Not Your Typical PNM
Grant Sikes during 2022 Bama Rush Week.

Grant Sikes Is Putting The Drama Of Bama Rush Behind Her

The TikTok phenom weighs in on the power of living her truth before, during, and after being cut from sorority recruitment.

Interview by Elyssa Goodman
Originally Published: 

In 2022, Grant Sikes, a then-19-year-old from rural Alabama, participated in Bama Rush. But for Sikes, the experience was different from what most of the TikTok videos and the related (HBO) Max documentary (which she was not a part of) portrayed. Before rush, she had left high school at 16 to get her associate degree after encountering homophobia as a gay teen, and lived and attired herself as she wanted to ahead of her sophomore year at the University of Alabama.

After posting her first Bama Rush OOTD, the internet exploded. She had never used TikTok before and suddenly she had some 400,000 views (it’s since gone up to 3.9 million). She found herself labeled transgender by the media, a gender identity given to her by others before she had even addressed it herself. (She later identified as trans, but has since preferred to live without a label on her gender identity.) Messages of support rolled in, but messages of hate came, too. During rush, 22 of 24 Bama sororities dropped her before Day Two; two moved on, but she was ultimately dropped by both of them as well, and ended up leaving campus soon after. In this as-told-to, Sikes reflects on her year post-rush, her future as Elle Woods 2.0, and finding her own sorority on TikTok.

I was just Grant before rush began in August 2022 at the University of Alabama. When I inquired about the rules of rushing a sorority at the Greek life office, I was told that anyone who lives and self-identifies as a female or a woman can rush (per Title IX, not knowing that every sorority has different bylaws and some of the chapters don’t allow entry for nonbinary, trans, or other non-cis women), which I felt described my experience. I wear women’s clothing, I do my makeup, I am Barbie — I’m like one of the girls.

I assumed that my rush experience would be similar to others’, but I almost backed out right before because I was nervous, especially considering I was different from typical PNMs (potential new members). I was scared of not getting a bid, but a lot of my friends encouraged me to rush; some were even bid promising me — or guaranteeing me a spot in their house, which is called “dirty rushing” because it’s not allowed — so I said I’d do it.

The morning of Day 1, I saw an OOTD video and I wanted to do one myself; I didn’t even know Bama Rush was a thing on TikTok. I posted it and had my notifications turned off. Around lunchtime, one of my friends from high school, who went to a different university, texted and asked me what the hell I was doing because people from Bama sororities were asking her questions about me, which they’re not supposed to do. They asked generic questions, like whether I was a friendly person, to more personal ones like if I dated women in high school. That’s when I found out that my OOTD was blowing up. It had like 400,000 views.

Mostly everyone in the comments was extremely supportive, but there were some who thought I was making fun of rush because it’s not typical for someone like me to enter into sorority recruitment. People just assumed I was being funny, since #RushTok parodies are very real, only to find out I was actually rushing. One of my close friends said people in the sorority houses were saying, “Oh my God, Grant is trans.” Then she was like, “No, Grant is just Grant. He’s a guy, but it’s Grant. What do you mean?”

Until then, I had never addressed or talked about sexuality on social media. It was weird seeing all of these labels used about my gender identity. Suddenly millions of people were talking about it when I had never done that myself. While rushing, talking to the media is discouraged and you’ll get dropped, so I wasn’t allowed to talk to any news outlets. The Daily Mail even showed up at my mom’s house wanting an exclusive with her, but she said no. I didn’t understand what was happening. I felt forced to go down this weird rabbit hole. I had seen drama on social media before, but it’s so different when it’s literally you.

On Day 2, I woke up, got ready again, and did my OOTD. That day online, commenters and viewers actually understood I was rushing. There was more support than hate, but people started sharing their opinions about why boys shouldn’t be in sororities. Then I got my schedule for the week and saw it was mostly blank; all of the houses I was told I was going to get a bid from weren’t on there. I asked a fellow PNM what hers looked like, and she had every single house on it. My Rho Chi, or group leader, showed me I had two houses at the bottom. So, I had a schedule, but it was very shocking to only have two events. There are 24 sororities at Bama; the other houses had dropped me.

For the next round, Philanthropy, you meet with the houses and rank them, then they do a second round of cuts. One house dropped me and one house invited me back, so I went back to the latter house for a second round of interviews, the Sisterhood round. This is followed by Preference Day, where you put your highest choice at the top, and if you match up, then it looks really good. Preference Day is so mentally exhausting because everyone’s up at 4 a.m. starting to do their hair, makeup, look like a Barbie, and then you’re about to walk out the door and they are either going to call you or you’re going to walk to your group meetup. I got dropped by the last sorority the morning of Preference Day. My Rho Chi called me and they have a script where they say, “Unfortunately, you were dropped this morning, but we love you.” Most people don’t get dropped. It does happen, but not often; they at least get one house.

