OBERLIN, OH—Three semesters after adopting the sexual identity, Amanda Oppel, a junior women's-studies major at Oberlin College, abruptly dropped her highly politicized lesbian stance Monday.
"I just need to focus on different priorities right now," said Oppel, 20. "I'm graduating next year, and my dad's not going to foot the bill forever." She also alluded to "maybe going back east to get an MBA."
Stunned by the announcement, Oppel's friends and fellow lesbian activists have struggled to understand the sudden reversal of sexual orientation.
"What the hell?" said Ellen Yang, leader of the Campus Womyn's Caucus and self-described "oppressed lesbian of color." "Just three weeks ago, she road-tripped with us to San Fran for the big Menstruation Day rally. Now, she's suddenly not a dyke anymore? And what's with the outfit she was wearing? Since when does the infamous militant lesbian revolutionary Amanda Oppel wear Banana Republic sweaters and denim Gap skirts?"
Oppel first revealed her intentions to abandon lesbianism at approximately 3 a.m. Monday, toward the conclusion of an emotional six-hour conversation with Leslie Heenan-Lynn. A fellow activist and her girlfriend of four months, Heenan-Lynn was shocked when Oppel "dropped the bomb."
"Leslie was totally crying," said Katie Jacobsen, 19, one of Heenan-Lynn's roommates at the Tralfamadore Co-Op housing facility. "She said Amanda had been acting weird and avoiding her all month. Then she said Amanda told her she wanted to re-evaluate their relationship. Leslie said maybe it's because their sex life was so bad. I never knew this, but, apparently, Amanda wasn't ever really all that affectionate in private. Isn't that strange? The way she'd yell and scream at rallies, I always assumed Amanda was a total lesbian sexual dynamo."
According to friends, Heenan-Lynn started getting "weird vibes" from Oppel upon her return from a December trip to Barbados with her father, investment banker Jonathan Oppel, 55, and his new wife Cassie, 31. Sources close to the Oppels report that Amanda, who had been distant from her father prior to the vacation, "really bonded" with him on the trip. She also reportedly spent a great deal of time with fellow travelers and close family friends Greg and Karen Garner, and even more with their son Brad, 23, heir to the Garner office-supply empire.
According to a phone conversation overheard by roommate and interpretive-dance performance artist Clytemnestra Moon, Oppel plans to meet Brad Garner in Ibiza over Spring Break.
"This is just beyond comprehension, Amanda giving up The Life to be with the oppressor," Moon said. "And she showed such enthusiasm for lesbian consciousness, too. Especially when it came to fundraising."
An ambitious student who was active in student government at her Mamaroneck, NY, high school, Oppel first showed signs of an emergent lesbian identity in September 2000. That fall, shortly after enrolling in an Intro To Women's History course, she began wearing Birkenstock sandals and listening to Ani DiFranco. She quickly rose through the ranks of Oberlin's progressive activist scene, becoming a fixture at Student Empowerment Network meetings.
Her campus political career reached a new peak last year, when, running on a lesbian-empowerment platform, she was elected co-president of the Progressive Student Council Steering Committee. In the fall semester of 2001, Oppel reduced her courseload to just eight credits to devote herself more fully to "awareness-raising" and her "Her Turn" column in the alternative student newspaper The Insurrectionist.
Throughout her 16-month lesbian tenure, Oppel frequently made provocative, inflammatory pronouncements of lesbian power, often criticizing her male classmates for their "phallocentric gender slavery."
"Man, I remember once telling her I thought her friend Liz was kind of cute," said fellow junior Mike Nygard, 20. "She got unbelievably offended and lectured me for two hours on Lookism and the society-wide evils of the Male Gaze. At the time, I felt awful and apologized profusely for my insensitivity. I remember thinking how lucky I was to have someone like Amanda to point out how sexist I didn't even know I was being. Now, though, I'm thinking maybe she was just being a sanctimonious, self-righteous bitch. Of course, it would be sexist of me to think that, but I sort of do."
Despite the shock among Oppel's classmates, older lesbians familiar with the situation were not surprised by the gender-preference reversal.
"Really? An East Coast rebel girl suddenly isn't a dyke anymore halfway through her junior year of college? That's shocking," said Gwen Mims, 46, author and Oberlin women's-studies professor. "What a stunner. Wow."
Nevertheless, many of Oppel's former peers still cannot bring themselves to believe that her angry-dyke-activist days are over.
"It just doesn't add up," said Campus Womyn's Caucus chairwomon Mia Petrovich, 20. "If it's true, that would imply that there is some aspect of collegiate revolutionary Marxist-feminist lesbian identity that is, in some way, less than completely genuine. And that's something my most heartfelt convictions will simply not allow me to accept, at least for the next few semesters, anyway."