I recently met the delightful 24-year-old Sarah Dopp. Sarah‘s understanding of gender and sexuality has developed over the years into a delicate balancing act between male and female, gay and straight. Sarah generously agreed to an interview to provide some insight into the path of defining sexuality when the standard road maps don’t make sense.
KR: Sarah, can you introduce yourself a little? What would you say in an internet dating ad?
SD: [chuckles] The title of my most recent dating ad was “Androgynous Queer Girl seeks Androgynous Queer Boy.” Inside, it said, “I’m looking for someone to go on adventures with. Someone who knows how to laugh at the line-painters and make forts out of the boxes with sticks and sheets.” I guess you could say I’m playful.
I’m 5’10” and I have a shaved head. I’m built like a man from the knees down and the shoulder blades up, but the middle of my body is made up of a woman’s curves. If I’m dressing down, my clothes are gender-neutral. If I’m dressing up, I mix and match feminine and masculine clothes and accessories until I feel like I’ve struck a perfect balance. I happen to be single right now, and my dates cover the spectrum of gender pretty thoroughly — from manly men to feminine women to transgendered people and androgynous folk. There are so many flavors of beauty in the world.
KR: How do you define your gender and your sexuality? Can you explain how that plays out in “real life” terms?
SD: I identify as queer. The word resonates with me and seems to describe both my gender and my sexuality, which are two separate things. I understand that a lot of people are still uncomfortable with that word, though, so I try to be flexible. You can call me bisexual or androgynous, and I’ll believe you understand who I am. If you live in a world where there are only two categories for gender or sexuality, you can put me in whichever one feels most comfortable to you. I usually won’t argue.
How does this play out in real life? It’s interesting. I get called “sir” a lot in public, but everyone who knows me understands that I’m female. Most people assume I’m a lesbian except for the men I date, and they’re often convinced that I’m straight. I’ve learned to stop taking it all personally and to go just go with the flow.
KR: So you’re single now, but have been in relationships with both men and women. Tell me a little bit about how your relationships have gone. Would you say that once you’re in a relationship that it follows a relatively standard path – something that would be familiar to most people?
SD: I’ve had several long-term relationships that were standard enough to make everyone in my family breathe a sigh of relief. There’s a sense that I’ll become more “normal” — or at least fit categories better — if I’m in a stable relationship, because it’s easier for people to understand. But I’ve also been in relationships where we both intentionally agreed to be non-monogamous or nontraditional in some way, and where that turned out to be a healthy arrangement for both of us. Those relationships are much harder to explain to the outside world.
KR: When did you first start feeling different from the standard girl?
SD: My mother has told me she suspected I was gay from the time I was six, but I don’t think I felt different until middle school, when all of a sudden “being pretty” mattered to everyone I knew. That’s when I noticed I was awkward. Really really awkward. That’s all I could understand at the time.
KR: How do feel your teen years were affected by your orientation? Did you acknowledge your difference or not?
SD: My orientation confused the heck out of me. I had crushes on boys, so that meant I wasn’t a lesbian. But sometimes I had crushes on girls, too, and I sort of looked like a lesbian, so that must have meant I wasn’t straight. I wasn’t taught that there were more than two categories for these things, and I really thought I was doomed to feel “invalid” for my entire life. To top it all off, the first boy I had a crush on turned out to be gay, and my first girlfriend later transitioned to male. The most I could really do was acknowledge that I was “weird” and embrace that.
KR: Do you think your peers were aware of the difference? If so, how did they react?
SD: Yep. They knew me as the “weird” kid, too. In middle school, I was the butt of way too many jokes, and I’m still surprised sometimes that I made it out alive. I became so severely depressed that I actually attempted suicide my first year of high school. After that, my life shifted, though. My weirdness morphed into some strange kind of social charisma, and people started to tell me that they envied me. I was different, I knew it, and I embraced it. Turns out, that’s what everyone else in high school wants to do, too.
KR: And what about your peers, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances these days? How do they generally react upon meeting you, and as they get to know you and your gender and sexual identity more intimately?
SD: Well, the whole “shaved head” thing seems to put my queerness out on the table before we have a chance to discuss it. People either make assumptions about me (which are sometimes wrong) or they start asking questions right away. I’m a friendly person who genuinely likes people, so I think people feel at ease around me even if they’ve never talked to a queer person before. When they begin to learn more about me, I find that they can either accept my “middle grounds” or they can’t. If they can’t, it’s because of their belief system, and that has nothing to do with me. They’re usually still polite about it.
KR: Is there anything more you’d like to say about how you define yourself in these terms or how that has impacted your peer or romantic relationships?
SD: In some ways, my queerness makes my world very big — I can shift my appearance to meet people’s expectations, and nearly every friend has the potential to make me fall in love with them. But in other ways, my world is very small. I know there are other people out there like me, and too many of them are hiding in shame.
Tomorrow Sarah and I continue our interview, with Sarah speaking more directly to her family.