- As a gay kid growing up in Alabama, I always felt like I didn’t fit in.
- When I got to college, I wanted to try joining a sorority. I hoped I’d finally find my place.
- But the decision had unintended consequences — including TikTok fame, and being outed as transgender.
As unoriginal as it sounds, I’ve always felt like an outcast. As a kid, I wanted the girls’ toys instead of the boys. I thought Pillow Pets were way more interesting than Batman and sports, and I hated wearing cargo shorts. I remember in first grade realizing I was attracted to someone: a boy. I was on the football field, and someone made fun of me for how I was acting: “gay.” I pushed down my feelings because I wanted to fit in.
I left high school at 16 with dual enrollment and went to college to escape the homophobia of rural Alabama. I wanted to try to find myself after coming out as gay. At 18, I transferred to the University of Alabama, which has a reputation as an LGBTQ-friendly school; it had been my dream to join my brother Jackson there.
Greek life is kind of a big deal at Bama. Bama Rush — a two-week-long period in August when sororities decide who they’ll let join in the upcoming year — is a huge event. It’s become even more heightened since 2021 when the hashtag #BamaRush went viral and took over TikTok. Girls rushing, aka, applying to become a member of a sorority, would post outfits of the day (OOTDs) showing off their Kendra Scott earrings or Pants Store skirts, with some gaining thousands of followers and millions of views. More than 2,500 rushed this year for a spot in one of Bama’s 23 sororities, and people followed along like it was a reality TV show. This past year, as I became the first non-binary student to rush, I was the show’s “main character.”
Taking part in Bama Rush had unintended consequences
At Bama, there’s a divide between “geeds” (non-Greek-affiliated students) and those in sororities and fraternities. I didn’t understand this separation. All my friends at the time were in sororities, and I wasn’t. I would go home while they went to date parties and football games as a group. I felt so left out. But then, my grandma passed away earlier this year, and my friends came together to support and be there for me. It made me realize that I wanted to join a sisterhood—but wasn’t sure if I was able to as a biological male. I never openly talked about my orientation or gender identity before rush. It was personal for me, and I was only 19. I didn’t have it all figured out, and news flash — I still don’t.
According to the Alabama Panhellenic Association, “any student who consistently lives and self-identifies as a woman” can rush, but each chapter decides its own bylaws. I could rush and “be a part” of the process at UA, but UA wouldn’t force any chapter to not discriminate against me. I submitted my packet, paid my application fees and waited.
I hadn’t been on TikTok much, really ever, so ironically, I missed the drama that had happened with BamaRush TikTok in 2021. I was staying with a friend who was also rushing, and we decided to post our own #OOTD videos just for fun, and my first video gained over a million views in a day. I had an army of people cheering me on.
But the attention came with a downside. As I was going viral on TikTok, my story was picked up by several media outlets, many of which identified me as transgender, despite never having publicly labeled myself that way. That definitely brought up a shit ton of emotions. In my first week of class, one of my professors was setting up the day’s presentation, and the overhead projector flashed her computer’s home screen — which featured a Fox News article about me. Sitting in the back of the classroom, I went to the Fox News Instagram and saw their post. It had almost half a million likes, and I was so happy that many people were supporting me — but I soon realized most of them were people who did not agree with my way of life. Soon after, there was a flood of media attention. From the Daily Mail showing up at my family’s house to me being followed, it was a lot to handle.
Prior to rush, I had been going through my a personal journey of looking into my gender identity — something I had internally struggled with for years. I had always wanted to be just like the other girls, but I told myself that coming from a small town like Cullman, Alabama, it was enough to be openly femme and gay.
Now, my gender identity was being discussed by international media and millions of people on social media. This was hurtful and made me feel exposed. I hadn’t been able to tell my story when I was ready in the way I wanted. To make all of this worse, the University of Alabama Panhellenic Association rules basically forbid us from speaking to any media or revealing anything that goes on during rush over social media. We weren’t allowed to post anything other than OOTDs and “what’s in my rush bag” videos. I remember I vlogged the first day and posted it to TikTok and the APA told me to take it down—yeah, I’ve reposted it since then.
I felt immense pressure to label myself and define my gender identity — for other people
While all this was happening, rush wasn’t going well. I was dropped by all but two sororities before the first day. When I ultimately wasn’t given a bid from any of the sororities, I felt numb, and isolated. I remember crying and thinking, ‘why did I think this would’ve turned out differently?’ and ‘why’d I listen to girls in sororities promising me a bid and telling me to rush?’
I asked my rush supervisor if I was turned down because “I’m a boy,” and she told me no. I then went to the APA officials and was told by the APA president that “the sororities just aren’t ready to make that move.” Finding out I was dropped because I was born a male hurt, especially after the APA and sororities preached about being inclusive, diverse, and accepting. In reality, it was a totally different story.
I was already struggling with myself, and my rush experience amplified it.
I also felt defensive of my gender identity. In the days following my rush experience, I made a video reiterating that I wasn’t trans and that I identified as non-binary — though, to be honest, I couldn’t even tell you what non-binary was at the time. I felt so pressured into thinking I had to label myself, and fast. People were upset after I posted that video, thinking I deliberately waited until after rush to finally say I’m not transgender— that’s wrong. I am transgender. I just wasn’t ready to be public about it then, as I was still figuring it out privately.
After rush, I took a break from talking about my gender to really figure out what I wanted. The experience of having my private life become a national media conversation made me realize how many other people there were just like me. I’m so excited to basically be coming out again. I never thought I would be here.
Since going viral, I’ve gotten thousands of messages from other LGBTQIA+ teens telling me they’ve always wanted to be in a sorority/fraternity but were too scared, and they now have the courage to rush. It really makes me feel hope for the outdated system.
I’d wanted to join a sorority so I could feel like I belonged. Unfortunately, we all know that I didn’t find a sisterhood in a sorority, but I did find one online. Going viral on social media gave me the confidence to be myself and not look back. I finally faced those feelings I pushed down on that football field in first grade. I’ve learned so many lessons through this whole experience, and I wouldn’t ever go back. LGBTQ icons like Dylan Mulvaney sharing their own journey gave me more confidence to be myself and share mine. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to be thankful for what I have, and what I don’t have. I want to thank everyone who’s supported me, and I’m so excited to start this next chapter—together.