By Mudhillun K. MuQaribu
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
CW: contains jokes related to death/violence
Delta Chi was a smaller fraternity on the campus at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The fraternity did not haze and it seemed like a place where people could be themselves. I did not know much about fraternity life or myself for that matter. I had grown up in a large, poor Islam family, one of the youngest of thirteen siblings. The concept of a fraternity was so foreign to me. I was not really the picture of the quintessential fraternity man either. Imagine a towering six foot wiry-figured torso, African-American guy with just enough facial hair to frame his thin face topped off with a pair of glasses and a head covering worn for religious purposes. That would be me. When I came to the campus in 1997, I never could have imagined myself in a fraternity, much less one full of white brothers. I thought my involvement would be a good opportunity to challenge the stereotypes that I had heard about fraternities.
During winter rush my sophomore year, I decided to go to the Delta Chi fraternity rush party to check things out. It was pretty standard fare: thick humid air, lots of cheap alcohol, loud music, and a dimly lit dance floor. To escape the humidity of the party scene, the Vice President of the fraternity led me to the basement; much cooler and quieter down there. That is where I met John, a Delta Chi brother. The moment remains vivid in my mind even though John and I only talked for a few minutes. John emerged from the poolroom and stood there to greet me. He had a pale white complexion with sandy blonde hair. He made an instant impression. A good catholic boy, he came off as sincere and genuine with a charming smile. Plus, it did not hurt that he was shirtless. Standing propped up with pool stick in hand, his chest glistened from the sauna-like humidity of the party. I tried not to stare overtly. John had been a wrestler in high school and was quite the specimen of muscular definition. His physique was smaller but fit well with his smile. I wanted to get to know John more as I nodded absently leaning against the basement post to his remarks. John with his good nature, masculine persona and strong sense of values represented my idea of fraternity life and what I wanted to be.
Delta Chi fraternity offered more than I ever imagined–the promise of brotherhood, a deep sense of friendship and a close-knit family. I had missed that my freshman year remaining buried in my class work. Without hesitation I wanted to be a brother of Delta Chi fraternity and made it a top priority.
After that first rush party, I would take every chance to meet the brothers and visit the fraternity house. One afternoon among my many visits, John caught me walking into the fraternity house from an adjacent living room. We had not had the opportunity to speak since the rush party.
“Hello,” I said to John, as I walked in the front door.
You could tell John was trying to place me from the rush party in his mind. He replied, “Hey, you’re the huge guy from the party,” looking vaguely excited with that charming smile.
I flashed a broad smile back.
John stood up approaching me and then tried valiantly, as many do, to say my name, Mudhillun MuQaribu, pronounced “moo-DILL-in moo-kar-EE-boo.”
I chuckled and stopped John in the middle of one of his many syllables to say, “Call me ‘Moo,’ its what my friends call me.” Reaching out to shake John’s extended hand, I then replied, “I never realized I was so huge,” my face with a tilt down to him.
He and I both got a big laugh.
The Delta Chi fraternity pledging process was enthralling as I learned more about many of the men in the fraternity. In addition, John and I were developing a closeness, a bond, which I never had before. He always seemed happy to see me when I visited the fraternity house. He even trusted me with private matters. Any attention I received from John made me giddy. My attraction toward John came as a shock at first. The relationship was one of boyhood wonder. Some might even call it a crush. I dismissed these feelings as merely part of pledging a fraternity and looking with respect toward a brother. Up to this point, I had never identified as gay but I began to realize that I was attracted to men my freshman year. These feelings were a deep secret from all of my family and friends. Often I would feel confused and alone hiding my sexuality.
I pledged Delta Chi fraternity that semester and by the fall of 1999. The bond John and I shared was inseparable. Over the course of pledging Delta Chi fraternity, John was like the big brother that every brother should strive to be. He made me feel comfortable at the fraternity house and ultimately was my main reason for sticking it out to pledge that year. We began opening up to each other.
