Yep, I’m Gay: Katie Chrystler’s Story
When I was growing up in Provo, Utah in the 1990’s, a lesbian couple lived a few houses down the street from my family. My (very mormon) parents didn’t call them “lesbians" — they were just “two women who lived together.” Sometimes, the women would drive by when I was playing in the street with my friends. When other people would pass us, we’d wave and smile. But with those women, we’d only stop, dead in our tracks, and stare. I knew something different was going on there, but I had no idea what that something was.
Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, they were my first exposure to a lesbian couple. I remember when Ellen came out (hence the title of this post), and I also remember when Rosie O’Donnell came out. By that point, I knew what gay was, but I don’t really remember my parents talking with me about what it meant to be gay, or telling me what they thought about gay people. They NEVER talked about the possibility of me being lesbian, bi, or anything except the straight, girl they thought I was.
While I was in my early years, I thought wanted the Mormon ideal: marriage to a returned missionary, three or four kids, a big house in an exclusive part of Utah, a shiny new Suburban, and a dog.
But looking back, I can see signs of “gay” throughout my childhood. I don’t remember having any serious crushes on real girls when I was growing up, but you bet I had my favorites in movies and on TV.
I’m a list person — so here are some of the crushes I had.
1. ALEX MACK — Have you seen that show? Hello! As a 7-year-old girl, I LOVED the clothes she wore, and sometimes when she’d melt into a puddle of GC-161, so would my little baby gay heart.
2. KIERA KNIGHTLEY — I had a HUGE crush on her in Pirates of the Caribbean. The dresses she wore were very, very much my thing.
3. BLAIR WARNER — Yeah, I’ll admit, this one is weird. Facts of Life is a terribly cheesy sitcom from the 1980’s, but I loved Blair’s hair, her attitude — and you can’t tell me that show isn’t dripping with gay energy. That is a hill I will gladly die on.
4. ALANIS MORISSETTE — I definitely watched her “Thank U” video with real intent. You know the one — that’s the video where she’s wandering around town, basically naked, with super long hair covering her boobs. I always hoped it would slip. (spoiler alert: it didn’t)
5. MISS HONEY — If you’re not gay, maybe this makes no sense. But having a crush on her, and LOVING the movie Matilda, is basically a mid-90’s right of passage for a lot of lesbians, so I’m definitely not alone in this one.
Besides those crushes, and those are just the ones I can remember — there was how I dressed. If I’d been allowed to, I would have run through the boys section at Mervyn’s, Supermarket Sweep-style. Oversized basketball shorts? Sure! Adidas sweatshirts? The more the merrier! JNCO jeans? Throw them in the cart! Bold prints, dinosaurs, stripes, and shirts without stupid slogans or flowers? BRING IT ON! My mom did reign me in a bit. While JNCO jeans were a definite no (I’m very glad about that now, thanks mom), I did wear a lot of overalls, Nikes, baggy t-shirts, and backwards baseball hats. I even had a Karl Malone jersey and matching shorts. That was my favorite ensemble. It was only as I approached middle school, that I started to think about dressing more “like a girl.” Even then, my attempts to feminize my wardrobe failed spectacularly. I paired an orange and blue striped crewneck shirt with flare jeans, birkenstocks, a choker, and a slicked back, middle part ponytail. Instead of looking like an early 90’s baby gay, I looked like a late 90’s preteen gay.
Middle school was where I learned to “pass” as a straight girl. I stopped trying to shop in the boys section. Instead, I was all about whatever the cool girls were wearing. Gap, American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch -- especially Abercrombie & Fitch -- became staples in my closet. I wore makeup for the first time, shaved my legs, and practically bathed in Bath and Body Works. (Shoutout to Cucumber Melon!) I’d see girls flirting with boys, and not only did I not know how to do that, I just didn’t want to do that. But, I told myself, I was only 12, and what was the point? I couldn’t date for several years anyway.
I didn’t really have crushes on boys (or girls, for that matter) in high school. I did “like” a boy in my Journalism and English classes, though. He was funny, nice, and I enjoyed talking to him. He dated other girls though, and so we were just friends. Four years later, our paths crossed, and we dated for a few months when I was 22 and he was 23. I liked spending time with him, we had fun, and I thought maybe what we had was what some of my now-married friends talked about when they talked about love. When we kissed though, I felt pretty much nothing. I mean, It was okay, but I could think of about a thousand things I’d rather have been doing: Was my car due for an oil change? Were my library books due? How long had it been since my last haircut? Had I ironed that shirt I was going to wear to work next Wednesday?
As much as I liked spending time with him, what I really fell in love with was spending time with his big mormon family. He was one of 10 kids, had a great mom, welcoming siblings, lots of nieces and nephews, and I loved being invited to Sunday dinner with all of them. When we broke up, that was what I grieved for. Not losing him, but losing his family.
One of my next relationships was with a guy who was PERFECT for me on paper: a democrat, a fan of Parks & Rec and 30 Rock, he was getting his masters degree, and he was funny! I remember one date in particular. We went to see “The Help,” and I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s a looooong movie. I just looked it up. Two hours and 26 minutes long. During the opening scene, he grabbed my hand, and held it THE WHOLE movie. I should have enjoyed that (at least until my hand went numb) but I felt nothing.
I went on dozens more dates over the next few years, with plenty of good Mormon men. They were the kind of guys I dreamed about when I was growing up. There was the dentist, the photographer, the scientist, the MBA candidate, the pastry chef — and I never felt anything but mild butterflies for any of them.
Then, It happened.
One Sunday, when I was 24, I was sitting at church, and a new girl came in, and sat with her friends on the same pew as me. I didn’t say anything, but I felt something. I didn’t want to be a creeper, so I kept glancing at her out of the corner of my eye, which in retrospect probably still came off as creepy. Oh well. She was beautiful. And something was happening to me that had never happened before. I could sense my hands getting clammy, and I wanted to introduce myself, but I had no idea what to say, how to say it, or even if I should say it. I was tongue-tied, for the first time. I don’t remember if I sputtered out an introduction that Sunday, but for the next year or so, whenever I was around her at church, at activities, or anywhere — I was a blubbering idiot. I moved out of the ward without telling her how I felt, or even hinting at anything.
That "church girl” experience is what it took for me to see that I was more than just “interested” in those fictional characters when I was a kid. And, it’s what opened my eyes enough to admit to myself that I wasn’t actually straight. But accepting it? That’s a whole other story.