By Michael Love
Ellie and I had an opportunity to take in the October edition of Whoopie!: A Sex-Positive Variety Show. The show was fantastic! So much talent, and such a great celebration of sex positivity and sexuality! One of my favorite acts of the show was local comedian, Shrista Tyree. She is an African-American lesbian, who refers to herself as a masculine lesbian. I loved her off-color look at her dating and sex life, and her fun poke at how people don’t always take her seriously. She’s incredibly funny, and quick witted. Right away I knew that she was someone I wanted to talk to, interview, and share with you… Shrista in person, did not disappoint. I learned very quickly that she is almost exactly the same person on stage as she is in real life. Unapologetically real… and funny. She’s not just a talented up-and-coming comedian; she is a lesbian who endured a difficult upbringing, and she talks about her struggles as a child, coming to terms with her sexuality and the challenges that presented her with. As a father of a 13-year-old girl myself, who identifies herself as bi-sexual… Shrista’s story was very moving for me… and something we could all learn from… especially those of us with kids growing up in this day and age.
The only day I happened to be available to talk to Shrista happened to be my birthday…it’s really just a day to me, and getting this interview was important, so we planned to meet at one of my favorite haunts in Southeast. The environment was bustling and busy, and I was hopeful that I would be able to even hear her in the interview when I later transcribed it… while fussing with my phone, getting the recording app ready, a birthday comment notification from one of my friends flashes up in my phone screen, Shrista looks down and sees it…
Shrista – Aww, Happy Birthday Motherfucker!… You have to spend the day with me, that’s exciting!
Yeah how do you like that? My wife and my girlfriend are like what the f***?
They’re like… you’re leaving me for Shrista? [laughs] Don’t tell them what I look like…
Nah, my girlfriend’s bi and she’s like, “So she’s lesbian huh?…”
She’s like, “Be out as late as you want!” [Laughs]
Yeah she’s like, “Bring her home! [Laughs] She likes the lady love”…
So are you non-monogamous?
I don’t know any of these terms… I’m just me. Actually I don’t know bro, I just recently had to learn pronouns and all that shit. It’s crazy because I did good with school, but I did not know what pronouns were so that became a thing. LGBT people are going to hate me for saying this, that is the thing that bothered me, because I’m like who the fuck paid attention in English like that bro? I didn’t pay attention… I didn’t know pronouns and shit, so when this whole thing came around about “what are your pronouns blah blah blah”… I’m like I’m gay, and then I had to go online to look up what the fuck this meant! I’m all like Urban Dictionary.com looking up “what are pronouns?” what the fuck? That shit was confusing and now every time I do a show, people are asking me what my pronouns are and it bothers me… at the same time I guess it’s good for people who do want to identify with different things, so I can see the other side of it honestly, but I’m just like, “Let me be me.”
But you are lesbian right?
I’m a lesbian, yes. I just don’t like labels. I just think it’s stupid because in the hetero-world you don’t have all these labels for the way people dress or what people like. So why do we have to have all these labels.
So we can understand you, right?
Yeah it really bothers me because my label… people would say, I’m a stud, which is like a butch lesbian… it’s the new word for this millennial butch, it’s not really a thing… that went out like 10 years ago. They put this label on me, and they are like alright, you’re a stud, that means you have to act like a man, and you have to think you’re a guy. It’s weird because if you actually know gay people, we don’t actually work like that. I don’t know who thought of it, maybe hetero people, I have no fuckin’ idea. I’m unique, I’m different. I’d get my toes done and I’d probably be judged for that because I’m supposed to be a boy.
That’s the other thing that bothers me, it’s like a lot of people don’t know all of the different terms… lesbian, gay, transgender. I learned all that shit in the last couple years because I wanted to learn up on it. With their labels, people are trying to categorize me into being a boy, if I wanted to be a boy I would have identified as a trans-man. A lot of people don’t understand the difference between a stud lesbian and a trans-man. A stud lesbian is a girl who likes girls, a trans-man is a female who transitioned to a man, and likes whoever the fuck they want to like. I’m not trying to be a guy, but people confuse being lesbian with being trans… I wish the world knew the difference, but we’re often all put in the same little box.