One evening I recall prior to a fraternity event, John told me in a questioning tone that he had sensed something about me early-on. Immediately, I shuttered thinking that my glances were too obvious when I met him shirtless at the party. Then John, to my shock, shared with me that he was deaf of all things. Surprised, I had no clue. Never did I notice a hearing aid or see him use sign language. His speech was not any different and he did not ask me to repeat things anymore than anyone else. Nobody could tell John was deaf.
He continued, “I sensed that you would understand me, like you would get that!” I stood there listening, “In some way, I knew I could trust you and relate to you about having a disability,” he said.
John pondered for a moment not sure if the reason was because I was a minority, the astigmatism with my eyes or what precisely. He could just sense it, he reiterated in so many words.
In my mind, I let out a big “Whew” and a sigh. I was glad John was not aware of my stares or my secret crush. Most importantly, I worried that my sexuality was what he had innately sensed. If John had figured out I was gay, he did not bring the subject up that night, nor did any of my other brothers. John’s words about understanding and trust meant a lot to me. His words not only made me value his friendship even more but also that of the entire fraternity brotherhood.
Pledging was full of challenges including opportunities for leadership. One of my first efforts was to organize a huge food drive on behalf of the fraternity. I dove right in and worked hard to prove myself to the fraternity. From the food drive to getting involved with Greek week, it seemed characteristic for me to offer to do more and overachieve as a fraternity brother. The fraternity extracurricular activities also allowed me to keep busy so I did not have time to deal with my sexuality. I feared my brothers would discover my attraction toward men and I would be kicked out. If I made myself indispensable as a fraternity leader, the brothers might ignore that I was different. I had hoped that this was the best way to cope and would be the answer to my fears.
Nevertheless, John made me forget all about that fear and offered me a refreshing break from what was quickly becoming mundane fraternity life. Drinking seemed an ever-present aspect of the fraternity that permeated social activities. Due to my religious beliefs, drinking never really appealed to me and I was lucky John was not a heavy drinker either. Deep down, I also worried that if I were to get drunk, I might embarrass myself by doing something stupid–or worse, making a pass at some guy. Still, I often felt pressure to drink and hook-up with girls from the other fraternity brothers, except John. One time there was a sorority girl who I thought was cute and happened to let another brother know. She and I ended up going to a barn dance together and I managed to fool around with her on the hayride. Then coming home that night, I met her “girlfriend.” I could not believe my luck, even when I tried to be heterosexual. I felt miserable with my mistake.
After becoming a Delta Chi brother, I slowly began to distance myself from the ways of fraternity life. The manner some of my fraternity brothers talked about women truly started to bother me. The brothers would often share openly blatant descriptions of sexual acts with sorority girls and even make disparaging comments about our Greek week sorority sisters. The sexism exuded the fraternity. The behavior was strange but all too common a bonding pastime for the fraternity brothers. John was different when it came to all these accounts. Instead, I was the one trying to hook John up with women at the parties. He would talk about a sorority girl whom he thought was cute. I would turn on my charm and get her to talk to him. Of course, John really did not need a lot of help attracting women, especially if he chose to take off his shirt. To my delight, he made a habit of doing this quite often.
Other than John, the fraternity was becoming a fading memory. More than anything, I attributed this circumstance to my own fears of rejection for being gay. Of course, there was the incessant drinking and outward display of sexist actions but I could not deny my own internalized homophobia playing a factor. My sexuality was burgeoning inside. No matter how hard I worked for the fraternity, there was not any guarantee that the brothers could accept me as gay. Still, I had come to want more from fraternity life than what I thought initially and soon learned the promise of brotherhood may not extend to everyone.
After work one night, John invited me to hang out at the fraternity house. He could sense that I had felt separated from the fraternity and wanted me to come over. I met John upstairs in his third floor bedroom. When I arrived, he was in his gym shorts, again without his shirt, fiddling with his vast CD collection trying to choose an artist. I sat down next to his computer, staring at the white walls and up at the track lighting.
I then blurted, “Hey, tell me about your family?”
John never talked much about his family but I wanted to know more about his home life.
Silence. John did not respond.
I figured he was deep in thought with the CDs he was tracking and preceded to get up and look around his room. I felt bashful being alone in his room while he was shirtless. John’s tightly cut muscular upper body was due to years of high school wrestling competitions. He often would playfully pin me down. I never complained and put up a good fight to provoke him more.
