Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Season of White Dresses and Demon Bunnies

One of the things that still haunts me from way back in the day is washing out of sorority rush. My mother's sorority chapter was in trouble, and as it turned out, their advisors from national had cautioned them against taking any girls who were not stereotypically attractive, because they were already under interdict as the house that took fat, ugly, or socially-awkward girls. What I thought would be a shoo-in, coupled with malicious rumors started by a girl from back home who was in another house, buried me, and deeply. (EDIT: in researching their legacy policy, I discovered that it's worse than that- they had to obtain the permission of their national office to drop me because it was a distressed chapter and under those circumstances, a legacy cannot be dropped from rush and must be on the bid list.)

A childhoods friend's daughter belongs to a smaller sorority that began as a teaching sorority back in the World War I era, and migrated to a regular social sorority during the Thirties and Forties. Their chapter here in Kentucky just pledged a young woman who has Down Syndrome. I think that's pretty fantastic. In a time when one of the sororities at Bama made a kind of harebrained video to promote themselves to rushees (this semester, Fall 2015), Katy's sorority at Murray State pledged a girl because they liked her. That's often not enough. So kudos to the ladies of Alpha Sigma Alpha at Murray State for having the guts to choose girls they like rather than choose girls for what they look like or what their parents do for a living, or something else equally shallow.

Every so often, I revisit the humiliation of sorority rush. I'm not sorry I did it, because I earned my stripes, but the thing that caused my mother to jump in the car and drive immediately to Lexington (at my father's rare behest- he had his moments about this stuff) was when I howled, "That means I'm not good enough for my mother. I'm not good enough for my own best friend!" My best friend, you see, is a sorority sister of Mom's. My mother drove a hundred miles to tell me in person that it wasn't true.

Some sororities require that upon the death of actives who have no one else in the family who are members, the pin should be returned to their national offices. My sister pledged a different house, and was followed into it by my mother's great-niece. Mom's other great-niece pledged a third, different sorority. There is no one else. I've taken the pin out and looked at it and known in my heart of hearts that if they required it, they'd have to fight me for it.

My godmother joined a couple of professional sororities as an adult, because she didn't pledge as an undergraduate. There are times that I've felt an undercurrent from her that she, too, washed out of rush, but I've never had the courage to ask. While I've thought perhaps her joining these organizations was weird, I understand it. Mom's sorority offers alumnae initiation; in a way it sounds kind of silly, but I was reading the nomination form earlier and realized how much I'm still traumatized by that long-ago rejection.

I don't begrudge anyone Greek life in college, but I wonder how many girls are still left behind in the dorms on bid day, waiting for a card or call that will never come, white dress hanging in the closet after the others have all returned with balloons and jerseys, with mascot posters hung proudly on their doors. Do they still wander down the hallway and try to slip, as invisibly as possible, through the mascotless door before their failure is further published? Will they move on, or will it still clutch at them some distant day when they don't expect it?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Owning Our Agency

I'm someone who fears people. I fear their judgment. I fear being belittled, because it was so much a daily part of my life for a long time. I fear making a fool of myself. Most of all, I fear that allowing myself to feel, beyond what others perceive as requiring their permission, will lead to a crippling spiral of humiliation.

To understand it more fully, I probably ought to explain that I lived with a full spectrum of cruelties, from small jabs to public excoriation. Not that others don't, and not to downplay others' experiences, but when you're fat, there are "special rules" that apply. I was a child model for a photography studio for a brief window of time before I began putting on weight and simultaneously losing everyone's approval. I was a smart, precocious child, often socially inept (especially with children my age), and when I became physically unattractive due to my weight gain, I went from being perceived as cute to being perceived as an annoying, ugly pain in the ass.

As I got older, it got worse. Fat, brainy, socially awkward, and cursed by the Marks of the Beast that no adolescent wants- acne, glasses, and braces- I acted out, but I turned inward. I suspected that all positive attention that I was paid would be twisted into a cruel joke later on...and often, I was right, if I was naive enough to fall for it. I absorbed the Burden of Fat: because my body carried it, it was meant to muffle any emotions I might have and sublimate the pain and humiliation heaped on me, a favorite sport of both adults and children, with the extra rule that the object of their ridicule is not allowed to fight back, because then they "just can't take a joke".

The one thing I don't want to be is noticed, or be open to being emotionally flayed. I still spend so much time hiding that the idea that I've trod where I'm not wanted is nauseating...but, as I had it thrown up to me, I forced my way back into Hopkins' life, and it's not like I hadn't made myself a little ill thinking that before my face was shoved into that metaphorical pile of shit. It was during an argument and it was a gambit by the speaker to drag me down and beat me into submission. All it's done is force me through a tour de force of some of the worst feelings of misery and alienation I've ever experienced in my life. I'm so depressed that I can barely walk five feet today.

So, congratulations, if you think that's the foundation of a good relationship, it's not. It only makes me want to go over in a corner and stay there until I die from the sheer horror of being me.