I love your attitude about labels… I only ask because it helps the readers to relate to who you are. You know what I mean? Because here you are and you’re this great picture, you’re obviously a woman with masculine qualities about you… So it’s like what is this? how do we set the reader up to learn more about you? You just did that in like 5 minutes so….
So to answer your question from like 2 hours ago… my pronoun is “she” [laughs]
So, let’s talk relationships, are you non-monogamous?
I have to really think about the words. I’m not in a relationship, but I am talking to someone who’s been a friend of mine for a couple of years. This is probably the most serious that I’ve ever been and that’s just focusing on one other person. Before that… as in 5 months ago, the last eight years or so I was single, just pretty much being a little whore. [Laughs]
…and that is a form of non-monogamy…
I was fine with it. The thing that bothered me about it was that people are like, “You’re not happy” or “You’re going to be lonely.” I really wasn’t though, and no one really understood that because all of my friends were in relationships and they were always saying that I was lonely, and I’m like, ‘I’m not lonely, I’m happy.’ I’m not looking to ever rush into anything unless it really feels right, but for years it hasn’t. However, the last few years, up until recently, I had been hooking up with girls all the time. I don’t know… for me that was okay [Grins]
People that live in “monogamy world” as we call it, have a hard time identifying how you can be happy and be non-monogamous. They think that you have to have that commitment to be happy. They don’t realize you can cruise through the garden and sample all the different fruits. Some people think that you can’t be happy with that because you’re getting your cake and eating it too, but what about long-term? And they don’t realize there are lots of people out there in long term non-monogamous relationships too.
I’ve been on both sides of something like that. Now I only want to talk to one girl. [Laughs] You’ve got me thinking about things I’ve never thought about
Talk to me about some of the challenges that you have as a lesbian connecting with people in general. Do you have problems meeting people?
I would say, not anymore. I’m 29 now and I have fully accepted who I am and what I look like to other people. So for me now, I would say it doesn’t make a difference because I look at myself and I feel as though I’m a normal person. So when I approach people I don’t picture them looking at me in any kind of way. I used to think like that. I used to hate being in public because I always felt like people were judging me because I was gay or, when I talk to girls or hold their hands or something. I always felt like everyone was staring at me. Then I got to realize that everybody has their own shit going on and everybody loves who they love… you know? I was always afraid like if an older couple or white people saw me, they would just see a little black girl and they always thought I was going to do something bad.
Now I think, I’m just me, and I feel like I have a good personality and I can connect with people. I don’t see myself as this lesbian girl, or this black person that everyone is staring at… now I just see myself as a normal muthafucka. I usually can connect with anyone, it doesn’t matter their skin color or their orientation… it really doesn’t matter.
I work at Petco part-time… we have a lot of old people, we have young people, we have black people, and Asian people, and every type of people in there and I can connect with every single one of them. Three years ago I wouldn’t have even wanted to work there because I was afraid of people. Now it’s so weird to me, because now I don’t care what people think of me… It’s really about having confidence and loving yourself. Once you love yourself no one can really hurt you… well… actually a girl can… fuck bitches man…. Hurt in the heart!
But that’s part of it all, right?
Yeah… but you know where I was going with that right?
I definitely can see that even in our world, when I’m out with my wife and my girlfriend and I’m interacting with both of them, I know that I draw attention, for me people are usually just genuinely curious. Have you ever had any situations where you’ve gotten some negative reactions from people?
It’s funny you said that, because something just happened recently. It was the weirdest thing. I was in San Diego with my “not girlfriend”, and we are walking down the street holding hands when this car pulls up it, and the driver was a white guy. I’m just mention his color for anyone who cares… He looks out the window, stops the car and shouts, “Only in America!” and then just drives away. I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic, he just said it and drove away. I don’t know if it was good or bad… My “not girlfriend” said she didn’t know either. I didn’t hear him laugh and he didn’t sound angry, so it was really hard to tell what his deal was. That was only about a month ago and to this day I still don’t know what that was all about. It was the weirdest thing. Like only in America do you see gay people holding hands?… I just thought it was weird.
