It was near the end of the interview when the request came: "You know, if you were to work with our population, we would ask you to be conscious of what you wore. We would never ask you to wear a dress or something that made you feel uncomfortable, but you probably know that it might be hard for you here as a woman in a tie."
The implication, of course, was that in a small Southern town, a woman in a tie would not be welcomed in the same way that other, more traditionally dressed women might be. Having grown up in Mississippi, struggling for a long time with my own desires to be the woman who wore a tie, I was intimately familiar with what she meant. Accepting I was gay had been one struggle, accepting I was butch, quite another. After finally accepting that I would much prefer to rock a suit and tie over a dress, it was like coming out all over again, a huge weight lifted from my shoulders but a whole new set of challenges to confront.
(Sarah, center, with two friends in 2008)
Being butch means that some generally simple processes become awkward and embarrassing for all involved. Nearly every time I go through airport security, I have to be scanned twice because the agent has accidentally entered me as a man. On more than one occasion I have left a gas station or store after other patrons realized I was not a man and began whispering. When I go to the bathroom, I find a reason quickly to speak so that people can hear the femininity in my voice and (hopefully) stop staring at me or not-so-subtly discussing my presence. Shopping for clothes has become about holding my shoulders a certain way and keeping my mouth closed. It's easier with my partner, whose pride in me offsets my own still lurking shame. She unabashedly requests help where I might otherwise just leave and makes prolonged, judgmental eye contact with anyone who dares question my presence.
Much like coming out, the relief, confidence and self-love that came with accepting my preferred gender expression far outweigh the exhaustion, frustration and self-doubt that come with being openly and visibly different. I'm so grateful for my friends and family, many of whom have been with me through every bit of the often-painful process of self-acceptance. There are moments where I find myself in a community of people who understand, who ask for preferred gender pronouns, who want everyone to feel comfortable and proud. It's my goal to foster communities like that for every person, to give back some of the love that has been given to me. Point Foundation provides one opportunity; sitting in a room of other Point Scholars and listening to them discuss their work energized and inspired me. I am grateful to get to work with queer students at the law school, to think about how I might be able to put my degree to use, and to watch my peers work to change both our law school community and the world outside.
(Sarah, second from right, with friends in 2014)
I do wonder what my future clients might think. I hope to go back to the South to do public interest work, and I know that being visibly queer can be a barrier in getting to know and work with people. I also know, however, that I come from a religious community in Mississippi, that I love myself and others in the way that community taught me, and that for all of the complications that may come with wearing my tie, there is also the chance that someone may feel more comfortable expressing themselves when they see others do the same. I know that I am lucky to be able to be myself in this way.