I remember being so confused when I got cut. I sat down on my bed, all glammed up, and wrote a simple thing on the Notes app, screenshotted it, and posted it to Instagram. Then I made a TikTok about it, saying that I had been dropped. My friends in sororities were really confused. A lot of them were rooting for me, but as it turned out, they don’t ultimately decide who gets a bid even though they thought they did; rather, a lot of people come in from national recruitment and there are a lot of conversations behind closed doors.

At that point, I was like, “Screw it, I’m going to live life, be a student, spread positivity, be myself, and do this whole TikTok thing.” I felt like I had made a lot of friends on social media. I didn’t get into a sorority, but I did definitely find my own sorority on TikTok. It was almost like this weird reunion of all these people who didn’t get bids either growing up, of different backgrounds but similar experiences where they didn’t feel like necessarily a Barbie, but they still wanted to be a part of something, and they didn’t get to do that. I wanted to speak out because I felt like I made a lot of friends and they had a lot of questions about my experiences. I also know people on campus who dropped their sororities because of what happened to me. It opened this conversation that was never really had at Bama.

The experience made me dig a lot deeper. It makes you come up with all these questions that you didn’t even know you had, especially when it’s an open dialogue of people talking about you. They’ve never even met you and they think they know you better than you know yourself. To that point, I had just been… myself. Once I came to the terms of, “Oh, I’m trans,” I knew Dylan Mulvaney was doing her “Days of Girlhood” series, and I was like, “Oh, this is my next chapter.” But when I did my own version of the series online, I also realized I don’t have to share everything. Since then, I’ve taken my sexuality offline because it just was so much. I decided to stop my series because I didn’t want others’ opinions to compromise me. I’m Grant, I don’t really like the whole label thing. People can be whatever they want, and they don’t have to take on a label someone gives them.

I was on campus until the end of the semester. During that time, a camera crew once followed me to get the scoop on my life after the drama. I remember the first week of class, I sat in the wrong class by accident, and on the professor’s projector, there was a banner about me on Fox News saying, “Transgender Student Rejected at University of Alabama.” It was so confusing and people would ask for pictures. It was kind of unbelievable walking around because everyone knew who I was. It was and wasn’t part of the reason I left. I honestly loved being on campus because I’m such a social person. Then my apartment flooded, and I had to move around December. It was the perfect moment to leave. I thought I wanted to move to New York, but then I figured Birmingham, which is about an hour north of Bama, would be perfect to start my own journey, especially since my family lives 45 minutes away. I’m loving it in Birmingham; the people are so nice and the environment is super welcoming. Plus, growing up, I never looked around and saw people like me represented in Alabama. I’m now an online student, wrapping up my undergrad.

I go through phases about my feelings for Greek life at Bama. I really like it as a whole, even though comically I didn’t get in. I don’t hold my situation over all of that because most of the people involved wanted me. I think the documentary missed everything: sisterhood, why people want to join a sorority in the first place. They tried to do that, but it just felt a little bit fabricated and inauthentic. I rushed for a reason: I wanted to be in a sorority. “Sisterhood” encompasses so many other things other than just parties; it’s growing your character, your ability to communicate with people, your ability to grow as a person, and reach your full potential.

When it comes to rush, I’d tell people to go out there and be yourself. Don’t look back and wish you would’ve done something. What’s the worst that could happen, Grant 2.0? You don’t get a bid? If you don’t get a bid, it’s OK. To other LGBTQ+ students hoping to do Bama Rush, be brave but not naive. Looking back, I was so naive; I thought everything was right on the surface. It’s important for people to be OK with themselves and not need other people’s confirmation. If you’re worried about what everyone else is doing, then you’ll forget about yourself. You have to be prepared for negative comments and feedback online. I can handle those types of things pretty well. If you’re not able to handle them, then I would suggest not posting. If you are, then post it everywhere because then it’s going to show other people that we’re trying and we’re not going away.

I feel like in 20 years we’ll look back and think, “Wow, they didn’t let non-cis women in? It was very political when it shouldn’t have been.” I know that time will come when it will be a more welcoming environment for everyone. But it’s also very nuanced, especially at the largest Greek life association in the world. It will take a ton of people really trying to change the status quo of what a sorority applicant at Bama is. I’m very curious and eager to see whether there is another situation like mine. Or if anyone like me will be rushing. I hope and pray that there is.

Now that I’m one year out of the rush experience, I think it happened for a reason. It has made me realize I can grow on my own and I didn’t need a sorority for that. It’s also made me more comfortable with myself and I realized what I want to do in terms of law and helping people. I think it’s important to talk about this experience because I want to push the boundaries of what a typical stereotypical sorority applicant should be versus what it can be. If you want things to change, you have to go for it. If no one’s rushing like me, then they don’t have to let anyone in like me.

I graduate in May and then I’m going to law school at the Birmingham School of Law. I’m going to be giving Elle Woods vibes. I am seeking law school to just better equip myself, to know different things, and be able to rely on myself more. For instance, sororities have Title IX exclusion, where they can discriminate based on sex. I would much rather know the legalities of that myself versus having to rely on Google, especially if I want to change things one day and maybe start my own sorority that’s inclusive to all. I don’t know what area of law I want to practice, but I’m definitely going to have “esquire” after my name.

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