I’m wondering if the driver may have made a mistake. I mean, just look at you, the way that you dress… The way that you present yourself is very masculine. Is it possible that he didn’t even realize that you were female until after he stopped?
I had a tight wife beater on and I’ve got double d’s… So when I turn that corner he had to have seen my big ass titties, there was no mistaking that I was a girl. You cannot miss my titties that’s why most people don’t actually mistake me as an actual guy. That’s not a thing that actually happens to me. There’s a lot of masculine lesbians, but that doesn’t really happen to me… [Laughs]
…And you seem to be alright with that [Laughs]
My face isn’t really all that masculine, when I straighten my hair and I put a fitted cap on or something. I actually don’t like to look girly because I don’t feel beautiful looking feminine. It’s been like that my whole life when I was like 7, I was Lil’ Romeo, the rapper for Halloween. I was Lil’ Romeo because he dressed like a boy and back then I didn’t know what gay was. I didn’t know what that meant at all. I’d never heard that term, I just like how he dressed. So I dressed up as him on Halloween and for the first time I felt like myself. I remember that, and I was so young… I was in like 4th grade I think. I was dressed like a boy and that’s how I’m dressed now, and I just felt so comfortable. Back then I didn’t know why I loved that so much, I just felt so beautiful and just felt like myself. It’s freaking crazy and so weird to think about that.
Where did you grow up?
Here in Portland, nothing spectacular. My mom was a recovering meth addict, and she lost custody of us a lot growing up. When people ask where I’m from I just say Portland because I’ve lived everywhere in Portland. We were probably in a different city every year from 3rd grade on. I was in Southeast, Northeast, North, 52nd, Southeast Flavel… I was in foster care in Troutdale and Gresham… I’ve kind of been everywhere, all over town.
So you grew up in foster care then?
Mostly relatives… Before my grandma passed away when I was in 5th grade, anytime my mom went to jail or something, my grandma would take us and she lived in North Portland.
You had a difficult childhood?
I did and you know the weirdest thing about it is, I was really quiet and never talked as a kid. That’s why all my friends and family find it so weird that I do comedy now. When I was growing up I was quiet because I didn’t know what to say because there was so much going on. My mom was shooting up and we were always surrounded by drugs in our home, but nobody was explaining drugs to us. We went into foster care for a few years, but they didn’t explain to us why. So I was really confused and decided to just not talk to anybody. I didn’t really start talking again until I was in 8th grade, on my 13th birthday…that’s when I began doing drugs and alcohol.. I was given drugs and alcohol by my mom….Happy Birthday! It seems like a really shitty thing that my mom gave me drugs and alcohol, with her past drug abuse and then passing it on to her children, but I also found my voice within that. Then I started speaking up for myself and in high school I was the class clown, but I was a pothead like a muthafucka.
But it’s legal now!
I know it’s so weird…. When I graduated in 2007… I decided that drugs were not a thing I ever wanted to do, because when I was growing up, I’d said I never wanted to be like my mom… I never want to fall down that path. So, in 2007 I stopped smoking weed and have not picked it up since. I just didn’t want to be into drugs when my whole life had been centered around it. Nowadays I’m like…. damn adult life is stressful, I want to hit that blunt! [Laughs] I don’t know… it’s been like 15 years I don’t even remember what it’s like to be high… it probably would help me now! [Laughs]
Well now it’s not so stressful to get high because you just walk right down to the store…
Yep, and I heard you can choose your type of high now. Back then it was hard to get weed bro, I was getting like $5 sacks and $10 sacks, I was just getting nuggs off people, I was like bitch, I’ll take what I can get! Getting weed as a 13 year old was hard at times.
Where in all that process did you finally identify as being lesbian….
