I d o n’t go to frat parties.
It’s not that I don’t like to party; I would love to feel welcomed and a part of something that is treated like such a staple of the Penn experience. However, I don’t feel that these parties are welcoming places for me or for other queer and trans people.
College freshman Andrew recalls that two of his friends, both men, were thrown out of a frat party during NSO this year for kissing one another. Anyone who has been to these parties knows that this was not simply revulsion to a public display of affection. Since the two party-goers were men, this was seen as unacceptable.
College junior Olivia has openly faced harassment at these parties as a queer woman. “I would definitely never display affection at a party,” she said, “because every time I’ve done so it has resulted in me being approached by men I’ve never met about threesomes, applauding and catcalling.”
These two cases are not isolated, and they show us just why queer and trans people are not a part of this party scene: Our mere existence challenges the structure of objectification of women that these parties are designed for. We are either something disgusting or something to gawk at. Particularly in Olivia’s case, we see that affection between women is only valuable if it is for a man’s gaze and ideally for his participation.
The ratio of men to women that is required to enter many of these frat parties also contributes to the devaluing of queer identities. This ratio is quite obviously sexist in nature, but we can also look further to see how it excludes the experiences of queer and trans people. Wharton sophomore Jaimie Zhang remembered how she felt when she encountered this practice.
“They assume that men and women automatically want to get together, so they make sure that each man brings multiple women — one for himself and one for the hosts. I say ‘brings’ because the women are literally treated as commodities here.”
In addition to objectifying women and treating them as men’s property, this ratio completely disregards the fact that not all men want to hook up with women (and vice versa) and that not everyone wants to hook up at these parties. Some of these people may be on the asexual spectrum, and others may just want an opportunity to socialize without the pressure to find a partner.
Further, this assumption eliminates the experiences of those who exist outside of the gender binary of man and woman. Trans people experience unique struggles and discomfort at these parties. Freshman Amy constantly faces being misgendered at parties. Unfortunately, because of widespread insensitivity to trans issues, this happens at all kinds of parties, even ones that claim to be for queer people. Because ze often expresses femininely, everyone just assumes that ze is a woman and treats hir as such. This harmful misgendering has become so commonplace that it almost seems hopeless to try to educate people so that hir identity can be respected.
“It’s no use to correct them because there’s no real concept of how to treat a non-binary person, ” ze said.
While many of the people throwing these parties would probably tell you how they’re cool with their gay friends, it seems that they feel no need to adjust their language and practices to make every student here feel welcome and respected for who they are.
You might ask why they have to adjust this dynamic to be more welcoming to queer and trans people. Sadly, they don’t. Obviously, these parties are popular enough to keep going without welcoming more people from our community. Furthermore, it’s true that there are alternatives to these parties where queer and trans people can feel more comfortable. However, it would be great for us to feel included in such a large part of Penn’s social life.
I hope that this can be a call to those of you who are throwing parties. Don’t alienate people because of who they are dancing with or kissing.
Do away with the ratio altogether. Don’t assume people’s gender based on their appearance. If you continue on in the way that you’re going, you are missing out on an opportunity to meet and party with a really dynamic and diverse group of people.
Roderick Cook is a College sophomore from Nesquenoning, Pa., studying gender, sexuality and women’s studies. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.