“What’s that?” I asked tentatively pointing at a tight three inch wrinkled segment of his skin pulled taut across his sternum.
“That’s where I was stabbed,” he replied, going back to his CD collection as if
wound didn’t matter.
“Really?” I marveled, amazed now and totally staring at his chest.
“No, I’m just joking,” he smiled. His head cocked back.
“What happened, seriously?” I probed. I was interested now.
More silence. John brushed me off saying he did not want to talk about it. I was back to feeling awkward watching him dig aimlessly through his CDs.
Then he spat out and replied, “I’m the middle child.”
I gave him a puzzled stare.
“You know, my family!? I have a big family.” John then continued about the size of his family, his Catholic upbringing and how religion played a role in his life. One of John’s most admirable qualities was his level of understanding and strength of his convictions. He seemed pretty in line with Catholic doctrine, especially on sexual matters. We were both still virgins at 20 years old.
Trying to be polite, I said, “Oh, do you have any pictures?”
“Not really,” he replied, placing another CD in the player.
It seemed odd not to have any pictures. I scanned the room to confirm this.
“I have a ton of brothers myself,” I offered. “How come you don’t talk about yours?”
“It’s hard to explain, you wouldn’t understand.” he reluctantly responded.
Just then, I spotted a white binder on his computer desk with a picture of a woman and her baby right after delivery. It must be John I determined and picked up the binder.
“What’s this?” I asked holding the binder up in the air.
“It’s a photo album from when I was a baby.” he casually replied.
I was intrigued and quickly said, “Can I look at it?”
“Sure, it’s got a few family pictures,” he said grinning. He knew I was curious.
I thought this could be worth a laugh looking at John’s baby pictures. I opened
the white album and found typed captions and paragraphs surrounding pictures of a weary yet doting Mom. In her arms was a rather small runt of a child. I held back a chuckle figuring the descriptive text might prove more entertaining.
I read aloud in a teasingly motherhood voice: “John was very small, 2.5 pounds.
He stayed in the hospital longer than we’d expected but we’re so glad he’s alive. He’s a miracle!” I squealed, delighting in this momentary humiliation of John.
“Mudhillun, you’re killin’ me! Dude, knock it off!” He was serious. I had struck a
“I’m sorry.” I continued reading aloud but in respectful tone; now paying
attention to the story. The photo album detailed John ‘s birth of and how challenging it had been for his mother. John left the CD player and went over to lie on his bed. John’s mother had gone through great pains to document this.
Agitated, he interrupted, “Dude, you know there’s my Mom’s story then there’s me growing up. It’s what my Mom thought ‘He’s a miracle . . . Oh, my baby’s alive!’ but then I think back on childhood and all the crap I went through at the hands of my brothers and sisters. “
He continued to unload his feelings as his eyes pierced forward, “And my parents
didn’t get me being deaf. ‘We’re so excited, it’s a miracle baby!’” he said, repeating the line from the album. “Man, I was ostracized by my brothers . It’s like they didn’t like me or get me. They didn’t hide it either. As a kid, how the hell would you feel?!” You could tell this was a release of not only pain, but also anger for John.
I did not know what to say. More silence overcame the room.
“Man, for like twenty years, I was an outsider in my own family.” John ended
his voice trailing off. I could tell that this had been hard for him to put into words.
I paused thinking how to lighten the mood some. Then, a few beats later, looking over at John joked, “It’s weird for me too coming from a large family. I already have so many brothers plus I know so many ‘brothas’ and call people here ‘brother’ too.”
John slowly got my racial humor. His charming smile swept across his face and we both laughed breaking the tension.