Oh, thats a big story right there…. I’ll cut it down for you. So growing up I always felt different. Since I didn’t ever talk, I was always in my head thinking about it. I also have a journal that my foster parents gave me because they said I have anger problems, I guess because I was mad that they took my mom. I lashed out on them, I’m not going to lie.
I read that journal a couple of years ago and all I talked about in my journal were girls. Friends that I thought were friends my whole life, until I stop and really think about it, I realize they were actually my crushes. I would have long conversations in my journal about them. My first crush who I thought was one of my best friends– she was so fine, bro– anyway so I had this journal and I talked about this girl, Kayla that I used to like, and I would write things like: “Kayla did this in school today” and it was so cute, and “Kayla did that” and it was like my whole journal. I also had journal entries about this girl named Ashley…. it was just constantly me talking about women. I realize now that I liked them that whole time. I used to think about women a lot, I just didn’t get why I was thinking about women in that way.. I’d have dreams and I thought I’m a horny ass kid apparently… because I always had dreams about having sex with girls. I thought I must be a guy in my dreams… because I didn’t even know what gay was yet. I did’t think that was a thing that could actually be… girls can’t have sex with girls, it doesn’t work, I had to be a boy in my dreams.
So when I was in school and the girls would talk about their boyfriends they liked and I remember everyone had crushes on guys and I never had a crush on a guy ever in my whole life, it was really confusing to me.
So I was like I’m just going to keep these dreams about having sex with girls to myself….
Because you’re already feeling out of place and weird, and now you’re having thoughts about these dreams and that’s got to be adding to that right?
It wasn’t until I hit eighth grade that I came to understand what homosexuality meant. I was immediately like, Oh shit!… that’s what I am, but I kept it to myself until I got into 9th grade. I remember all my friends thinking that being gay was a choice, they thought it was dumb to commit suicide over something they could choose not to be.
I was like, ‘Oh shit… I may not tell them I’m gay’, and I knew I was gay. I had never had a crush on a guy, I never wanted to have sex with a dude… which I still never have. It’s probably like a hetero guy and not being into other men, it’s just gross to me.
So I started dating a boy just because I realized how much people hated gays. I didn’t want them to hate me because, I had just found my voice and I had just started making friends. He was like, my first love to the world… not to me though. I dated him from 8th grade through high school. We never had sex, we never did anything… it was just me, constantly coming up with excuses why I wasn’t doing stuff with him… and he was just falling in love with me deeper and deeper. I didn’t know how to tell him that I was gay. I mean I was like still touchy with him… but I was teasing, and just cuddling and touching, that was okay, but I couldn’t even kiss him because it was gross to me.
Later in high school, I went to The Escape which was a 16 and over gay club in downtown Portland. I had also joined the softball team… and yes the rumors are true… softball players are all fucking gay! We all pretended to be straight in high school. We all had boyfriends and faked who we were to make other people happy. It was such a secret to be gay and only a few hetero people knew about us, so I began to call it “the underground railroad”. On the weekends, we would go to The Escape because it was the only place we could be ourselves. It was funny cause in school nobody knew who we were, then we would get there and would be in the line and we be like, “Oh Carly, you’re gay too? Heeeey!” It was pretty funny and cool to know of other gays at the school and we would see each other in the hallways and we knew each others’ secret. [Laughs]
I was living two lives, it was just this whole facade that I put up… back then I called it my Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus life. I was just living two lives, and it got to a point where it was just hard to go back and forth. I felt really bad because the guy I was dating was really falling in love with me that that point. I felt like a douche, because I really didn’t like him like that. I loved him as a best friend, and to this day he’s like the coolest person ever. I just woke up one day and decided I was going to break up with him. I didn’t tell him I was gay, I just said “Hey, we should break up”… and he was like “Wait… what?!”
So he knows now?
I did end up telling him later. I broke up with them and he’s begging for me, and I’m like bro it’s over… it was really awkward.
