The first day of Grant Sikes’ school year was spent sitting in the back of her political science class, praying that no one had noticed the Fox Newsstory splayed across the projector screen. “Transgender student rejected by every University of Alabama sorority” was the headline, with her name in the subheading alongside a photograph of the school.
“So I was sitting there like, ‘Fuck, I hope nobody puts two and two together,’” she recalls. “But even if they did, I’d probably just say, ‘That’s not me, bitch. Sorry.’”
But there was also something oddly exciting about making it onto the Yahoo! homepage, so Sikes couldn’t help but take a peek at the outlet’s Instagram post about her story, which had already garnered almost half a million likes and thousands of comments. So even though she had yet to publicly come out as trans, her immediate reaction was one of excitement, believing that it was a sign of support and acceptance.
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“I thought, ‘This is amazing that this many people love me. That's so cool,’” she says, explaining that she was still grappling with her gender identity at that point.
“And it took me three more seconds to realize that, ‘Hold the fuck up. These people don't fucking like me,’” Sikes adds while shaking her head. “That was the first time I realized that people disagreed with me to the extent that they do.”
Over the next hour of our chat, the 20-year-old Alabama native tries to contend with her innate optimism, calling herself “naive” and “wishful” for believing she could rush a sorority in the Deep South, especially at a school defined by its obsession with football and Greek life. After all, the University of Alabama is the home of #BamaRushTok, the viral TikTok phenomenon where last year’s sorority hopefuls religiously documented their “rush” week experiences via storytime recaps and OOTD (outfit of the day) videos.
Described as a cross “between the Miss USA pageant and the NFL Draft,” #BamaRushTok was an inside glimpse into the social hierarchy and cutthroat campus politics surrounding the “highly competitive and slightly deranged” process of receiving a “bid.” As critics of the trend note, most potential new members (PNMs) are white, affluent and extremely image-conscious, dead-set on belonging to one of the 19 sororities on campus, regardless of the UA Greek system’s problematic history of corruption, intimidation and segregation.
In fact, it could be argued that its exclusionary nature is part of the attraction, with Sikes asserting that Greek culture is UA culture, to the point where everyone else is referred to as a “GDI,” a derogatory acronym that stands for “God Damn Independent.” So despite all of her friends being in sororities, Sikes was still excluded from many core social events, simply because she wasn’t in Greek life. And the only thing she could do was wave them off and “say, ‘Oh okay, bye. Have fun at your little party.’”
“That's literally all it is here... It's like this hierarchy of connections where you’re a ‘loser’ if you’re not them,” she says. “It sucks.”
But what really solidified Sikes’ desire to rush was the way these people — none of whom she’s friends with anymore — “came together to be there” for her after her grandmother’s death earlier this year.
“It was this feeling of, ‘Oh my God, they’re literally fucking sisters,’” she said. Her face darkens as she remembers how supportive they were when she talked about wanting to be a part of this on-campus family.
“They told me, ‘Grant, we love you and we're gonna give you a bid! Don't even worry about it and just rush!’ Like that fake bitchiness,” Sikes says, before adding that their response made her feel like “no one was going to care that much.”
“So of course, wishful thinking fucking Grant over here is like, ‘Oh my God! I cannot wait to be able to hang out with people and go to these things and have so much fun,’” she says wistfully. “I just thought it would be a group of people that had each other's backs.”
However, Sikes quickly realized that UA’s Greek community wasn’t going to show her the same unconditional support she received from her parents after nearly every sorority dropped her before day one.
In the end, Sikes wasn’t offered any bids. But the worst part was learning that she was the primary topic of discussion in secret meetings and group chats, where she was derided and referred to as a “biological man” by the same women that outwardly cheered her on, trying to paint themselves as allies and advocates of a more diverse Greek system.
“The executive president of the Alabama Panhellenic Association sat me down when I found out that I only got two houses back and I was like, ‘Holy shit, nobody wanted me.’ It’s this literal rejection that sucks because it happens in front of everyone,” Sikes says, adding that it was “more embarrassing” that she was also humiliated in front of the entire world, as her story had already gone viral, with her OOTD TikToks garnering millions of views and making international headlines.
Bama rush day 1!!!! #OOTD #rushtalk #bamarush
“I went in there crying. I was really shocked because I thought they would at least talk to me for optics,” she continues. “And I know this sounds fucked up, but I was hoping that during that time, I could convince them to [reconsider].”
Instead, Sikes says she was patronized and treated with the same “two-faced Regina George-type shit.” She accuses the executive president of making a “calculated” PR move by telling her “she really felt for me” and to “still be myself.”
“She’s saying, ‘I don't want you to change, and I want you to still be here. And I was literally sitting there, blacking out,’” she says. Her voice turns indignant as she talks about the hate, gossip and mental distress that followed.
“They were calling me all these words that I didn't think existed... And they’re so bad that Google won't even tell you,” Sikes says. “It made me question a lot, and I went into this week of stress and anxiety where I wasn’t sleeping. I literally didn't eat, and then I would eat a fuck ton.”
She adds, “Then I felt like I had to defend myself a little bit by disagreeing with them. I have to say, ‘No, I'm not transgender.’” No longer bound to the strict code of silence enforced during rush, Sikes returned to TikTok to declare herself nonbinary and deny she was trans.
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“It was just like anxiety and stress because when people Google my name now, it’s all ‘transgender,’” Sikes says. “So I was like, ‘What if I decided one day that I’m actually not?’ Or I get a job and they look me up, they see all of this. It just made me get really analytical like, ‘What about this? What about that? Oh, what about this?’”
Several months later, Sikes is in a much better place and ready to reclaim her own narrative. Despite previously painting rush as a generally positive experience, she’s since realized the ordeal was extremely “traumatizing.”
But at the same time, shoving what should be a private and intensely personal journey into the public eye also helped Sikes finally embrace her truth, as she no longer had to worry about whether “people wouldn’t be nice or whether I wouldn’t have friends.”
“So when I realized that I didn't have friends to start with, I was okay with not having a party to go to or not having groups of friends to hang out with. I'm okay,” she says, explaining that this realization helped her come to the conclusion that she is, in fact, trans.
Sikes has also since found an online community of real friends, including the thousands of other trans and nonbinary people who’ve sent her messages of support throughout this experience. With her newfound platform, early graduation plans and hormone replacement therapy on the horizon, Sikes says she’s ready to move forward with her transition and a slate of upcoming projects.
“I learned a lot of lessons from it, and one of the main things was that life is short and not everything is promised. Don't sit there and fucking cry, because while you're crying, your enemy is fucking working,” Sikes says with a sly smile, her voice swelling with confidence. “So I'm just going to do me and not everyone’s going to clap. Because I don't fucking need it anymore.”
UPDATE 11/17/22: Alabama Panhellenic President Hannah Hale responded to request for comment with the following statement.
"I was the Panhellenic President during this year's recruitment; however, I actually have never spoken to Grant. Other members of my executive council did throughout the week, however, I did not and would hate for you all to report inaccurate information."
Welcome to "Internet Explorer," a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter's finest roasts, "Internet Explorer" is here to keep you up-to-date with the web's current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.
Photos courtesy of Grant Sikes
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