The conversation continued but John did not talk much more about his family. The fact that John had confided and trusted me so much made me feel guilty for not doing the same. Our relationship had moved to another level beyond my simple appeal for his shirtless physique. John was my family, a true brother. It was pure and simple. I would never jeopardize our closeness with a sexual advance, nor would I with any of my fraternity brothers. Despite this, I also could not share my truth with John or any of the fraternity brothers. John had told me when I joined that the fraternity was his family, a place to belong. I kept asking myself over and over, “Was the fraternity the same for me? My family, a place for me to belong?” My answer was not an easy one and my shameful, cowardly emotions ultimately led me to make the decision to leave the fraternity. I told John how I was feeling about my lack of interest in the fraternity and left out telling him the real reason. He said he would support me no matter my decision. He also told me that we would always be brothers and share a bond of friendship. My feelings toward John never changed and only grew stronger.
Dropping out of Delta Chi fraternity happened so quickly. It was the right choice at the time but I left knowing that my life would never be the same. John helped me break the news and my departure was amicable. My closet door began to creak open after leaving the fraternity and I had a lot to discover related to being a gay Muslim. I put my energy into nurturing who I was and ultimately coming to terms with my sexuality. Coming out to myself was an amazing relief with an unsettling pain all at the same time. John and I had maintained our close relationship throughout this whole time as he had promised. He would still greet me with his charming smile and elbow salutes on campus. His ongoing friendship encouraged my coming out in ways he could never know.
Months later, I finally reached the point where I was ready tell someone I was gay. John was my man. He had confided and trusted me with his life. I wanted to do the same.
The experience was really uncomfortable at first. I had summoned enough courage to call John and he knew this was serious. We spent ten minutes just warming up with aimless banter sitting in my apartment. I then got quiet. John sat next to me patiently.
I hesitated, then said, “John, I have something to tell you,” I tried to relax,
my hand shaking.
“Okay,” he replied softly with a puzzled look on his face leaning toward me.
“Well, I’m a little worried, ” I responded, buying more time to find the words and questioning if this was the right moment.
“Man, we’re friends. You can tell me, what is it?!” he pleaded. John must have repeated a dozen times that we were friends and nothing would change. I listened but my fears alarmed me.
“I’m worried that. . .” I said, my voice trailing off.
John jumped in and said, “Listen, Mudhillun, we’ve been friends for a while and
we been through a lot of stuff. You can tell me!” John’s voice was calming but stern.
I took a deep breath. “John, I think that I might…” I uttered and stopped. My eyes started to burn holding back tears.
“Mudhillun, you’re killin’ me here! ” John said, once again with that charming smile that effortlessly made me calm inside.
I was torn. John had opened up and trusted me about his life growing up. I knew that I could believe in him. Nevertheless, his Catholic upbringing might not allow him to understand and still be my friend.
“John, I think…” I whispered, my voice cracking with a tortured look on my face.
John continued with his insistence and said, “Whatever you say, don’t worry. It
won’t really matter.” He paused, dawning a flash of a smile, and continued, “Unless
you killed my Mom.” He laughed aloud, making me smile half-heartedly and
easing the anxiety somewhat.
“Whatever it is, it’s not gonna jeopardize our bond. If you weren’t my best friend before, I wouldn’t be talking to you now,” John said.
I sighed and thought to myself. He said, “our bond.” I had heard the words “in the bond” throughout my pledging and as a brother in the fraternity. These words had never had much meaning until now. Those words lent me the courage.
“Mudhillun, am I your friend or not?” John said, by now practically cajoling me.
Looking him in the eyes, I said, “John, I think I might be gay.”
My eyes swelled anxious to hear his reply. The tears gathered heavy on the edge of my eyelids, as I was ready to cry.
“Mudhillun! ” he said, in a scolding tone. “With all the crap we went through and you’re already my best friend, dude, why would this change anything?”
His response was met with a long hug.
In that moment, John extended the love and acceptance I was seeking in life for who I was. I could never have imagined that our friendship, our bond, would be so strong that I would be able to come out. John was the only person outside of my family with whom I had ever really been close. His response started me on my personal journey to be openly gay.
Four years later, John and I still remain there for one another. Delta Chi fraternity introduced me to John and the concept of fraternity life. John made me believe in the bond of brotherhood beyond the fraternity. He lived the meaning of the Delta Chi fraternity bond – “the trust to be true, to bind the heart together.” Our bond continues today with the brotherhood strength to come out in my life.