I broke my best friend’s nose and that set the tone.”
Krista Behi Semple is a lot like me – only more defiant. She’s a grown woman who wears tutus and tiaras, and I love that about her.
The variables of her upbringing were similar to mine – she grew up in Wales to Indian-Persian and American parents – but she chose a more dramatic route than I did to express her difference. She’s not afraid to follow through on eccentric, creative whims, and she wears her Otherliness with confidence – which is so unlike the shy little me I remain inside my head.
As a result, she was my first choice to interview for this blog. I sat down with her in her Los Feliz café, the Red Dragon, surrounded in magical mayhem, and asked her what makes her feel Otherly.
I feel like the Other in almost all ways. I live in Los Angeles, in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood. I moved here 14 years ago, and I was one of the few non-Latino people. Also just being in the United States, I have an accent. Even though I’m actually American from birth, I was born and raised in Wales, so that makes me an outsider.
Growing up in Wales, I was called a lot of things. My brother and I grew up speaking Welsh – which was even weirder because we were not ethnically Welsh at all. Our parents were immigrants. And they were odd. My mother was this Californian free spirit, non-conforming genius. My father was Indian-Persian, one of the only men in nursing school.
And both of them belonged to the Baha’i Faith, which was by far the weirdest part of all. In Wales, you assumed everyone was Church of Wales. Catholic was the only other real option. Or atheist. The weirdest were maybe the hippies that came to north Wales, but even that was more normal than what we were – because no one had even heard of the Baha’i Faith. We didn’t celebrate any of the holidays, like Christmas or Easter. We didn’t do presents, and that was very weird.
I was bullied almost on a daily basis. Today I’m considered Caucasian because I’m Persian and a native American/white blend, but when I was a kid growing up in Wales I was dark-skinned, slightly odd-looking, maybe some kind of Pakistani-Indian, and that made me a very easy target.
We were also the kids at school with apples, while everyone else had a bag of crisps and a chocolate bar. It’s impossible to get kids to swap your sesame snaps for a Penguin. We were the kids with the granola and whole wheat bread – quite often homemade bread.
There was a turning point when I just stopped taking it. I had been raised with this turn-the-other-cheek, pacifist approach, and something snapped. I realized that by letting people hurt me, I was giving in to the injustice of it.
By the time I entered secondary school at 11, I was completely defiant and very embracing of the fact I was never going to fit in. I broke my best friend’s nose and that set the tone. She started picking on me over something, and I told her to stop calling me names. Then I just walked up to her and punched her in the face. That put a bit of a silencer on anyone ever bothering me.
I was very much a performing arts kid. I became the quirky, entertaining, comical, tap-dancing poodle type. That saved my life – my sanity. That and my faith, which gave me a sense that there was something bigger out there.
New York is the only place I’ve ever felt at home because being Other was the norm. I worked in the theater industry there, and it was unusual for somebody to be ordinary or normal. Everybody had their story of how they ended up there, and it was usually something to do with being a bit odd, or the odd ones out in their home towns.
I’ve always been a show-off, and for a good three decades I was definitely walking into the room drawing attention to myself. In show business, and in Hollywood particularly, you’re in a world of people who want to stand out, and I would make sure that when I walked into an event, I was standing out the most.
I’ll be wearing glitter and having purple hair into my seventies.”