were queer women just like me.
….and I used to hate processes.
Now, I vacillate between viewing processes as necessary evils and Divine blessings.
This particular process looked like this:
At one point in my early adulthood, my family was falling apart. Some fantastic women who stepped in and helped me at some very low points were members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. I wanted to help others like they helped me. I wanted to be their sisters but sadly, I found the Georgia State University chapter to be rather distant and rather insulated. Then, when they finally had an interest meeting, it was in a church.
Fast forward to this Muslim sorority that fell off the map after I became an interest. A year or so later, I circled back to them and found that they had moved on without me. I blame it on the good ole politics of respectability which never suited me since in that year my queerness became “an issue”. After all, you can’t be queer and respectable right? I mean, even I thought it wasn’t possible to be active in the Muslim community at large as a queer Black American woman, and taken seriously as either queer or Muslim. My faith gave me some semblance of community but the queerness left me feeling alone.
This loneliness led me to a very supportive e-community, but I still wanted a Greek home. I found some that were for gender queers but… I’m not. I still searched on but like most quests, I didn’t find what I was looking for until I stopped actively searching.
A Facebook friend liked a link on a femme visibility tumblr that was run by the ladies of Theta Epsilon Alpha.
I never heard of them but I wanted to know about them. I filled out an interest form.
I got a call.
I was invited into a FB group.
I met with the president…and we clicked.
It was like I met my long lost sister.
When one of my daughters ended up in the hospital, I get a phone call from the VP who I didn’t know from a can of paint.
I was so touched by their willingness to reach out and share with me that I instantly felt like, yeah, I can get with this.
When I was invited to join the sorority I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
That was a year ago.
I have been wanting to say something about this, to thank them, and now I think I have finally been able to find my words.
Dear Theta Epsilon Alpha,
Thank you for existing. Thank you for helping me reclaim my power as a woman. In my formative years, I was never frail enough, light enough, skinny enough, fill-in-the-blank enough to be feminine. As I came to understand my queerness, I was never gender queer enough for anyone to see me as an LGBTQ* youth and realize I needed help. I was invisible and afraid.
I did my best to shelter myself and protect my vulnerable areas of gender and sexuality with the only tools I had - religion and faking the het funk. It was bad enough being a dark skinned, Black Muslim girl in color struck Bible-thumping Atlanta. Trying to be a dyke in the projects was not a marginalizing stance I could afford to take.
So I didn’t.
I tried to send out as many gay rays as I could when I was away from home but as time came to return home, I had to clean that up. I had to turn my light off. And after so many years of having to keep my light off, I thought my light was gone. Eventually, in the darkness of having my world turned upside down when I was outed, I found it again. Even still, I found myself struggling to validate myself as a queer woman both within myself the queer community. How was anyone supposed to know me or see me if my gender expression matched my biological self? The concepts of gender identity, gender expression, were relatively new to me. I thought there was a direct correlation between gender queer expression and queered sexual orientation.
I know now that I was quite wrong but you have been there to help me unpack the lies about the variety of ways a same gender loving woman could be and love. You’ve been there to help me shed so many layers of misplaced shame and guilt and I’m still shedding and learning. You’ve been advocating for me in ways I didn’t even know I needed. You are a Godsend and for that I am eternally grateful.
You have shown me how to advocate for the marginalized. You have shown me how to use my anger and hurt as fuel for transformation and healing. You have provided a sisterhood wherein members are actively working to make the queer world a friendly world for femmes who don’t necessarily bottom in heels all day. Thus, you have shown me how to feel empowered by my gender expression and not let other peoples internalized misogynoir stop me from walking in my Divine Grace and Mercy. Through your existence, by God’s Decree, I am here and understanding of my power and duty to self and others.
In love and service,
Lani A Ledisi