My senior year, I was kind of done with fighting the world, because I was so much happier at The Escape with all my gay friends and trying to live the straight life was so exhausting… I was totally different, in high school I dressed feminine to fit in… I wore my hair down every day dressed really girly, and my sister’s a fucking diva… she would always help dress me feminine, I acted like a little boy, but it’s cool… when I went to The Escape I would dress like I dress now, it’s what made me comfortable. I was switching so much it was really getting hard to keep it straight. My senior year I just said fuck it, I’m just going to tell these mothafuckas that I’m gay.
You let Miley take over…
Yeah I was like fuck it… and I did it. Everyone hated me, just like I suspected, but I had a support system. My “underground railroad” had my back. I lost almost every single friend. It made me really depressed… just like a lot of gay kids get, my gay friends were like, “Bitch, get your shit together, we still love you! People who really love you will come around and you’ll get new friends.”
It was them just saying that, and grilling it on me and I was like alright. The weird thing was everyone ended up coming around. It might have taken a week, it might have taken a month, it might have taken years, but every single person that disowned me in high school is now my friend, and I make fun of them for it, because that’s now also my job. [Laughs]
It took a lot for me to love myself, and when I came out, I was free! It’s really what made me become who I am now. I felt like I had a voice, I realized I could dress how I wanted, and when I came out in high school it was like BOOM. I’m a masculine lesbian now and I change my clothes, I wasn’t wearing girly clothes no more. Then I got the whole, “Why are you doing that, you’re so beautiful as a feminine person.” To everyone else I am… to me I feel ugly pretending to be something I’m not
Because it’s not you…
Exactly! People didn’t get that… So I got a lot of shit for switching my clothes to how I dress now. For me, this is literally the most beautiful I’ve ever felt. I look in the mirror and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I look so bomb’. When I used to look in the mirror with my hair straight and makeup I felt so ugly… and no one ever understood that back then. Beautiful to society versus beautiful to myself was something nobody could quite grasp.
So then you started into this new life, what was it like going into your first relationship, your first connection with a woman?
Oh my god!… My first lesbian sexual experience, I was actually drunk and I don’t remember it… unfortunately. I remember waking up, like what happened last night? You know when you’re blackout drunk and you have flashes, like was that a dream or did that actually happen? So I woke up in this bed and I’m butt naked and I’m like what’s going on? I remember turning around to see who the fuck is on the other side of the bed. I poked her… and I shit you not… it was the fucking lunch lady, bro! She’s the same age as me cuz I was in college, but it was an ugly ass lunch lady. I was like “NO! I did not fuck the ugly ass lunch lady, bro!” How did this happen? I had to have been drunk… I whipped off the blanket like five seconds later, then her roommate, which is another lunch lady, walks in the door and she sees me butt naked too. I’m like, oh my god… I’m going to go… she’s like, “okay what’s wrong?” I’m like, “nothing… I’m going to leave, I got homework to do….”
I’m fucking broke, so the next morning I have to go to the cafeteria to get food and they’re just there… serving me food when I ran out of their house butt naked hours before. It was the most awkward shit ever! [Laughs] It was bad, bro…
Where did you go to school?
Oh shit… I skipped that part… I gotta back up a bit. I got a scholarship at a college in Iowa, so when I finished high school, I moved out there, it’s actually where I was born. I moved to Iowa because I wanted to meet my dad, whom I’d never met, and I didn’t know any of my family over there.
I decided I didn’t want to be gay, and again I had people trying to convince me that being gay was a choice, so I decided to try one more time to be straight. That lasted 2 months… and I was like nope, I’m gay as fuck… fuck that… super gay. Then I fully accepted myself after coming out… again. I got into a fucking relationship, wasted four years of my life with a girl… I wrote a song about her, so she’s already going to hate me… she follows my IG so whatever…
So it’s true you actually did write a song about her it’s not just a bit from your routine?
I wrote a fucking song… oh yeah, I performed it at Whoopie, I actually only performed one verse… the rest of the verses are way more fucked up, but for comedy I only do the first because I don’t want to overdo it with the music. Nah, she broke my heart, bro… but it was also because I didn’t know her, she didn’t know me and she had just came out, and I had just came out… We had accepted who we were and we decided to get into a relationship, and we had no experience with it before. It was like we just got together because we were the only gay people in Iowa in 2007. So, we were like there’s another faggot what’s up? Let’s date… okay. We had nothing in common… like nothing… I have no idea how I dated her for so long.
