As a young person, New York-based writer, comedian, and host of The Lesbian Agenda Sophie Santos says it didn’t take long to come out of her shell. However, growing up a “Spanish-Filipino army brat” in a very white, heteronormative world would eventually send her back in.
Santos says little Sophie was “shy for only about five years and then became outgoing as hell.”
Santos explains that because her family continually moved, “I couldn’t afford to be shy. It was sink or swim,” she recalls. “Moving also meant I had to be a master at cutting bullshit and getting to the good stuff. I knew I had only half a year tops before we were off to the next post, so I wasn’t interested in small talk.”
For most of her youth, Santos grew up in “99.6 percent white communities,” which she says only further fueled her desire to fit in. “I don’t think I had a choice other than to become a queer comedian after being a Southern belle sorority girl,” she quips.
“When I was at [the University of] Alabama,” continues Santos, “I joined a sorority mainly because my mom forced me to. By the time I got to college, I had been to…10 schools? Being part of sorority life was like CliffsNotes — it was the literal playbook of how to make friends…. But there was a double-edged sword to that playbook. While it wasn’t explicitly stated, I noticed that everyone was fixated on getting what I would learn was their ‘MRS’ degree— their ‘Missus’ degree. Our sorority was literally nicknamed ‘The Ones You Want to Marry.’ The goal was to be engaged by the age of 22…. It was just like Fight Club, and there were no rules in the pursuit of the first candlelight ceremony of the year.”
Santos explains that this “ceremony” was the stuff of a young lesbian’s nightmares. It entailed having the sorority sisters sit in a circle holding candles as each detailed their fairy-tale marriage proposal (from a strapping young man, naturally) — “right before one of us was sacrificed, of course.”
To avoid the grimmest of fates — becoming an old maid at 22 — her quest to find a husband commenced. “Of course, me being a dumb 18-year-old,” she recalls, “I thought the only way to win over a frat boy’s beer-soaked heart was to…sleep with them. And of course [as a lesbian] I wasn’t connecting with any of these guys.”
Ultimately, Santos says that “combined with the pressure of finding a lifelong gentleman caller, wearing heels and dresses to football games because it was pretty much required, and trying to learn all of the sorority’s 50,000 rules, I broke down, naturally. Then when I was at my weakest, I went to work for the summer at Wellesley College. That’s when my life flipped upside down.”
From there Santos went through some crazy transformative years and began to reclaim the spunky tomboy of her youth. In her hilarious memoir, The One You Want to Marry (And Other Identities I’ve Had), Santos does not shy away from recounting the especially cringeworthy moments of her story.
“You know yourself better than anyone else does. Just keep doing you” is advice Santos would give to her younger self — or any young person struggling with identity and figuring out their place in the world. “Also, know that any feeling of discomfort is temporary. You most likely will never see any of these people again, so if you fall on your face, it’s OK. And maybe write down the moment you fall on your face because that shit will be gold one day.”
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2021 Film and TV issue, which is out on newsstands October 5, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.