Guest Post are published on FraternityMan.com offer thoughtful observations of issues affecting the fraternity/sorority experience and/or fraternity/sorority organizations. The observations, investigations, or opinions shared in FMN Guest Posts reflect those of the author.
In the Fall of 2022, the University of Wyoming chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) made history by being the first sorority at the university to admit an openly transgender womaninto its organization. In an October 12 interview with the school’s newspaper, Artemis Langford said, “I feel so glad to be in a place that I think not only shares my values, but to be in a sisterhood of awesome women who want to make history.”
While the welcome wagon made a grand entrance—the news of Langford’s bid made national and international headlines—its stay on campus was brief. Just five months later, seven anonymous members of the chapter filed a lawsuit against KKG headquarters and the organization’s international president Mary Pat Rooney; KKG Building Company; and Terry Smith (the pseudonym for Langford). This week, the plaintiffs made the rounds on the conservative talk show circuit, giving interviews to Megyn Kelly and Laura Ingraham.
The sorority women’s demand is simple--they want Langford kicked out of their organization on the grounds that having a biologically male member violates the sorority’s founding and current governance documents which explicitly limit membership only to “women.” The women at KKG headquarters haven’t spoken directly to the media but did publish a written statement which justifies the organization’s support of Langford’s bid by insisting that it aligned with the membership criteria articulated in both the organization’s position statements and NPC’s published recruitment policy, the latter of which extends recruitment eligibility to any “individual who consistently lives and self-identifies as a woman.”
Langford isn’t the first transgender woman to join a collegiate women’s group/team or enroll at a women’s college, and the question that lies at the heart of this lawsuit---what does it mean to be a “woman?”—is one with which many gender-selective organizations (including and especially women’s colleges) are grappling. In addition to asking this question within the context of sororities, the lawsuit argues that Langford isn’t a transgender woman, but rather a heterosexual man who joined a sorority to prey on heterosexual women. Specifically, Langford, who is described in the suit as being 21 years old, 6 feet, 2 inches tall, and weighing 260 pounds, is accused of sitting for long stretches in chapter house’s second floor common area “watching” her sorority sisters.
During one alleged incident, “a sorority member walked down the hall to take a shower, wearing only a towel. She felt an unsettling presence, turned, and saw Mr. Smith watching her silently.” In other incidents, Smith/Langford allegedly “had an erection visible through his leggings” or “has had a pillow in his lap.” At a sorority slumber party, Langford allegedly took photos of women at awkward moments and when they weren’t prepared to be photographed and “repeatedly questioned the women about what vaginas look like, breast cup size, whether women were considering breast reductions and birth control.” In December, Langford allegedly sat in the back of a sorority yoga class for an hour “and watched the assembled young women flex their bodies.”
Depending on the broader context and finer details, some of the acts of which Langford is accused of committing in the sorority house could be classified as sexual harassment and possibly even sex crimes. Yet, it’s worth noting that Langford hasn’t been arrested and there has been no mention of the other processes through which violations of this nature might be routed. Notably missing from the sorority women’s narrative, for example, is a campus Title IX investigation or chapter “Standards” hearing. While admittedly we don’t know what is happening behind the scenes and it’s entirely possible that any or all of these processes is in motion, we know two things for sure: 1) the lawsuit doesn’t seek redress for any of Langford’s alleged violations/crimes and 2) the plaintiffs’ petition for anonymity—a courtesy commonly extended to victims of sex crimes—was denied.
When we examine the complaint itself, the first and glaring error in the sorority women’s logic is the assumption that everyone in their chapter is straight. Based on my research and the research conducted by others, we know that sororities attract women with a range of romantic interests…that include other women. To put it another way, if Langford wants to hook up with one or more of her sorority sisters, she probably isn’t alone.
Now let’s talk about the slumber party.
Slumber parties are culturally designated places where it’s not just appropriate for participants to raise and discuss personal topics, but pretty much an expectation that one do so. Langford’s questions aren’t anything that would raise eyebrows if vocalized by anyone else in the room, but they are read as creepy and perverted because the dimensions of her body make it impossible for her sorority sisters to see her as a woman. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average woman in America over the age of 20 is 5’5 and weighs 170.8 pounds. One of this case’s many ironies is that by appearing on TV the plaintiffs reveal how far removed their own bodies are from the national average. Viewed though the CDC statistic, nearly everyone in the University of Wyoming KKG chapter is an outlier—not just Langford.
I am preaching to the choir when I say that the reasons why these sorority women don’t want a transgender woman in their chapter are the same reasons why they would benefit from having such an individual in their group. The ease to which this conclusion is reached is perhaps why Langford and her legal team have remained mum on the subject. Sometimes the best defense, after all, is to simply stay quiet and let the ugliness stew in its own corrosive juices. Regardless of Langford’s motivation for staying out of the media fray, she isn’t doing what her sorority sisters explicitly want her to do—which is to disaffiliate. For the time being, Langford is staying the course, and so is KKG headquarters.
Sororities and fraternities are easy targets for critics in part because no matter what progress they make in remedying their persistent trouble spots (drug & alcohol abuse; hazing; diversity, equity, and inclusion), it’s always perceived as being too little, too late. While sororities and fraternities have been late to the draw in opening their membership to the trans and non-binary community respective to other campus student groups, KKG headquarters is expending enormous social capital on this issue, and I applaud them for it. Of all the lines in the lawsuit that I can imagine turning against Langford’s accusers in the future, the most damning might be their own description of KKG’s history and mission. “Since 1870 – when a woman’s presence in a college classroom, by itself, defied societal norms --,” the complaint reads,
“Kappa Kappa Gamma has united women in defiance of stereotypes about how women ‘should’ be…” To not see Langford’s membership as an example of the sorority leaning into its mission is to misunderstand the nature and responsibilities of sisterhood itself.
JANA MATHEWS, Ph.D. is a professor of medieval literature and culture at Rollins College and former campus fraternity and sorority advisor. She lives in Orlando, Florida. Learn more about her work and find her social channels at https://www.janamathews.com/.
Read the FMN interview with Jana Mathew’s about her book, The Benefits of Friends, here.