It was a whole lot of us figuring each other out. She was figuring herself out, she’s feminine, so she was like, “Maybe I am straight”, way more than I did and she was younger than me too. I was 20 when I started dating her and she was 18, so she was still trying to figure herself out… long story short she was cheating on me the whole time with a guy and I didn’t know that until 2 years later.
So tell me about how you got into comedy
When I started figuring out who I really was, and found my voice and all the sudden, I found that I was pretty funny. I was doing a lot of funny social media videos. It wasn’t like a big deal to me, but people really started liking them and I developed a following and was getting a lot of views. I was like okay, I guess I’ll take this a little more serious… Then I started actually choosing topics and writing my jokes out, putting more thought into them and then making the videos. I did that for about 6 months and then people were like, ‘Hey you should try stand-up’. That had never even crossed my mind before.
A couple of months went by, and I kept hearing it… so one day I was like you know what? Fuck it, let me write some shit down, so I wrote some shit down… I apparently had a lot of shit to say… I had like four pages. So, just three days later, I’m on my way to an open mic, I had already memorized my whole set which was ten minutes.
They’re like, “Hey you’re new, go up there and do as much time as you like.” I had invited all my friends not even knowing if I was going to be any good at this, but I had semi-recognition because of the social media videos I had been posting, so I realized I probably couldn’t be that bad. I think I had 38 people show up just to watch me… which is unusual at open mics because it’s usually just a bunch of comedians, so everyone was like what the fuck?!
So I go up there and I did like the corniest set ever, but it was still funny enough for like the first time. Everyone was cracking up. My stage presence was actually pretty good… I had never been on stage. I’ve never really been a performer, but I’m running around on stage, I’m gauging what the crowds reactions are… I’ve never done this ever in my life and I’m up there doing 10 minutes and people are dying. I realized then, that this is what I’ve been looking for my whole goddamn life.
I get off stage and somebody comes up to me and says, “You were so good… how long have you been doing this?” and I was like, “How long was my set?… He didn’t couldn’t believe it was my first set, so the host asked me if I wanted to be in a show and I got my first booking for a festival at my very first open mic.
Open mics are how you get booked in comedy… I skipped that process. People saw me at the festival and booked me, so then I went to this show and all the comics who were on that lineup who don’t know who the fuck I am… all saw me. Boom!… five comics just saw me, so guess what they do? They booked me for their shows, and I go on their shows and so on and so on.
How long ago did you start doing comedy?
I’m about to hit my 2-year mark… I started in February 2017
It’s safe to say you’re still in the beginning stages then
Comedy is confusing as hell… I’m at the spot where it’s like, “Oh shit bitch, you really got to step up and show people that you’re really about that life.” I need to come out with a lot more stuff to compete. So I’ve actually written a lot of new stuff. It’s my first time writing since I’ve actually figured comedy out. I’m afraid to do it because it’s so different than what I came out talking about. I came out saying I’m single and the way I talk about women, I call them bitches and hoes and all that shit. I’m a woman, I feel like I can talk about it however the hell I want to [Laughs] I guess I’m kind of misogynistic, but I’m a woman so I guess I can get away with it, you know what I mean?
The show I did at the Whoopie show was a sex positive show, so of course they’re going to love me because most of my set is about sex and dating. Weirdly enough though, some people get offended by my perceptions on dating [Laughs]
But it’s comedy…
It’s still funny, but some people are uptight. I have a set about dating a bigger woman and it’s one of my top hits, but one time I had someone call it body shaming [shrugs shoulders] sometimes you just can’t win because there’s always some sensitive person out there. I know how to make a crowd say, “This bitch is really funny, I love her, but she’s an asshole… but I still love her.” That’s the character I’ve portrayed for myself and it’s working for me.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it…
If you’d like to connect with Shrista to see her online content, or to see where her upcoming appearances will be you can find her at: