Degrassi Talks: Sexuality

Stacie Mistysyn -her story

by Catherine Dunphy

For Stacie Mistysyn, host of the Degrassi Talks TV documentary on sexuality, questioning kids about sexuality was fun. “I like putting people on the spot and getting them to be honest and up front about their sexuality – trying to convince them that a lot of what we’re talking about is normal and [something] not to be embarrassed about.”

But dealing with their sexuality is not always fun for everybody – perhaps least of all for the one out of ten teenagers who discovers that he or she is homosexual. Kim Mistysyn, Stacie’s sister, was one, and you’ll learn more about her in this book.[i.e – Degrassi Talks on Sexuality]
Stacie Mistysyn is the veteran of the Degrassi kids, with five years playing Lisa on The Kids of Degrassi Street and five more years as Caitlin on Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High.

Stacie Mistysyn remembers very clearly when her sister told her she was gay.
She remembers that telephone call, how Kim led up to her news with that classic all-purpose line: ” I have something to tell you”.And she remembers not being surprised at all.
Nor upset. Nor sad. “My reaction was ‘ that’s good ‘ “, Stacie recalls. “And it was good because she said it so calmly and she was happy with herself. There was no resentment any more.”
And that was the major thing for Stacie. Because for that last couple of years , that’s all there had been between the sisters.

Separated by only two years (Kim is older) they have been living in different worlds for a long time. Stacie had been connected with the Degrassi series one way or another since she was 10 years old. First she was Lisa, one of the original Degrassi “kids”. When the series began to focus on events in the lives of junior high students, she became Caitlin Ryan.
Right from the start, Caitlin was a major player on the show. She was Joey Jeremiah’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, an epileptic, editor of the yearbook ,friends with, first, Susie, then Lucy and the twins, always very much the center of things.
In one episode of Degrassi Junior High, Caitlin worries she is a lesbian because she develops a crush on a female teacher.

No wonder Stacie’s sister resented her: That’s exactly what was happening to Kim at the time, and she ended up watching her sister play it out on national television.
It’s easy to see how Kim could have felt that her younger sister was crowding into her life and crowding her out of life, all at the same time. Especially when Stacie began Grade 9 at the same east end Toronto high school Kim attended. Stacie scrunches her delicate features as she recalls that school. “Such a Yuppie school, very cliquey. Everyone was competing over who had the best clothes, and I couldn’t compete because my parents had me on a $40- a-month allowance to teach me budgeting.”

So she decided to run for secretary of the student council. Remember, she’s in Grade 9, and most kids in that yea spend it skulking around the school corridors just trying to get a handle on things. Remember also that all Stacie’s classmates can see her on television every Monday night on a hit series. It was a not too subtle way of making a move into her sister’s territory. Stacie is honest about her motives: “I was angry.”

Of course she won the elections for the students council, “even though my sister told all her friends not to vote for me.” But Stacie also says she didn’t realize how much she was upsetting he sister, even though Kim made it very clear during all their family pow-wows (there is also a younger brother, Cory) that Stacie was the root of all her problems, that she was furious because, among other things, Stacie, a Grade Niner, was invited to to the senior prom by someone in Grade 13. Stacie in turn wasn’t thrilled when Kim snitched on her to their parents for smoking. Still it was easier to deny hostility. “At home I thought things were okay, although there was tension between my sister and me”, she says, “because out of each other’s way.”

Kim was doing a little shoplifting, “things to get attention”, Stacie now realizes. A couple of the friends she choose were “not too great”, as she puts it, and Kim’s involvement with the yearbook – and its staff adviser – became so obsessive the school authorities thought they might have to expel her. Ye, somehow, Kim graduated and went on to study at York University. It was during her first year there, when she was 19 and Stacie 17, that Kim called Stacie and told her who she was.

By then much of the tension between them had started to sort itself out. Stacie had already moved out of the house into a place of her own, a move which made her a lot happier.
Her parents’ marriage was breaking down and Stacie was relieved to be on her own. Kim who had spent a lot of time sorting things out for herself, became a valuable ally and confidante.
“We had a lot of things in common. The tension between my parents, we shared that”, Stacie says, “and we started getting along after that”.

She breaks into a smile. “It was so nice. One of us would phone the other and we were actually able to talk, not as rivals, but as sisters. As friends.” When her sister told Stacie about her sexuality over the phone, it was not to avoid or dilute Stacie’s reaction. “In our family we never want to make a big deal out of things.” Besides, Stacies reaction was straightforward and heartleft.

“She said it so calmly because he was happy with herself. She is doing well; she is independent.” Their parents, now divorced, reacted positively to the news their oldest child was gay. Stacie says relationships within the now scattered family have never been better. She gets along well with both her parents, her brother, and of course with her sister.
She and Kim talk now about Kim’s plans: She has found a lover with whom she plans to settle. Stacie has met her and likes her; in fact, their first meeting was videotaped and used in the Degrassi Talks documentary on sexuality which Stacie introduces.

Kim hopes to have a child one day and she is comfortable knowing that she ill never really “fit into” the mainstream, Stacie reports, now that she knows where she does belong.
Stacie sounds just a bit wistful as she talks about her sister’s plans because in one of life’s patented twists, it is now Kim who is settled and focused – and Stacie who is somewhat adrift.
Not lost , just at a crossroads. Now 20 (she was born July 23, 1972), she is in her last year at an alternative school, the third high school she’s attended. She knows she wants to get her high school diploma. After that, she knows she’s going to try an acting career, even though the Degrassi Talks series showcases, for the first time, her musical talents.

She and Keith White (who played Tim on Degrassi High) sing the Degrassi Talks theme song which Keith composed. They love singing together; They sang when they were traveling to the Degrassi locations. Often they were joined by Arlene Lott (the girl who played Nancy) and Kyra Levi (Degrassi’s Maya). But so far only Keith and Stacie are writing their own music. Stacie sometimes sings with a band – she shrugs off identifying details, only that they are brothers with their own studio. That, she says, suits her purposes. She does not want to perform live right now.

She and Keith have gone in together on the purchase of a mixer, the first piece of equipment for the studio they eventually want to have together. But she has never tried out for a singing part.
“Music is really a hobby right now. My main focus is acting because I have got a foot in the door.” She has more than that. She has Gemini naming her best actress in a Canadian drama series; she starred in Princes in Exile, a much praised and very powerful Canadian-made film about terminally ill teenagers, and she also had a part in another Canadian movie called The Prom.

And she had the lead female role in School’s Out, the television movie which wrapped up ten years’ worth of the three Degrassi series. And wrapped up exactly half her life, although she didn’t realize it at the time. “It didn’t hit me when [filming] the [movie] ended”, Stacie explains. “It hit me a few weeks later when I was back in school and normally Degrassi [the series] would be starting up.” It hit hard. Not because she would miss the actors she had spent ten years growing up with. She lives in an apartment building right now in downtown Toronto filled with former Degrassi actors, including Neil Hope (Wheels) with whom she platonically shares an apartment. But because it was over, and, she worried, so was she.

“Oh, I’m all washed up”, she says she told herself.But she knows it isn’t so. She remembers what happened to her the first she worked on a movie not connected with Degrassi. It was Princes in Exile which was filmed north of Montreal. At the time she was involved in a relationship so intense it was claustrophobic.

Only she didn’t know it. Her boyfriend (she was living with him) wanted her to turn down the part because it conflicted with a holiday in Europe they had planned. Even though he worked in the movie business as an assistant director and therefore understood how important for her career this part could be, he still put the pressure on her not to take it. She was 17; she wavered. Career or relationship? She didn’t think that she would ever have been put in a position where she had to choose; she just knew she could not turn down such a good part and she knew she felt guilty because of it. “I had to try it”, she says. “I found my independence there working on Princes in Exile with a new group of people were doing something I wanted to be doing.” Drawing on that experience, Stacie is calm about now saying goodbye to Caitlin.
“I think it is a good place to end it.”