Students x

Jenna Comins-Addis, Indiana University’s first transgender sorority sister, is redefining what it means to go Greek.

The Greek system, which has come under fire for its hesitancy to embrace change, has shown signs of progressivism in its expanding gender policies (Photography by Rose Bythrow, Indiana University)

Jenna Comins-Addis is a junior at Indiana University studying Cinematic Production and Design. She’s involved with the Indiana All Media Club and Hoosier Flipside, and writes for “The Tab IU.” Like hundreds of other girls at her school, Comins-Addis went through sorority recruitment to find a home at one of their twenty-two chapters, eventually settling on Delta Phi Epsilon. The only difference? Comins-Addis happens to be the first transgender woman to join Greek Life at IU.

The Delta Delta Chapter of Delta Phi Epsilon welcomed Jenna with the same warmth they extend to every other sister. “The IU Delta Delta Chapter, although a regular PanHellenic Chapter, and not a queer based organization, is queer allied and very accepting of those who are queer,” says Comins-Addis. “When I got my bid to be in Delta Phi Epsilon, they didn’t have any bylaw that said trans women were allowed, but there weren’t any issues. We do have a majority of straight women, but we are all really supportive of each other no matter how they may identify or how they look. Again, we’re just a regular PanHellenic chapter that just happens to have a trans person in it.”

While her experience is an exciting first in the system, Comins-Addis doesn’t want to be seen as a figurehead of the trans community, as she believes that every trans person’s experience is singular. “I don’t want to be the face of the trans community, that’s not my intention. This is just my story, and it happens to be what happened to me. It’s not representative of how everyone else’s story could be.”

While, in terms of diversity, there is still a ways to go for the Greek system, Comins-Addis is optimistic about the future. Currently only five out of twenty-six national sororities have an official inclusive policy for trans women, but she hopes they will have a positive influence on others. “I can’t speak for the other chapters, but I can only hope that the first five will influence the other remaining twenty-one chapters,” she says. “Again, I don’t know anything about the other chapters, but what’s occurred within these five has been really great for PanHellenic. I hope that the other ones will follow suit.”

“We do have a majority of straight women, but we are all really supportive of each other no matter how they may identify or how they look.”

Policies are slowly changing in the Greek system, but sometimes good intentions can be misguided. For example, the IFC Chi Phi Fraternity recently opened recruitment to trans individuals, but only those with government-issued identification that says male. Comins-Addis sees this as a positive first step, saying, “My own opinion is that while I think that this is really great and a step in the right direction, I didn’t even have my gender marker or my name legally changed when I went through sorority recruitment. So I think that the policy is good in nature, but I think it would be even more open if it didn’t matter what your government ID said, but what you say you are.”

Institutionalized discrimination, such as policies forbidding trans pledges, while discouraging, is at least visible; more granular discrimination, such as recruitment chairs favoring trans individuals who are passing (i.e. more clearly resembling their identified gender) over those who are not, is an equally pressing problem and one more difficult to identify and correct. Comins-Addis, while she can’t speak for every trans person or PanHellenic, believes that this type of discrimination has no place in the Greek system. “If you have a good heart, you want to be philanthropic and want to develop a sisterhood with woman from all different places and backgrounds, then it shouldn’t matter what you look like, whether you’re trans or cis.”

Occasionally there can be a pressure on trans people to educate cis people on trans issues, an issue that Comins-Addis has largely avoided by nature of her naturally outgoing personality. “I would say that there hasn’t really been a pressure, but rather just a desire to do it myself. When people don’t understand something, rather than them asking for help, I’ll just give them the proper terminology on the spot. Many times you get a lot of ‘a-ha!’ moments with people. While I don’t get specifically asked to help people or educate people on these issues, it’s more just my own want to do it myself when I feel that it’s fitting or necessary.”

The Greek life experience so far has been very positive for Comins-Addis, and she lauds her sorority for the friendship and support it’s given her. “My sorority sisters are my best friends on campus. I support them and they support me through everything—from the easy to the rough parts,” she says. “We just really help each other out when things are hard and when they’re awesome. We keep each other in check and we give each other the proper support.”

Leave a Reply